Exposed to the art of typography

Image capture (by phone) of exhibits at Typeshed 11, February 2009

Last year I attended a four-day international symposium on type design. It was called Typeshed 11 and was based in Shed 11 on the Wellington waterfront. It was the first time a symposium of this kind had been held in New Zealand.

The conference delegates from throughout the world, were primarily people involved in graphic and font design. I’d never really given much thought about how a font – including every single element comprising it – comes into being, or the considerations underlying. It’s certainly not a ‘select the size’ and ‘hit the enter key’ scenario.

Every single element has to be carefully designed – the space around it, the dimensions within it, it’s shape and it’s relationship to all the other letters, numbers and symbols. It’s an incredibly exacting and time-consuming process requiring extreme patience and tenacity. Absolutely incredible!

I was exposed to many totally passionate people – from world-renowned Samoan-born  font designer, 77-year old Joseph Churchward who’s lifelong passion for font design design began while working for the Evening Post (Wellington), to Bruno Maag a Swiss national, who runs Dalton Maag, a leading typographic design studio (also known as a foundry) in London.

There are number of font designers in New Zealand. Kris Sowersby is one of them.  New Zealanders familiar with the BNZ font – letters looking like they’ve been squeezed from a tube of toothpaste – might be interested to know that this is his work.

I was reminded of the symposium today when I received a newsletter from FontShop. There was an article in it about an exhibition ‘Shape my Language’ in the Walking-Chair Design Gallery in Vienna, Austria – an exhibition focusing on the work of Bruno Maag. I just had to take a closer look and remind myself of this inspirational man.

Not only was Bruno passionate in his presentation about the work his company does (mind-bogglingly impressive), he also spoke with great fervour about his other passion – cooking. One the final day of the symposium, he and three others were scheduled to conduct a panel discussion on any topic they wished.

After brief deliberation and much to our delight – they chose cooking. So, equipped with a little camping gas burner, fresh produce from Moore Wilsons and bucket-loads of humour they got to work. Bruno had to decided to cook mussels steamed in white wine, herbs and garlic served with crusty french bread. While three of the team (including two other world-renowned font designers) chopped and stirred, Sarah Maxey (a book designer and artist) created an artwork – to be the prize for one of the lucky spectators. Shed 11 was consumed by the delicious aroma and smiles lit up every face in the room.

Bruno told us how his family, all travelling with him, thought Moore Wilson’s was food heaven. He loved it – went on and on about the variety – the cheeses, the meats, the seafood – and the quality and abundance of the fresh produce. It was February after all – so no surprise for us kiwis!!!

When the dish was complete, it was a bit like the loaves and fishes. Everyone in the room got to sample a morsel…sharing in the food and the event is something I’ll never forget. Sarah Maxey’s little artwork, including red wine spillage, was finished and given to one very lucky punter. A fabulous reminder of a special hour very well spent.

I feel a bit sad that it took an email from FontShop to remind me of it.


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