Working for P22
As of now, my first real work in the realm of type design is now available for purchase (and it’s discounted until June 30th). The project was also my first experience working at an established type foundry.
Last Winter, I was given the opportunity to do some work for P22 Type Foundry. Specifically, I was tasked with finishing one of their most ambitious projects to date: expanding their FLLW EagleFeather to encompass five total weights, and “informal” style for each weight, small caps, Cyrillic, Greek, additional support for more European languages, and a full host of OpenType features. Considering my level of familiarity with Cyrillic was limited to little more than a few little tidbits I had picked up from some Russian acquaintances, (my knowledge of Greek was about the same); naturally, I accepted the job, convinced I could do it and not disappoint P22, myself, or their clients.
Before I began the project, Rich Kegler had originally tasked someone else (another third party), with the original expansion, which was then put on the back burner for several years.
Once I had the files in hand (or flash drive), I dove in. After looking over the progress that had been completed, I realized a lot of it would have to be ignored in order for everything to be at the level of quality I had set for myself and for the standards set by P22. Rich wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear this (he hadn’t looked at the files in a few years and had likely forgotten how many issues existed), but for some reason trusted me. While my experience in type design is by no means exhaustive, I do have one golden rule: “Don’t get ahead of yourself”. It’s far too easy and very seductive to decide to move ahead and start decomposing glyphs and working on new weights before the basics are finished (as I learned from spending far too much time redoing the same things), I’ve learned it never saves time.
As was to be expected, my projected timeline was way off. It seemed that every turn of a corner was met with another new obstacle, and the more I learned about Greek and Cyrillic, the more I wanted to fix what I had already declared as “finished”. This led me to my second rule: “you can’t fool yourself”. I knew if I was unhappy with something, or, more accurately, wasn’t completely in love with something, it wasn’t right. If I was going to do something, I wanted to make sure it was something I would genuinely want to use myself, even if I hadn’t been involved in the creation process. Adhering to this rule meant many many long nights studying proofs, references, and screens (while still trying to keep on top of my projects, classwork, and life – the latter probably suffered the most).
The more time I spent with the project, the more I enjoyed it and the more I wanted to continue developing features for it. After a time, this sort of thing becomes addictive and some of the features were added just for the sake of satisfying the desire of either Rich or myself (for example, I’m not sure how many people will be using the OpenType fraction feature but it exists if there is ever the need).
When everything was finally ready and up to the standards I had set (and those of P22), and after weeks of fixing issues inherit in such a large project (naming issues, in particular, were fairly problematic as we when trying to make a family of 15 fonts work across various Operating Systems and applications), I was exhausted but thrilled. This was, after all, my first real contribution to the world of type design.
Since some people requested a little more information regarding my study of Greek and Cyrillic, I’ll go ahead an elaborate on that. Most of it was possible due to the wonderful collection in Rich’s library at P22 (for example, Rich had a fantastic book for Greek schoolchildren on how to write the alphabet). I also read as much as I could about the creation of the scripts (such as Peter the Great’s reform of the Cyrillic alphabet).
While studying as many printed specimens as I could find, I noticed a common stigma among many latin-based type designers when it comes to other scripts – the idea that the characters cannot be modified in any way that would cause them to look any different from when they were created; obviously, this would cause some issues in a typeface as expressive as EagleFeather. While looking through Rich’s collection of historical advertising examples (particularly the Cyrillic examples), I found amazing examples of modifications made to nearly every character.
It was these examples that provided the greatest insight. After looking at several examples I began to see a pattern, I could see what made the specific character unique and how far it could be pushed. Just like the Latin script, Cyrillic and Greek could be more expressive than most type designers would be willing to admit. Each glyph has its defining feature – the crossbar on the t, for example, or the descender on the p. It’s when these features are understood that the character of the design can be applied to the forms. Even though I didn’t have any examples of Frank Lloyd Wright ever writing a Cyrillic “De” or a Greek “xi”, I was able to apply the design of the Latin script appropriately without just copying and pasting various bits of the Latin alphabet to make shapes that “looked good enough”