Type Art Love

A disquisition on feelings and fealty

"Two Figures in a Room," acrylic on canvas, © 1983, 60" x 33"

It’s part of a comedian’s stock in trade to joke about how routine and stale sex gets in a long-term relationship. As Jay Leno once quipped about the clamor in California about same-sex marriage, “When you’re married, it’s all the same sex.” >rim shot<

They’re funny, but those jokes do a great disservice to long-term intimacy. The more you live with and know your partner, the more you learn about your shared pleasure and the ways you care about each other. And the more you look forward both to the known—and almost failure-proof—pleasures, as well as to the new discoveries and subtleties you may have missed before or just not gotten to yet.

The Bible uses the term “know” to refer to sexual intercourse. To make love many times over many years to the same person is to know that person so much more completely than to “be acquainted” with him or her—or “to be friends with” or “to live with,” even.

Consider the situation of the new lovers: In the very beginning, it’s all high expectations wrapped in the anxiety of “what if she [he] doesn’t like that?” The solution to that problem is to resort to two or three tried-and-true, pretty much off-the-shelf, sexologist-certified gambits . . . because you know—or at least, you strongly believe—that one of those gambits won’t fail. And for the next many encounters with each other, you repeat the great success of the first time with few variations or embellishments, and some lingering trepidations. Eventually, the apprehension goes away and you find you have settled into a familiar pattern. But then, you stumble onto that other sensitive spot that you didn’t know you or she [he] had, and then two days later, another one. And then one day, the carburetor doesn’t work, and you just laugh at the goofiness of it all. And the next day comes and there’s yet another thing that’s new.

What does this have to do with type and design?

Inevitably, graphic design—especially type-centric design—will be influenced by one’s relationship with typefaces. If you’ve spent a lot of time getting to know a small group of faces, you’ll be able to put their strengths to good use. Or there might be a few new ones you might be thinking of having a fling with.

You know the old faces well, just as you know your partner of many years. And you’ve discovered along the way that there are really sexy curves in that blandest of fonts, Helvetica, or that you were surprised when you were tickled by something you had not noticed before, like the way the right descending side of the l.c. “a” in Helvetica Bold was truncated and didn’t just slew into the baseline.

I’ve found that I am comfortable working with a small cadre of very familiar faces, and then occasionally I discover a new typeface that has as much allure and social confidence as the old faces. In the illustration above, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the faces in the first four lines. And then recently, I’ve made the acquaintance of the faces in the last two lines. I’ve set two books in Fontin, I’ve used Diavolo and Titillium in several posters and Kontrapunkt as the title font for two books on engineering.

The very last face, Formal 436, I discovered about six years ago, sort of lost in a big box of fonts (one of those 400,000 clip-art offers). What a discovery! A beautiful display font from Bitstream. To be truthful, at first I wasn’t so impressed with Formal. But I tried it. I liked it! And I came back to it more and more, reliving the same process of incremental delight in discovering other ways it enchanted me. The first several times I used Formal, I went for the tried-and-true successes, which just led to its other charms.

Apollo was like that. I ran across it two decades ago, trying to find a good substitute for Palatino. Designed by Adrian Frutiger, Apollo is very similar in appearance to Palatino, but it’s distinctively different. To me it feels more like a pen-drawn font. And it has a companion set of O.S. figures and small caps.

"Man with Tulips," oil on canvas, 48" x 48", 2009

Art, like design, type, and love, also follows the same route, namely, a long relationship with a small range of images and artistic choices. All of my paintings for the last 40 years have included a small number of components: abstract shapes and fields, a human figure (usually nude), and occasionally other objects (flowers, implements). In the continual revisiting of the same themes, subjects, and models, I look for the pleasures that I know will come but I am constantly surprised by some new twist or variation that I had not come across before—the way two colors mix when brushed together, the kind of edge formed by a brushstroke, the way some part of the body or the flower curves in a way I had not paid attention to before.

And then there is the other result: I decide to put away a technique that now has lost its frisson, its ability to stir or stimulate a sufficient response. I stop using a particular color, as I sometimes stop using a favorite font (for me, Cheltenham at one point). For more on my paintings, look at Figuring Things Out elsewhere on this website.

Copyright 1988–2018 by Michael Brady or the publishers