By Dr Barry Spencer
In 2015 when I undertook a 100 day project and created a new unique grid pattern every day for 100 consecutive days, I never thought that one year later (almost to the day) I’d be running a Kickstarter campaign to produce an initial 50 unit run of all 100 grids as 36 page sketchbooks.
The 100 day project itself was designed to encourage creativity and promote the act of doing and now with these potential booklets, that is my intention as well. Initially I had thought that I would just make a grid, move on to the next, repeat and so on, because as a type designer a large part of my personal process is observing the world around me for inspiration and then using that inspiration to create letterforms.
The letterforms themselves are quite often based on forms I find and then adapt into custom grid structures that I then use to create. So when I took on the project, I had just assumed that I would take a few of them and make some type. Slowly, that idea changed and I went from thinking that I’d have a lifetime supply of personal grids, to wondering how could I share these with people and encourage the to play and explore. Thus, the Kickstarter campaign.
Spreading The Word
It is hoped that through this article I will be able to spread the word about the campaign a little further and reach people outside of my usual fan base, because the grids and booklets can be utilised in a variety of fashions from design, tracing, drawing, sketching, doodling through to things like mindful colouring. How you interact and engage with each of the 100 different grids is only limited by your own creativity. However, it still remains that I still use them to create type and the reason for my appearance on Lettering Hub.
My creative approach
Since completing my final grid on July 14 2015 I have created four typefaces based on their patterns, with one more currently in development. Each of these typefaces has aimed to further my exploration of letterforms and challenge me to create from a less than traditional foundation.
My position as a type designer is to question my expectations of letterforms and this often means that I seek to push the comfort levels of my understanding and perception when it comes to their shapes. I do this so that I am continuously adapting and exploring the boundaries of what I would consider a letter, because each typeface experiment or speculation becomes the “jumping off point” for the one that comes after it, which explains why some of my alphabet designs stem from some pretty far fetched ideas.
In this article I won’t necessarily be delving into letterforms that specifically remove, add or rearrange the details of each letter, because those experiments have led to here. Instead, the typefaces that I will show you in this article are simply explorations of the grid on which they sit and the observational influence that helped create them.
Owen – Grid 01
The typeface “Owen” designed in 2015 was my first attempt at making letterforms from one of my new grids. At this stage I had resolved to challenge myself to making a typeface based on all 100 grids in the series, no matter how long it took (or takes).
At first this grid threw up a massive brick wall and I could not figure out what to make of it. I drew a large range of shapes on the structure trying to ‘break’ the grid as I call it, but nothing was happening. I had essentially given myself the ‘blank page’ problem. I had started without inspiration and it was not working out. However, after a while, I noticed some utility markings on the ground during my daily walk to work that led to the inspiration I needed.
After a bit more play and exploration I was able to find shapes that I wanted to pursue, which in themselves had tinges of Ogham script which dates back to 4th CE (also where the name comes from). The resulting letterforms all follow along the same solid path and the only indication of a new letter is the angular strokes that push out from this main line. Designed to be viewed both horizontally and vertically with the same ease, this typeface began what could very well be a long, long journey.
Twiggy – Grid 26
“Twiggy” was the first typeface designed in one of the grid booklet prototypes. For the shapes of the letterforms I was quite adamant to go beyond my obvious reaction to grid 26 and make block-like 3D forms (although a perfectly good to do, should you want to try). Instead, I wanted to explore the different lines and panels to create areas of solid colour that were linked in some way.
With this typeface I challenged myself to delibertely stare at the grid and try to find inspiration from it and not from outside sources. This act ended up being quite difficult and it took a long time to find shapes wirth expanding into an alphabet.
The resulting forms of Twiggy all seemly grow (resembling tree-like structures, hence the name) from one another with the placement of letters dependent on the letter that comes before it. This leads to a baseline that shifts up and down in order to accommodate for this movement.
Ono – Grid 50
When looking to design my next typeface “Ono” I was interested in the visualisation of ideas and I wanted this to be something that was expressed by the letterforms themselves. The idea that inspiration can come from anywhere is one that I like to support, so when it came to these shapes I wanted them to have an ethereal quality about them.
I had reserved myself to degning a typeface that sat closer to the shape of traditional Latin letterforms, but also allowed for some fluidity when it came to refer to certain letter components. The letters are held together by thin lines and these act like thoughts or the connections that we make with ideas and with some ideas leading on to other ideas, I wanted to have areas of the solid colour be larger so as to convey how certain ideas can be larger or better than others, and that lesser ideas might simply fade away.
Nikau – Grid 84
The most recent alphabet that I have created is based on grid 84 and its subsequent booklet. This typeface is inspired by my friend Brisbane typographer Nicole Arnett Phillips of Typograh.Her and Typograph.Journal. Nicole has been an ardent supporter of my work for many years and I wanted to thank her by creating something that kept her in mind while I came up with each letterform.
Originally from New Zealand I thought that it was only fitting that I include some sort of visual inspiration borrowed from her homeland by way of influence taken from Maori art and favourite native plant, the Nikau Palm. Not wanting to appropraite too heavily though, I wanted to only allude to these references and allow for the observer to fill in the blanks or find their own beauty in the letter shapes. With elements of familiarity with the letterforms, it was decided fairly early on in the process that Nikau would lean toward the speculative and experimental side of my creative spectrum and the results are arguably quite elegant.
Which would you choose?
These are only a small selection of the grid selections on offer as part of the series and Kickstarter campaign. I am currently working in the prototype booklet for grid 80 and taking inspiration from optical illusions and obserdities with the hope to be able to unveil something in the near future.
If you would like to choose from 100 different and unique grid patterns, please support and contribute to the Kickstarter and you just might get your chance. Rewards start from as little as $15 for your selection of one booklet and go all the way up to rewarding yourself with all 100. There are even a few letterpress goodies to potentially pick up along the way.
Please visit my Kickstarter Campaign page, become a backer and help me make these wonderful sketchbooks a reality. Don’t forget to spread the word also!
About the author: Dr Barry Spencer
As a Speculative Type Designer, Barry tells people, that he “often makes letters that may, or may not, look like letters”. Currently a university lecturer and freelance designer, Barry has constantly researched, explored and played with the shapes of the Latin letterforms and transformed his research and exploration into a PhD thesis titled “Speculatype”, which he completed in 2014. He believes that by undertaking his experimental and speculative approach towards letterforms he has fundamentally altered the way that he creates, perceives and understands the shapes of the Latin alphabet.