CA: How did you first start designing and selling fonts and why from the Suptipos collective rather than go it alone?
Ale Paul: In 2001, tpG (tipoGráfica) magazine, under the direction of Argentine typography pioneer Ruben Fontana, held a big typography conference in Buenos Aires. Matthew Carter, Erik Spiekermann, Lucas de Groot and a few other big typography names were invited. Part of the conference was an exhibit of typefaces made by South American designers. I sent some of my amateurish stuff. I was surprised to see so many Argentine typefaces submitted to the exhibit. All the other designers were surprised as well. We hadn’t even heard of each other. So that was the first time I met other Argentine designers with an affinity for type.
In December of that same year, the economic crash happened and I lost my job as a packaging designer. A couple of months later I got in touch with some of the designers I met during the conference and we began planning for an Argentine typography collective. Each of us had already made a couple of fonts, so we did group critiques and collaborated on improving our work. Around the same time I had Stardust, my first commercial font, published with T-26. I also had a lot of free time, so I used most of it to make fonts.
CA: Sudtipos translates into something like “southern type” in English? How did you pick the name? What is the meaning of your logo—the circled S with an accent on top?
AP: Yes, Sud means south in Spanish and tipos is a double-entendre that can mean “type” or “guys.” So the composite word can mean “southern type” or “southern guys.” It’s a very Spanish name, without consideration for other languages. We never anticipated the typing mistakes that would later happen in English, resulting in hilarities like Stupidos or Subtipos. Now I get English-speaking people laughing about this when I do presentations. The caron above the S in our logo serves as an arrow pointing south, like the S under an arrow you see in maps.
CA: Why does Sudtipos specialize in script fonts?
AP: I am mostly focused on script typography because of my background in packaging design, a field where scripts play a very important role. Once in a while I make a sans serif or an otherwise ordinary display face, but I’m always executing the work from a packaging designer’s perspective, so it invariably ends up looking like it’s handmade, almost in spite of itself. I suppose it’s just craft, after all, and maybe somewhat of an inside joke. Good commercial designers appreciate the drive to typographic perfection, but they can always see a little human input in there and they like conveying that to their audiences.
CA: How did you begin collaborating with Angel Koziupa? How old is he now? What is your collaborative process like?
AP: Angel is 73 years old. He was a freelance lettering artist at one of the design studios where I used to work before the economic crash. He’d done an extraordinary amount of great lettering work for most of the big brands in Argentina, but nobody knew about him—because lettering guys operate below culture’s radar. He was an invisible gem, the agencies’ best kept secret.
A few months after Sudtipos was founded, Angel and I met and exchanged a few ideas and suggestions. And we’ve been making alphabets together for almost a decade now. I’m always excited to work with Angel, because we share the packaging vision and have a similar eye for commercial design. Working with him keeps me focused on packaging design specifics. Without him, my work exhibits a slight shift towards the more experimental aspects of calligraphy.
CA: Some of your fonts began as specimens in old lettering books or catalogs, like The Bluemlein Script Collection, based on the work of calligrapher Charles Percy Bluemlein for Higgins Inks, a leading supplier of calligraphy tools since the nineteenth century. (I had a kit from them as a kid myself!) What prompted you to take on this challenge, and how long did it take for you to create all 32 of the fonts?
AP: A friend of mine showed me the material. We researched the history of it and I thought the stuff fit very nicely with the direction in which I wanted to take Sudtipos. Aside from that, doing that collection was good and timely for a couple of other reasons. One was honing my working processes on that gray plane between analog and digital. The other reason was setting the record straight—Bluemlein was one of the guys who refused to give in to the new photo-type technology that was taking hold and putting American commercial artists out of business in the 1940s, and he was pretty much deleted from type history because of that. Some of his calligraphy was illicitly film-typed and became popular with absolutely no credit to him. It was really this modern industrial snubbing of craftsmen like Bluemlein that triggered my long obsession with twentieth-century American calligraphy, the obsession that produced quite a few of my popular fonts.
CA: I would imagine you can find inspiration all around you.
AP: The first thing I do, when I get to a new city, is visit the supermarkets and big grocery stores. They are like libraries to me. I learn a lot there. People laugh or shake their heads when I say this, but I think the best place to learn so much about a particular culture is the supermarket. Not everyone goes to a bar or a show downtown, but pretty much everyone goes to the supermarket.
I also take a lot of pictures, usually from the streets. Poor neighborhoods all over the world are where old sign painting survives. It will eventually all go away, so I make sure to take photos when I see something like that. It’s amazing how much you can tell about the world simply from looking for old sign painting.
CA: You’ve mentioned in other articles that you look for a need in the market, wanting to fill some gap in available fonts for designers. What cues are there that a font of this or that variety might be handy to someone for a certain specific need?
AP: When I was a packaging designer, I collected images of packaging that used Textile, a font that shipped free with the Mac OS. I tried to understand why it worked and why other options were rarely used in Argentine packaging. After visiting the United States and its supermarkets, I decided that packaging in Argentina was a world anomaly, that free fonts were used here because of poverty and lack of typographic education. So I decided to make fonts as different options specifically for packaging. I had to change my process according to the trends I was seeing, and calligraphy was very much in vogue when I started. I learned to stay parallel with the trends, which is hard to do, because some trends expire in less time than it takes to make a single font.
After a while, part of my work evolved to be a reflection of the feedback other faces were getting. Letterpress invitations became trendy around the time Burgues and Compendium came out, so I fed that part of the market some more with Adios and Poem. Script tattoos became hot around that same time, so I released Piel. And so on.
CA: What factors made you realize there was a need for a font like Hipster? You mention working on it helped you become “more balanced in uniting the spontaneity of post-war ad lettering with the current trends in illustration and design.” What current trends?
AP: Handwriting has always been trendy, perhaps because it doesn’t have the limitations of serious typography and offers an enormous allowance for variation. The specific shifts in the handwriting trend are not easy to explain, but for the experienced eye, subtle changes in things like stress, curvature and slant angles are quite noticeable. And once you’ve done this for a while, you just can’t stop looking for the subtle changes. There’s this silly unconscious need to discern a pattern in the evolution of the trends, although it never works quite that way. It’s not really a linear evolution. It’s got the volatility of a stock market in uncertain times, even when times are certain.
Bridging the past with the present is a bit of thing with me. I think I may harbor the belief that the majority of design today is rooted in the past. There’s always an attempt to “update” what was historically relevant in design. Combine that with an aversion to being dated—stemming from the hundreds of fonts I used in the ’90s now dating themselves very badly—and you have my perspective open like a book.
CA: Business Penmanship is a rousing celebration of the now long-lost art of penmanship and has a staggering 1,200 characters, including long, word-underlining swashes, swirls and glorious “scribbles.” It mimics a delicate pen stroke. Was it more difficult to create than a font with thicks and thins?
AP: The idea there was to push the technological envelope by producing super-thin monolinear calligraphy for use over images, where one must have words but the focus must remain on the photo or illustration. The large character set and the variation in forms are the result of having plenty of reference material. Here you see once more my obsession with twentieth-century American calligraphers. Business Penmanship references the work of many of those guys, like Austin Palmer, F.W. Tamblyn, Charles Paxton Zaner and his followers.
CA: Similar thin flourishes whirl out of otherwise stout strokes in Aranjuez, a recent collaboration with Koziupa. What was the inspiration there? It recalls Benguiat, particularly the uppercase A.
AP: Koziupa is indeed a kind of a South American Ed Benguiat or an Argentine Doyald Young. It’s hard to tell what can inspire him or turn him off, because his power of observation covers pretty much everything that can be noticed, no matter how fleeting. I’m always surprised whenever he brings me a new idea and even more surprised when he tells me the story behind it. In the case of Aranjuez, he said that he was going over my own fonts when he came up with the idea for it. So working on it with him was a bit of deja vu, a synergetic revisit of my solo thoughts. Even personal history was repeating itself there.
CA: Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century show cards were the starting points for a few fonts, for example, Fan Script. What were show cards? How do they figure into the history of lettering?
AP: Show cards were just handlettering used sparsely on smaller signs, for example price tags, sales notices, special menus. Artists who made them had to be proficient in many styles of commercial lettering, kind of like the big sign painters of that time. Sometimes they mixed multiple lettering styles in one show card. Some of that stuff is very beautiful. Fan Script’s initial inspiration was the show cards done by Charles J. Strong in the 1920s. Eventually it evolved to include a big nod at the exuberance of the late 1980s and a push towards the type technologies of today.
CA: Poem Script, winner of a Certificate of Excellence in 2011 from the Type Directors Club, has in its wealth of swashes and flourishes, hundreds of calligraphic ornaments like elaborately winged birds and loopy pointing hands, true to the nineteenth-century pen scripts it was based upon. It sounds as though those original “Italian Hand” scripts were challenging to draw by hand. Was Poem Script as difficult to create digitally?
AP: It was super difficult. Those birds and hands are made with the absolute minimum of curve nodes. Some of those took me more than a day to make. I knew this was going to be difficult going in, though. This kind of calligraphy or lettering is always hard to implement technologically, even going back centuries. In metal type, Italian hand was pretty much avoided because the letters would easily break, some-times even after one use. It was mostly avoided in film type as well, because contrasting such curvature properly was almost impossible with a camera. Now in digital it is possible, but the tech work is certainly not a walk in the park. Neither was the creative work, in this case. Poem Script started from an old Stirling calligraphy book. Then I had the masochistic idea of mixing it up with complex Spencerian and eighteenth-century English calligraphy influences.
CA: How long do you spend on creating a font like Hipster, Poem Script or Fan Script?
AP: I posted an image of Hipster on Flickr in 2007, but didn’t finish it until 2012. This is normal for me. That doesn’t mean it took five years to make, of course. I’m just not linear in my work. I like to leave things for a while, then come back to them with a fresh eye. This is why I always try to have three or four projects on the go.
CA: You have digitized three Filmotype fonts from the 1950s: Zephyr, Yukon and Kitten. These are offered from Font Diner who owns the rights to the Filmotype catalog. How did you end up working on these?
AP: I joined the Filmotype library revival because I was impressed with the lineup of designers who are part of the project. Those guys are top-notch designers. It’s a nicely-organized group effort, with specific parameters for quality standards and workflow process. Each font is thoroughly checked by the entire group before it’s released. It’s a highly professional operation, and the work that comes out of it is excellent. I’ve been having fun with this project, even though the Filmotype concern is reviving a library, unlike my Sudtipos work.
CA: Finally, are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about. What has gotten you excited lately?
AP: I’ve a got a few things on the go. Some English calligraphy, some Spencerian play with shadows, some backslant treatments. There’s always something to keep me occupied. ca