Real character

Three-dimensional typography seems to be one of those callings you stumble on some way into a different career, and which then keeps you hooked. Emily Pacey speaks to three enthusiasts of the art of creating letterforms with substance

Usually, type is an unobtrusive and disposable servant of meaning. Hundreds of tiny black letterforms can be obscured or obliterated by a single hand. But sometimes we meet with the kings and queens of typography – striking three-dimensional heroes that inspire and delight.

The people behind the best of these freakish fonts belong to a motley crew of enthusiasts who have at some point in their careers been seduced by the blend of product and graphic design that is 3D typography.

’I originally worked as an illustrator, but I started to feel bored and unchallenged – I’ve always been more of a maker than a drawer,’ says Anna Garforth, who achieved fame in recent years for her living moss typography. ’One day, I went for a walk in the country, collected some materials and it started from there.’

Andrew Byrom’s story is even stranger. He started out as a 16-year-old shipbuilding apprentice in the North of England in the 1980s. Now, Byrom is a typographer in Los Angeles who spends his own money speculatively creating 3D fonts such as Grab-Me, made of handrails.

’I’m making things without being asked, so I can do what I like and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t matter,’ says Byrom. ’I know it’s kind of weird what I do, and that most people have deadlines and clients’.

Byrom’s Letter-Box-Kite font is – unsurprisingly – made of kites, and recently appeared in Stefan Sagmeister’s ad for Standard Chartered Bank. The letterforms may also soon be available for the public to buy in the National Gallery of Australia’s shop, demonstrating that 3D fonts can be sold to multiple buyers in the same way as their 2D brothers.

Byrom is also currently trying to sell the Grab-Me typeface into hotels and leisure centres.

Garforth’s latest client is Groundwork, a sustainability initiative that held an event last week in the Millennium Stadium in Wales, for which she created two 5m-long walls spelling ’Grow’ and ’Groundwork’. Having found herself in need of a new challenge, and not wanting to be known simply as ’the moss girl’, Garforth is working with colourful sustainable paper and finding her inspiration in paper art.

Perhaps because of his shipbuilding past, Byrom is into the physical side of producing 3D fonts, and administers a sideways kick to the digital 3D typography sector.

’This is the age of the return to craft. I could fake it up but I don’t want to, because it would be a lie. It is not just the end image that is the object for me – I make all 26 characters even though I might only use one word,’ says Byrom.

Montreal-based designer Julien Vallee makes digital and handmade 3D fonts. ’There is a trend [now] for everything being handmade, but that always fades with the big commercial work, when you are working for a client who needs the letters to be adjusted quickly and frequently.’

He is currently working on an ad for Maryland University that will involve a mix of physical and digital 3D type, spelling the words ’adapt’, ’evolve’, ’develop’ and ’adopt’.

Valle;e admits that he prefers the look of handmade letters. ’It is hard to make a physical object look as perfect as a computer drawing, but in fact this gives the object a personality and a uniqueness that is very attractive’.

See the features section of www.designweek.co.uk to watch Stefan Sagmeister’s Standard Chartered Bank ad and to find out more about 3D typography

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