Stephen O'Neill is a chap who likes type. Late last month we featured Stephen (aka TypeChap)'s 21 asterisks of christmas - an awesome self initiated project that celebrates Frutiger's legacy. I recently contacted Stephen to ask him to share more about his TypeChap Blog which collects and curates images of typographic signage from around the world.
TypographHer was an evolution of FontB*itch - a name colleagues bestowed upon me many years ago! There is an obvious parallel between not only our typographic interests but also our Type+Gender handles! I am keen to know how the name the name TypeChap came about?
The name type chap just popped into my head – I have a friend who’s sings in a chap’s choir and London does hold the Chap Olympiad (a sort of tweed and gin event mixing sporting ineptitude with well creased trousers ) – so I quickly registered the URL, creased my trousers, poured a gin, and got down to uploading some crumbly typography. I think TypographHer is much better though!
#Blushing! TypeChap is a fabulous name and I love what you're doing! What is it about typography and lettering that excites you?
I studied typography at the LCP – an eye opener of a course! Learning the basics at first from great tutors, and then raiding the spectacular library for inspiration. When I started that course I was fascinated by the illustration and freeform letters of Javier Mariscal – after a few months of tuition it was all Akzidenz Grotesk – so I’m interested in all styles of letterinng and typography really. Once a typographer, always a typographer.
And specifically about the vernacular ('and spectacular!') signage... When did your interest in documenting these found signs begin? How did you get into signage and or photography?
I suppose the first time I really started making a concerted effort to document these signs was when I started visiting Andalucia (my wife is from sherry capital of the world, Jerez) and seeing old signage in all its technicolor glory due to the extreme light in that part of the world. Every crumbly detail looks crisp and clear, letters and cracked up paint on uneven walls together create beautifully dis-repaired compositions – like old frescoes in some cases. Interestingly, I read that many old signs from the 60s to 80s were created by referring to old Letraset manuals. So we’re seeing a chain of events whereby the designs of typographers from the past, are then in the hands of sign painters and sometimes unskilled designers, finally being treated to an ageing process, to create something accidentally wonderful.
So, I started the Typechap site this summer, though I initially created a couple of tumblr blogs over the last 2 years crumblyandalucia.tumblr.com and crumblybluemorocco.tumblr.com which picked up a fair bit of attention.
Regarding photography – I'm also a bit of a fan of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston – they're sometimes lurid photography that elevates the seemingly banal, is an influence on the way I look at signage and lettering.
The collection you have curated to date covers a lot of variety - do you have a favorite genre or sign (or typography?)
Its mostly down to composition really – the signage and letters must have looked great when they were first produced, but its the ravages of time that make them take on different aspects. If I could get my hands on the old Cinema from Jerez sign I’d be very happy, but the cinema (and I guess the sign) burnt down a few years back.
Although I really love that script style signage, I’m not alone in being a massive fan of all things Swiss, modern and sans-serif – or Italian for that matter – Franco Grignani is a bit of a design hero.
The collection is largely established examples (that you aptly describe as broken and beautiful!) - Are you particularly interested in recording ‘endangered’ signs - those in disrepair and on the fringes of their lifespan for prosperity - or is the aim to build a collection of inspirational exemplar including contemporary signs also?
I do like to preserve old signage for prosperity – recording social history I suppose, before it inevitably gets replaced. However, a lot of modern signage is very interesting – in fact the more naively put together the better. I live in Finsbury Park, which has a street called Fonthill Road that is full of budget fashion shops that are, lets just say, unlikely to pass Bauhaus muster. In harsh light they look fantastically garish!
You reference lots of cultures and environments - is travel an important part of your creative practice?
Sure is – by sometimes not understanding what the words on signs mean, then its the composition of letters, colours, surroundings that jump out first. I now now that 'cerillas’ means matchsticks in Spanish – I’d never have know that if I hadn’t chanced upon an old red machine with a wonderful condensed font on it. Also interesting is when I see letterforms I don’t understand – such as Arabic in Morocco. To me it all looks great, but to an arabic typographer, I may be waxing lyrical about their version of comic sans.
How do you discover the signs you feature?
Eyes open all the time – look up and look down. There are examples everywhere – as Paul Smith said ‘you can find inspiration in anything – and if you can’t, look again’.