Footnotes is an annual type design periodical published by La Police (a swiss digital type foundry). Founder Mathieu Christe describes the printed document as ‘a bulletin of applied research’ about the practice of drawing letterforms.
Mathieu began working on this publication in 2012. He hoped it would be an opportunity to continue learning about type design that he could generously share with our community.
The first issue (A) launched in July 2016 and my copy arrived down under in early September just before I took a break to celebrate my wedding anniversary. It was perfectly timed as gave me something pocket(ish!) size to take away and muse over. The debut unpacks ideation around Typewriter Typefaces. Sparked by a 1962 article by Alan Bartram (also republished in this issue of Footnotes), which explores the engineering, spacing and design constraints of typewriter type. In the introduction, Mathieu explains ‘The unexpectedly rich variety of shapes and textures on display motivated me to collect new samples.’ but curious to move beyond the form of these faces he went on to research the process and identity of the designers behind the faces.
The history, contemporary context and future potential of Swiss-type founding are explored too. I enjoyed an article by Louise Paradis which narrates her journey with researching, using and ultimately improving Unica (under the guidance of the original designer, Christian Mengelt). A highly celebrated typeface trapped between technologies for two decades now available again in digital formats. Type Technology is investigated in detail... Ink spread, punchcutting, pantograph, photo-composition, ink density, analogue and digital drawing and reproduction techniques are all covered within Footnotes 48 pages.
The document is highly illustrative with specimens and proofs throughout. Issue A is Black and red as you'd expect the Swiss aesthetic rules this precise and bold graphic treatment! With subsequent issues the two ink format will remain although Mathieu intends to change the feature colour with each release. Larger than A5 but not quite as big as B5 its is a beautiful portable source of inspiration.
I contacted Mathieu to find out more about his research and the document...
Hi Mathieu, first off huge and heartfelt congratulations on a wonderful debut issue. Can you share with us a little about your journey to becoming a type designer, starting your own foundry and launching a publication?
Thanks! I studied type design at the TypeMedia in The Royal Academy of Art The Hague (Holland). My former education (visual communication) offered a basic typography lesson but nothing related to the actual drawing of letterforms. No calligraphy either. After having worked as an independent designer for years, I enrolled to that Master to learn how to draw type. If you want to know more about this adventure, I invite you to read this article, co-written with my former classmate Berton Hasebe.
What about the Bartram article piqued your interest into Typewriter fonts and lead you into this field of research?
When I discovered this article, I was amazed by the palette of styles available at that time. Not to mention non-Latin typefaces, which involve very specific technical challenges. For Latin typefaces, my script reference, I enjoy the constrained shapes due to the fixed-width limitation, although proportional setting has been developed at some point. The engineering design is often pragmatic to my taste and the seldom extravagant exceptions stand out beautifully.
As well as Footnotes you co-run B.ü.L.b comix what lessons have you learned as a publisher that will help you with the production and development of future issues?
Text editing is time-consuming, more so when it's not your native language. Ask the writer if he's confident in English, if not consider a translation. As for the iconography, tenacity is crucial as there's always a better-unpublished picture somewhere. For deadlines, find the balance between loose and reasonable. As no printer offers a discount for "default" pictures files, always invest in delicate lithography, especially when your colleague can take care of it with the right sensibility. Last but not least, bottles of distilled alcohol are tricky to ship nowadays!
I saw via your twitter account you hope to release Issue B in the middle of next year... Can you offer any insight as to what is next for the series? What themes or issues are you exploring?
The Haas Type Foundry article (part 2) will be concluded in issue B. As a past-to-present transition, selected Swiss digital foundries will share their contemporary perspectives. Since Footnotes is published by a type foundry, I felt the need to look back, and around, in order to see ahead. There will also be articles about French typefaces, early vector fonts and revivals. Interlaced with two One-off contributions (an on-going series of short pieces) and the final Proofs page with in-progress fonts from the contributors. The cover will display another mysterious photograph, full bleed without any type, to tell side stories about type.
Aside from Footnotes what else are you working on?
Aside from graphic design projects for clients at B.ü.L.b grafix, I’m working on my first retail type family to be released by La Police (and used to typeset the Haas article). The official website is in the making as well. As I’m easily distracted from what I should be doing, I always keep a few recreational type projects going, often involving some kind of research.
How does the applied written and visual research you're conducting inform (or enrich!) you practice as a type designer?
Be it an original or historical typeface, it's almost impossible to detach from the past or avoid fingerprints. By studying, researching, writing & publishing, I get to digest ideas and forms, which will hopefully infuse my output. Working as a graphic designer, I can always try out an idea for a certain project. Judge it contextually, improve it, change it or forget about it. That way, I don't feel the urge to publish too quickly or everything I do.
Do you have a favourite tool (analogue or digital) for designing type?
A pen and piece of paper, work pretty well for me. I feel between both worlds: drawing digital from scratch, sketching ideas and later marking and correcting on paper with a pen. When it comes to drawing I use RoboFont (RF) as it suits my way. When asked if it's the best tool, I often say it’s the right program for me and you have to figure it out for yourself. Before settling for RF and having used FontLab Studio (FLS) for some years, I tried Glyphs, FontForge and some more basic applications. Since I enjoyed drawing with RF and knew Frederik Berlean from my studies, I was happy to support him as well.
What advice would you give to someone just learning to draw and/or design type?
Have fun drawing & spacing without thinking of releasing anything. Train your eyes by studying old models as well as fresh amateur stuff.
Developing a typeface for a certain context is a great practise. It helps define a vision and how a typeface should function as a whole. Rhythm is key, too much refinement a trap. For example, the typeface used to typeset Bartram’s article was initially developed for a series of four publications for a local performer.
Footnotes is a refreshing and exciting document, and I look forward to seeing how the second installment (Issue B) comes together... pick up your copy of Issue A here (before it sells out!) and check out the foundry's teaser site (I love that the site plays on our curiosity and encourages us to keep clicking through letters to learn more!)