I first featured Maciej Polczynski work in TYPOgraphJournal vol 03 when a beautiful k submission was a stand out in the #TypographComp. Over the last two years, Maciej and I have kept in touch as he has built an impressive body of (both display and text) typefaces.
Earlier this year Maciej undertook a type clinic intensive program in Slovenia, and recently launched a new type tester website to coincide with the release of SOLENIZANT a sharp, experimental display family of 10 weights with multiple language support, and 350+ glyphs in each style.
I caught up with Maciej to find out more about his recent work, love of type and experimental approaches.
First things first - what drew you to type and creating letters?
When I applied for New Media Art Bachelor course in 2013 I had no idea about letters, I never even wondered who design them or even if they are designed. Sans or serif was just a weird option inside text editing software. At this time, I connected letters with graffiti which I did for a while, but never really took it too seriously. It was more of a social activity with some folks I've met. I was much more into cutting detailed stencils, and this was something that I found very similar to type-design. Spending many hours working on details of black and white image s– sort of like a monk's work.
Probably somewhere around 2-3 month of the course we were organized a week long workshops with Martin Majoor, a name which wouldn't totally ring a bell at that time. First Martin gave a lecture which was quite mind-blowing and then the workshops… It was pure ecstasy. During the week I've created all the letters for serif and sans and then during the night before the last day I used a bit of Illustrator and FontLab to generate a font. A whole new world emerged for me, and so it went on.
One of your first typefaces to catch my eye was Ayka which you designed to work in the glorious heavy-weights as headlines and the more delicate body styles at 9pt for books. I understand at the time you were designing Ayka you were self-taught - Can you tell us a little about your process has evolved since then to now?
I was pretty much self-taught, indeed. Besides the workshops with Martin, the head of our department, Ewa Satalecka (great tutor and later my diploma supervisor) managed to organize workshops with type designers such as Ann Bessemans, Joana Correira and Laura Messeguer. During those week long visits I always tried to show some prints, gain critics and Ayka was my first typeface I developed as family. The design served as typeface in Natalia Łajszczak's diploma project – Do It, book. The hard part was that we developed our diplomas simultaneously (which also added some value for the project). The whole book was screenprinted by us and the results were very pleasing.
I think my workflow is still pretty much the same. I doodle 3-4 letters to get the idea of the "DNA" and I move to the computer (although while working on Solenizant I found out how amazing it is to sketch all the glyphs first, it just makes you move faster). I still find it surprising how the sketched letters differ from those done with bezier curves. My next step is printing, I do print a lot although the screens are perfect resolution I love to see how it looks on paper, as well as make those little correction marks with pencil. Nevermind if it's a display or text typeface I'm working on, I always print both small and big sizes. Additionally I use a CSS script to view all the website's with my own typefaces which is another fast way of testing. I'm also much more aware of all the possibilities the software gives, that is surly a big improvement in the process.
I would also love to know more about the catalogue you designed with Ayka... it is a beautiful and dramatic piece of editorial design. How did this project come about?
I guess you mean the "Patrząc Watching Ansehen" catalogue? During my second year of studies we managed to organize a visual research with students from MassArt in Boston. We spent 2 weeks travelling around Warsaw, Cracow and Berlin (that city !). With Natalia we were asked by our tutor to design the catalogue summing up the research – picture, sketches and some "research outcome" like posters etc. It was great opportunity as we were given a complete freedom, the only limitation was the budget.
In the meantime, I was developing Ayka and Ewa Satalecka, my tutor, she pushed me to use it as a display typeface. That was probably the best crit I got, seeing the type professionally printed for the first time. This allowed me understand the mistakes I did and transform it to something much better. I saw the proportions were slightly wrong for the aim I was planning to use it later on. Of course all the distortions of the letters in the book were done manually in graphic editing software – they are not in the font.
What did you enjoy most about the Type clinic? and what piece of advice or skill did you learn during the clinic that you would you share with other designers learning the craft of type design?
I feel like with type design you can always learn. Any opportunity brings more and more. If there is anyone considering going to beautiful Slovenia for TypeClinic – it is worth any cent. Besides type-design you have amazing nature of Trenta National Park and family-like atmosphere. Thank you Tomato! (organizer of TC) I think I enjoyed every single moment of the workshops. It is always super cool to sit in the room besides other typo-nerds. I first experienced this on AtypI 2016 in Warsaw – it is just amazing to share this passion.
The thing that comes back and forth everytime I get some critic is spacing, work it along with the shape design, quite obvious. This was also said many many times but kill your darlings. Move on, get some distance.
During the workshops, just before the crit, I knew more or less the mistakes that should be fixed. It is always interesting to check your own opinion with a person more experienced. Overall I think it all depends on the time you look at shapes.
You also have been working on the Sneekpi family for over a year now, and from the glimpses, I see via your social media you have been playing with interpolation to further extend and develop that as a family. (I love the light italic!) What has Sneekpi taught you about type design? Specifically designing letterforms to work cohesively in a family?
Haha, to be honest, Sneekpi is my very very first typeface. It is an outcome of those workshops with Martin Majoor. I completely redrew it around 3 times now. It is also the first time I tried drawing Italics and I'm much more happy with those then the upright version. Currently I gave the type more time – I'm in between of redrawing the uppright and just releasing it and moving on. Sneekpi was also developed during a little breakdown while working on Ayka, that was probably also a important step for me to develop Ayka – I took a break and when came back to it, I had new experience after Sneekpi and a fresh look at Ayka
Your latest release Solenizant looks fantastic in Cyrillic! The test website is also wonderful - what about this typeface are you most proud of and what was the most challenging part of the design or build?
Well, first of all, Ican proudly announce that Solenizant will be soon released with The Designers Foundry, which I consider a great success already.
Solenizant was done very quickly, probably because it is only uppercase, but also I sketched all the letters before. Also, I decided to release it on my 23rd birthdays, so for the first time I had a deadline (which is also a great trick)!
It was quite pleasurable to work on something purely display. I'm quite proud on how the interpolation works and all the things that happen between quite normal Light version and the crazy super-bold-something version, this was a sort of experiment for me to keep the interpolation more or less consistent. It works quite interestingly in Cyrillic, thank you – I'm always a bit stressed when working on Cyrillic or Greek (which I always try to include). I will surly look for a book on those, or with those. Of course there is a lot of online references, but let's be honest – a book is a book..
You have been working on a reverse contrast that is also full of personality - where are you drawing inspiration for those forms and how is the design development going so far?
Every new typeface is a new challenge, a sort of design problem. I started developing Frykas (a working name) on a medium hangover day (see, I find it hard to rest, I always feel guilty) and it was the time I was hard-working on Sneekpi. I just felt sick looking at those quite neutral forms and decided to go crazy.
Currently I'm done with the basic glyphs set, but there is a lot of 'organizational' work. The first week I did a lot of alternative shapes which now I need to kill/redraw. I want the typeface to use some nice possiblities of OpenType features. I'd call this a side-project, I don't focus too much on this – I hate to force myself to work on a single project. Whenever I get stuck, I move to another project. Currently I have 6-7 on-going typefaces – from text fonts to display, as well as some digitalisations. Late week I managed to get an agreement for a beautiful project of quite known Polish poster designer – the one from the "Polish school of Posters". But I'll keep it secret for now!
I love that you're experimenting with screen printing too - your alcohol in my veins poster is fantastic - Do you have a preference for working with new technology in a digital space? or do you find the analogue print work equally rewarding? And do you have a favourite tool or medium to work with?
I absolutely love working with spray-paint. I always try to experiment a bit, the poster was printed on the mirror foil. I'm quite happy with the result but let's be honest – it should be 4 times bigger :)
I work on screenprint as I'm a part of little studio or artistic group called N22. We rent a cool space where we can freely paint and print. It is a beautiful group of people, friends, who love what they do and this is a great motivation for me.
I work a lot by the computer, so any form of analogue technique is always more appreciated. Sometimes as a group we go to explore some abandoned places and paint a bit inside, which is the most pleasurable way of getting away from the computer.
Recently, I base my personal works more and more on drawings rather then going straight away to the vector software
What is the starting point for you with a new design?
As I'm still on the beginning of my typo-adventure I try to challenge myself to work on different forms of letters, to gain flexibility and build my skills. The inspiration or a starting point usually comes from a doodle or an idea – what could be called "design problem".
I noticed you're also working on another face with strong curves and sharp angles (the geometry in it is distinctive and exciting). What is your inspiration (and or) intended use for this face?
The typeface cames from a logotype for a personal project I sort of started some time ago.
This is supposed to be focused on clothing, but I guess it needs more time to see the day light. Recently I came across the logotype and decided it might be interesting starting point for a typeface. It is again occasion to challenge myself as I"m working with 3 different widths of each letter and using open-type features to randomize their usage.
How much does place and your environment inform your work? Do you design differently in Poland than when you might be travelling (Like for the type clinic?) And how (if at all) does your city inspire you?
Sometimes Warsaw is too distracting, but again, I don't force myself too much. For some unknown reason, I always feel much more open while I'm away from Warsaw. Although I grew up here, I never felt a too strong connection with this place. I still don't remember names of most of the streets. Of course, if you travel to f.e Type Clinic the work is much more intensive, there is more motivation in the air. But there is no rule because it usually depends on people. Warsaw always influences me in two ways. Negative and positive. Winter/Autumn and then Summer/Spring. During the first period, this city is dead, and each time the spring comes, everything blooms it surprises me.
Last year I participated in a project called Warsaw Types, where 12 students were invited to design new fonts for Warsaw. (www.kroje.org/en) That was a huge challenge for me, especially that I was the youngest of all the participators. I decided to take my inspirations from things that were printed in Warsaw, especially during the interwar period of 20-30's. I'm quite happy with the final result, Cyrulik, consisting of 4 styles – Sharp, Sharp Bold, Rounded and stencil. I'm currently working on developing 3 more. I found it in use for several times – I find it always surprising how and who is using the type. From the right-wing clothing brand to small artistic book publisher.
Finally, how can people stay in touch and follow your work?
Most of stuff I post on instagram @maciejpolczynski . I'm working on my website, showing all the typefaces, currently, there is a tester for Solenizant – http://maciej.polczynski.com , hopefully soon the new one will be online. And obviously, if anyone wants to drop me an email: maciej@Polczynski.com