Leaving a Mark: Ezhishin Interviews

Next month, the Type Directors Club will present Ezhishin, a conference focused on Native North American typography. From Friday November 11 – Sunday November 13, the virtual conference will feature the voices and work of Native North American type designers, lettering artists, design educators, printers, researchers, and more. This Q&A with four the Ezhishin presenters, Violet Duncan, Jessica Harjo, Monique Ortman, Sadie Red Wing, and Kathleen Sleboda, highlights some of their ways of working, recommended readings, and what leaving a mark means to them.

Violet Duncan

Violet Duncan is Plains Cree and Taino from Kehewin Cree Nation. Touring nationally and internationally since 1991, she has performed for audiences across the United States, Canada, and Europe through work as a Native American dancer, hoop dancer, choreographer, storyteller, and author. Violet is a former “Miss Indian World”, representing all Indigenous people of North America. After becoming a mother of 4 and seeing the need for Native representation in literature, she took it upon herself to author three award-winning children’s books: I am Native, When We Dance, and Lets Hoop Dance! She has recently joined the family of Penguin Random House with two new children’s books and a middle school novel coming out 2023/24. Violet is the Creative Director of Young Warriors, where she aims to create space for programming of Indigenous performance and practice.

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Protest Scribes

“The nation is victorious”, The revolution of Iran, approx. 1979–1980 (43 years ago)

Protest art refers to the artistic works created by activists and social movements. It is a traditional means of communication used by a cross-section of collectives and the state to inform and persuade citizens. The slogans of the revolution, movement, or demonstration are written on walls and buildings while the writer is in distress. This usually occurs at night in the cover of darkness. The scribe is not worried about letterform correction or aesthetics, they aim only to express themselves by writing their thoughts on the surface and informing the public. But their action surpasses this; they are creating art. They represent a specific cause or message from furious people that need to be heard. Protest art is an essential technique for increasing social awareness and developing networks. It has long been a powerful platform for conveying ideas to the masses, as it can promote conversation and highlight social, political, and environmental issues.

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АБЕТКИ

Ukrainian type designers often emphasize the historicity of letters. And we are no exception.

We have been working with letters for about 12 years and we always love receiving orders for Cyrillic — here we can show all our knowledge about Cyrillic in some specific work.

For inspiration, very often we look at historical samples of such Cyrillic handwritings as: Ustav (pic.1), Napivustav (pic.2), Vyaz (pic.3) and Skoropys (pic.4).

We, Ukrainian designers, have long set a course to distinguish our Abetka (alphabet) from the Russian alphabet by focusing on the historicity of the Cyrillics. Nevertheless, we make it modernized, we work with it as with a living organism.

In these sketches (pic.5) we just wanted to demonstrate the “Ukrainianity” of the Cyrillic lettering. It is written here “АБЕТКИ” (“Abetkи”)—alphabettes in Ukrainian.

different examples of lettering

We are now in Ukraine and, as you know, there is a war. Unfortunately, there is no way to write this word in a calligraphic way, as we love and know how to do (see our Instagram profile: @vikatavita and website: vikavita.com).

Therefore, the lettering was done on the iPad in between running into the bomb shelter and after that there was work on the vectors.

Thanks for attention! And greetings from Ukraine💛💙

Woman’s Search for Meaning

In a prison cell in Turkey sits an award-winning artist and visual journalist. With little sunlight and few materials, he creates astonishing art. This powerful essay by Greg Manifold, creative director at The Washington Post, tells Fevzi Yazıcı’s story.

I am breathtaken at Fevzi’s courage and persistence. His latest artwork, limited to pencils and pens, is astounding. I think of Viktor Frankl’s words: “What then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”

Quote

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Clumsy lettering with personality

My initial motivation in learning lettering was to be able to create perfect, elaborate, admiration-inducing letters. In 2011 I completed a type design masters at EINA school in Barcelona, which also opened up the world of calligraphy and lettering in all sorts of styles for me. I ended up loving the brush. I wasn’t too good at first but after additional workshops, reference books —Brush Lettering: An Instructional Manual of Western Brush Lettering by Marilyn Reaves was particularly helpful— and hours of after-work practice, I finally tamed it. I even gave a brush lettering class. I felt pretty good about it. Then… I felt stuck. Most of what I was achieving was by the book but somehow felt bland and impersonal.

Brush lettering class example

Reference alphabet I prepared for the brush lettering class I gave at the Spotify offices in Montreal in 2015.

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Noto Sans Nüshu: A script created by women from a remote region enters the Google Fonts Noto Sans family

Words "Hello", "你好" and the Nüshu equivalent set in Noto Sans typeface in orange gradients on light yellow background
with Noto Sans Regular in Latin, Chinese and Nüshu

Gao Yinxian's handwriting
一岁女,手上珠 (One year girl, hands with pearl) by Gao Yinxian 高银仙 (1902–1990)

Reading time: 15min

Note: To avoid any confusion in word meaning, I will use the following contractions: Chinese as Chinese spoken language. Hanzi as Chinese written characters (汉字). Nüshu as Nüshu script. Nüshu script as it is sounds redundant, as (where the ü is pronounced like a French [u]) means ‘woman’ (女), and shū (书 – meaning more commonly ‘book’ but also ‘script’) stands for script already. Tuhua as local dialects (explanations further below).

Introduction

In these modern times, literacy is something that we take for granted, and for (almost) everyone across the globe. All throughout human history, writing systems play an essential role to its evolution. The knowledge of writing and reading is something that we imagine accessible to all in a utopic world, with no barriers, bringing societies further and better… But obviously and unfortunately, it hasn’t been this way. There must have been solutions through the ages, around the world, created and developed out of a practical need, but very few of them become general knowledge, reach our times, or are in the spotlight.

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Multiscriptual Typesetting

image of globe showing north and south america


Last month I had the honor of creating the graphics for Designing without Borders, a three-part lecture series hosted by AIGA NY and the TDC. The design process was a collaboration between myself and the event organizers; Caspar Lam, Juan Villanueva, and Lynne Yun, which led to an ambitious undertaking of designing with a dozen languages. This experience was equally rewarding as it was challenging. It inspired me to continue pushing my understanding of typography by going beyond what is linguistically familiar. 

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Letters for a Library

There are designers and creatives who are capable of delving into many analog mediums at once (this maybe calligraphy, or origami, or whatever.) Their projects seem to have exciting new approaches, often narrated by nuances of the medium used. However, I have almost always been more of a digital designer. This post is a small window into my process of designing the signage for Royal Academy of Art’s (KABK) Library in The Hague.

Towards the end of last year as I was applying and looking for work, I tried keep myself busy by engaging in stone carving lessons at KABK. Sanne Bereen (the letterpress instructor at KABK) who was also taking these lessons, brought up that the school’s library could use a signage system. And without thinking much of it, I offered to help out and we began to discuss further. I thought this project would keep me busy until something more concrete turned up. At least I would be drawing letters. If it turned out well, it could certainly add to my portfolio since I had never explored material and letters this way. At the same time, Sanne had a lot of experience in the field and it would be an opportunity to learn.

Prior to this, I had had very minimal interaction with the librarians and while I was studying, used the library only a few times. It was under renovation at the time and I remember being terrified while I was exploring the upstairs type section, with scaffolding all around. I’d like to blame the scaffolding for never visiting again. Up until December 2018 – when I saw a small, well lit, and a neat space that was very loved by the people who used it regularly.


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Playing With the Glossier Play Logotype

I really like trying to reverse engineer the ways people have taken type into their own hands. Often it’s something simple, like adding an outline to make it heavier, or adding flourishes that don’t exist in the original typeface. Sometimes it’s several things. It soothes me, like taking a simple machine apart, seeing how it works, then knowing how to put it back together. I also sometimes like to redraw logotypes and typefaces to see if I can improve upon them, for similarly cathartic reasons. I mostly keep quiet with this, because being like, “HERE’S how I would’ve drawn this BETTER THAN YOU,” while knowing next to nothing about the client, their vision, or any number of constraints that inevitably exist behind the scenes, almost always makes you sound like the biggest tool.

THAT SAID. I’ve gotta talk to someone about the logotype for the new Glossier brand, and I don’t have a therapist rn.

Courtesy of Glossier

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A few thoughts on our first Greek header

This week’s header started with a conundrum: to transliterate, or not to transliterate? In this case there were two main reasons not to. First of all, the word Alphabet is Greek, literally a portmanteau of άλφα and βήτα (alpha and beta) – like saying the ABCs. Given this, it felt wrong to use Greek letters but spell it according to how it sounds in English. Secondly, the Greek writing system does not have a letter to represent the Latin b sound. In fact, the word βήτα (beta) is actually pronounced VEE-ta in Greek. The b sound is not native to the Greek language and is most commonly found in words of foreign origin. In those cases the sound is created by putting two letters together – μ (m) and π (p). Alphabettes transliterated would therefore become Άλφαμπετς. Instead, and read aloud with me – our Greek header is pronounced Alpha-VEE-tess.

When I finally decided how to spell the word (half the battle!), I was ready to work on the design. This was my first attempt at digitizing Greek letters. Though I have an advantage as a native speaker, there was a challenge once I had to make basic decisions about proportions and spacing. The letters were digitized in Robofont but I first worked on paper, and the resulting design is based on brush pen strokes.

My first exploration of the forms through casual handwriting

Final sketches with the brush pen before digitizing

Since most typefaces out there that support Greek are large “workhorse” families, it is rare to see modern experimental Greek typefaces or lettering. A project like this gave me the freedom to try something that may never be used and experiment beyond function. Some of the movement in the forms mimics the way I would write these letters, but it is mostly just a weird design – and I enjoyed the exploration!