Caustic

When discussing my type design I often use the words incised, chiselled, or carved. As if the work is like that of the great twentieth century masters like Rudolf Koch or Berthold Wolpe lettering is pen-drawn, or like the work of the Kindersley-Cardozo workshop letters are stone or wood cut. It isn’t, of course.

These forms are strikingly graphic, a big part of their enduring appeal (discussed in the post ‘Not Blackletter’). From our early typefaces such as Text and Harbour through to Klute and the new designs Asperity, Caustic and the forthcoming Noah I have explored computer-designed and drawn versions of these historic-ish forms, trying to capture something of their energy and spirit and present them in a different, new way.

Of course the work of Koch, Wolpe, and others, have a great beauty that is of course from their mastery of calligraphy and understanding of historic forms. This roots them in their time, and can be at the expense of making work that is forward-thinking or progressive. Koch for example had an almost medieval, monk-ish approach to his work and life that was separate to his time and didn’t address issues of newness or modernity.

Berthold Wolpe had an extra, eclectic edge to his design and lettering, particularly in his book cover work for Gollancz and Faber and Faber. This was at least in part loosely-rendered, free and calligraphic but modern, quirky, surprising. Letters are bold and striking, (over)large in daring, sometimes abrasive, luridly coloured layouts that had little to do with the work of his contemporaries and everything to do with using what was available to him in terms of print  as well as his skill, his own vision and point of view.

That is a lot to aspire to. Not being a calligrapher, I have a different approach. Being designed entirely on the computer, no attempt is made to match or pastiche handwriting. Even our script types Lily and Anoscript are clearly constructed rather than written, exploring graphic ideas such as combinations of geometric shapes or connections between stresses. They look modern, technical, outside of the current trend for ‘hand drawn’, home made scripts.

I understand the popularity for type that demonstrates the human connection of handcraft or handwriting, but Lily and Anoscript, and my other work, is about something different. My typefaces Asphalt and Aspic are unusual for me in that they are round and brush-ish, more often as with Caustic I tend to explore hard, angular shapes. Alias Didot is a version of historic Didone forms mixed with other references, to be used for headlines but very much a ‘serious’ classical(ish) design.

Where the similarly angular and incised Text and Harbour have a strong modular emphasis with repeating, rotating shapes, Caustic (and Asperity) was to have something closer to the freeness and looseness of calligraphy, an extra energy which was partly from being slanted but also its quirky take on its reference points. These became somewhat skewed or mangled in the design process.

As it is drawn rather than written Caustic has unwritable shapes. Its stresses and combinations are impossible to achieve with writing, but approximately in the style of writing. It is writing-ish but jaggedy, spikey, uncomfortably angular. It looks hand done, but not quite, having something of the constructed forms of signwriting.

Different versions of the f and g explore alternative semi-calligraphic forms. In the upper case various characters have thick bar-like diagonals, or versions of more traditional thick and thin stresses.

Caustic is available from FontShop