Making Your First Font
An Interview with Up-and-Coming Type Designer Loan Bottex
We talk to Loan fresh of his internship at Copenhagen-based foundry Playtype about lessons learned while making his first typeface in a professional setting. You will learn how he dealt with the messy process of making a font.
Ulrik Hogrebe: Hi Loan — congratulations on your new typeface “Strike”. Before we get into the details of the typeface itself, maybe you’d like to tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Loan Bottex: Hi Ulrik, firstly, thank you for your interest in my work. I’m a french graphic and type design student. I’m originally from the south of France and have been living in Paris for four years now.
I’m currently following a MA degree in Type Design in Ecole Estienne. Before that, I did a 2 year degree in graphic design at Ecole ENSAAMA, Paris.
Honestly, I don’t really know why I love drawing letters. I’ve had an interest in logotypes, lettering and visual signs in the streets for a long time. I even ran a sticker series a long time ago which I guess is proof of my taste for all things graphical!
Ulrik: Cool. And what are you doing now?
Loan: Currently, I’m still working on Strike, trying to finish the kerning and working through the font info and the opentype features. I’ve also been doing an internship with the Copenhagen-based foundry Playtype which is almost over, I have oral examinations on my diploma project next week, so I’m returning to Paris friday. It’s a bit crazy at the moment, between finishing Strike and preparing my return to Paris, but everything is going well for me. I can’t complain.
So I started Strike, a display font based on all this handwritten advertising that I saw in front of grocery shops here in Denmark.
Ulrik: That does sound like you have a lot going on! Tell us a bit about Strike, your new typeface?
The Design Brief
Loan: Clara, one of the type designers at Playtype, told us to start a personal project. Something which we could work on to learn Opentype features, spacing, kerning, all the technical skills besides drawing skills. In other words, how to create a proper file, ready to be sold. So I started Strike, a display font based on all this handwritten advertising that I saw in front of grocery shops here in Denmark. It is a really interesting style that I’d never seen before. Then I learned that merchants have courses at school where they learn how to draw this kind of lettering. Long story short, I thought it was a good place from which to start. At first, I set out to just draw the uppercase, one style of figures, a small glyph set — but progressively, I was wondering if a complete glyph set would be interesting. And now, it’s almost complete!
One of the main issues was to draw without extreme points while keeping the tension between curves. It was the first time I had to draw anything like this. It was a funny experience at the beginning but then I started the lowercase. It turned out that it was hard to correct the round shapes from the uppercase.
But ultimately I learnt lot of things, in particular that a rigorous workflow really improves your speed of progression.
Ulrik: I am curious about your workflow as it is such an important thing in type design. What are your tips for other type designers who are perhaps also making their first few typefaces?
So instead of doing spacing for all accented letters individually, you focus more on good spacing on the basic letters.
Loan: Hmm, I don’t know if my workflow is a good one. It depends on the project you’re working on I think. Before my internship at Playtype, I was just following a classic one. Starting with the letters adhesionpv in lowercase/uppercase, then completing the glyph set, and then doing the spacing and development. But now, I’m following the Playtype workflow that is more optimized for large glyph sets. So creating the Latin Basic, then doing the spacing and then completing the glyph set with all components. To my mind, it’s a better design process that allows me to save a lot of time. For instance, I’ve now started spacing the components from the base letters.
So instead of doing spacing for all accented letters individually, you focus more on good spacing on the basic letters. But I think all type designers with a bit of experience are doing this. It was just me at the beginning, I didn’t know where to start.
Regarding sketches, I’m drawing less and less by hand, but for Strike I had to because each letter has its own design. So there was a lot of drawing to get it right. I could not copy/paste stems for example.
Moreover, some glyphs were missing from the reference pictures I’d taken, so I had to create them from scratch.
I don’t know if I am qualified to give people tips as such, but I can say it’s worth being really rigorous in the first steps of the process. It can be very hard to stay concentrated through all the detail, but it allows you to save so much time in the end.
Ulrik: Where did the name Strike come from?
Naming Your Font
Loan: We were looking for something punchy, something which remind us casinos and gambling etc. At first, it was Arcade, but I don’t remember why we changed. Oh yes, it was because the S has a really special design, so we wanted it in the name.
Ulrik: I believe you already did a little bit of a launch party even though the typeface is still a week or two from being launched?
Have Your Font Used on Projects
Loan: Yes, some of the designers at e-types which is the graphic design “sister” agency to Playtype found a great concept for the launch: the lucky number. The typeface was not completely done, but the figures were looking good. So they decided to create lot of different posters with some of famous lucky numbers like 7 for example, and these posters were sold at the launch. It was sunny, with free beer and people spilling into the street — a really nice moment and way to end my internship.
Ulrik: Sounds like it was a good internship at Playtype? What were your main learnings?
Loan: What can I say? It really was 3 months of pleasure. I really improved my type design skills thanks to the daily corrections of Clara Jullien and Jonas Hecksher. And the whole team is really cool. We did an inspiration day trip to visit the Danish Train Museum and the Media Museum where we found a few old danish type specimens, which was a highlight. All in all, it was just really nice to get to work by their side.
In terms of what I learned? Like I said, one of the most skills you should have is good design process and I really learned a lot. I also really improved my drawing speed and it was interesting to learn how to draw new glyphs, for example, the Latin Extended B part.
Ulrik: What are your influences in general? What are other foundries and typefaces that you enjoy?
Loan: It’s a difficult question. I really find inspiration everywhere; in the streets, on billboards, everywhere. I think the letters I see everyday are one of my main inspiration sources.
Besides that, I’m often looking for new shapes in old specimens. My school has a very interesting library with lot of old books. You will always find completely weird shapes and printing issues which then create something different. Regarding foundries, I’m interested in the work of Heavyweight. They found a great balance between graphic and type design. Actually, the Prague scene seems to be booming. A lot of young and skilled type designers are coming out of that city. Also Klim Type Foundry for the amount of work and of course, the perfect curves he’s doing. Finally Francois Rappo of Optimo, even if I don’t always understand what he means when he’s talking about his own typefaces. He is nonetheless a brilliant type designer, and I admire his precision and perseverance.
Ulrik: Loan, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Finally, what are your plans for the future?
Loan: I’m currently working on my diploma project, a new visual identity for thesis published in France. I’ve also got some personal projects going on and then after the diploma, I don’t really know. I’m always open to all opportunities, experiences. Maybe I should ask for some more internships to improve my skills!
Ulrik: Thanks Loan! Excited to check out Strike when it comes out! And best of luck in the future.
Check out Loan’s portfolio here? Loan Bottex
Want to get a hold of Strike? Playtype is releasing Strike on the 14th of July.
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