Interview with Astigmatic

We recently got a hold of Brian Bonislawsky, founder of the Astigmatic One Eye Typographic Institute, to describe his design process and motivations.

Q: When did you design your first font? What font was it?
My very first font was called ChickenScratch. I designed it in the summer of 1996 as the first freeware font for my website to test the waters to see if I was able to make a usable font for the public. I still see it out there a lot today, and seeing all the different design intentions for it has only helped inspire me in my design process since then.

Q: How do you go about creating a new font? Where do the concepts come from?
Making a new font starts with the idea, and luckily...font inspiration is everywhere. It can come from seeing advertisements and signs, to vintage advertising, to movies and music, to the surprise of seeing how fonts are used in projects outside of how you ever intended them to be used.

I'm still a bit old school when it comes to making new fonts, by starting out with sketches on paper. I like to work on creating consistency across all of my characters while also imaging possible variation to the lettering before taking it into a digital form. This stage of creation is the most appealing to me, before it gets into the technical side of point placements, spacing, kerning, and other features. It is the artistic period of the font.

Q: What is your favorite font you've designed?
That's difficult to answer, only because I have so many fonts I've designed, and at one time or another, they've each been my favorite font. I am usually driven to create what appeals to me, and by that, I find the latest fonts of mine to be my favorites. I really love offbeat and comic styles of fonts though, because they remind me of watching Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. With that said, right now, my favorite font of mine is Luckiest Guy.

Q: What is your favorite font from another designer? Why?
Besides offbeat comic fonts, I've always been drawn to historical lettering and typestyles, and while it isn't a single font from another designer, my favorite fonts from another designer are the Bluemlien Collection from Sudtipos. They encompass such a variety of handwritten styles, in a variety of refinements. I could just look at specimens of these for hours at a time.

Q: What is your favorite part of the type design process, and why?
All my early schooling was driven predominantly by fine arts training, so I definitely find the sketch development process is my favorite part of the type design process. I've done a lot of freelance for other designers on the technical side of font development, and while there is a degree of enjoyment I get out of it, it definitely feels more mechanical in nature. The sketch and idea phase of a typeface is the chance to free or restrain yourself depending on the type of font you are creating, and reminds me the most of how I used to express myself through other mixed medias. It's the time most open to experimentation.

Q: What do you think could be improved about the type design process?
Perhaps the main thing that could be improved is schooling. When I started, there weren't any schools for this, it was all picked up as I went along, and not many people wanted to share how they did things. I got lucky enough to get paired up with Bitstream and some other designers through TypeCon, a yearly type conference, and through those connections I expanded my skill set.

There are plenty of schools and courses for Graphic Design out there, but I haven't seen a lot of courses for type design itself. I've seen a number of designers with creative ideas come and go because they've been intimidated by the type design process, and that's a shame. It can seem like an overwhelming task when you start making fonts, but once you learn the ropes, it can become second nature like anything else. I'd like to encourage more font designers to come forth, as I think, like any other art field, the infusion of new blood and fresh ideas not only helps type design evolve as an art form, but it also spawns developers to create even more fluid production tools to enable us in new and better ways.

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