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Fonting By Hand. -  Text Art
The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
Art that utilizes words as its 'paintbrush' is particularly intriguing: as opposed to an abstract stroke and a symbolic color, text is codified, sending great big brainwaves of pre-conceived associations. Its foundations lie in a system of signs and signifiers, with sounds and symbols that represent each word, syllable and letter.
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By Waylon D’Mello, Issue 7, Text Art, April 2012
In the tree-shadowed building of the prep section of The Bishop's School in Pune, we used pencils until the 2nd grade. As the monsoons approached in the first week of June, it was a rite of passage for boys entering the 3rd grade to take a trip to the stationers to buy their first ink pen. At the end of the first week, every boy, save for prissy me, had been berated for a Royal Blue ink stain, traditionally azure (Hex#002366) at its centre, fading outward into the terrible web version (Hex#4169E1) at the bottom of the breast shirt pocket of the starched white uniforms that we wore to class everyday.

“Penmanship says a lot about your character,” my teacher’s voice reverberated in my ears as I learnt the regimen of curly bumps, pointy cones, unbroken tsunami wave patterns, and of course, the standard cursive.

I made it a point to master the art of writing so that whoever chanced upon a sample by my pen would know what a stellar chap I was. The monks and scholars of yore who painstakingly created volumes of manuscripts before the invention of the printing press really must have been stand-up guys, I would think.

By junior college, I had shed the notion that penmanship reflected my character and traded my analog ink pen for an analog keyboard. The structure of my work had drastically changed and my notes were reduced from minor works of art to a series of black pixels and negative space with perfect kerning (spacing between letters and characters). Trading in my handwriting for efficiency wasn't such a big deal in the long-run. However the shift from analog to digital wasn't as gentle to the culture of hand-painted signs that invite customers into the shops lining the streets of every Indian village, town and city.

By the time Desktop Publishing (DTP) reached the masses in the early 90's any old Hari with a version of Corel Draw or Photoshop was suddenly a designer. The cheaper production costs and shorter work-flows pushed the analog artist further and further into obscurity.

When Nikhil Moré set out to create a typeface based in the rich tradition of street signage, he began in Kalbadevi, Mumbai. The more DTP wallah's he encountered, the more he noticed how the wealth of visual culture created painstakingly by the analog artist was being lost on the road to modernity.

Moré lyrically negotiates between the authority of the digital age and the innovation of analog. He sees, critically, the artistic processes of style, gesture, direction and emotion that comes from using your hand and applies it to the structure of his typeface.

He begins with a formalist approach, looking at the most basic denominator- the stroke. Latin calligraphy and its digital descendants are based on a stroke wherein the pen is held at a 45° angle to the right of the perpendicular, whereas Devanagari calligraphy requires the pen to be held to the left of the perpendicular. Therein lies the true beauty of Adhyapak- a font whose stroke is aware that it is being translated.

One cannot simply say his font is a work of genius because he decided to rotate his stylus  90°W. But then we look at the detail in the lettering. The open counters of the 'a' mimics the open counter of the short 'kɑː' of Devanagari (script), and tail of the 'Q' is reminiscent of the tail of the 'e' or the 'rɑː'. Ultimately Adhyapak in Moré's vision as a body text font is readable and legible in point sizes as small as 9. Even still, it has sharp terminals at the bottom to give the text a sense of suspension, like in the case of Hindi, in whose image it was created.

Ultimately, Adhyapak's formalist stroke prevents it from being completely digital. Without getting too technical, hinting is the process whereby monitors automatically adjust fonts for maximum readability. The details of a font are interpreted in variations of a mathematical algorithm that draws vectors on your screen which you see as a font. Adhyapak is especially not friends with web 2.0 and it is unclear whether it is a lack of sophistication on the part of the font or the technology, but this process of 'hinting' makes Adhyapak a primary print font.

Nikhil Moré was a design student at the Shrishti School of Art, Design and Technology when he began working on 'Adhyapak', (The Teacher) back in 2010. In a world where DTP questions where art stops and design begins he answered with his own typeface. Even with this formalist approach Adhyapak has a function. Because of its roots in awning art, a version like Adhyapak Display (version 1.5) can jump off the page and onto large-format hoardings while Adhyapak Heavy (version 1.5) is suited to logos or headings on flexes.

My analog writing has let the digital world infiltrate. I often find myself writing out words as if they were logos when I find myself with a pen and paper. My introduction to text as art was in the 5th grade when a teacher showed me how to make my own calligraphy stylus by chopping off the end of a nib with a nail cutter and filing it down with a nail-file. That simple process turned penmanship into an artform for me. And with Adhyapak, Moré took the hand of the now obscuring Kalbadevi sign-artist with his gesture, emotion, and direction and turned an artform back into a typeface.


Waylon D’Mello is a writer breathing-in Pune.

Nikhil Moré was born in 1985 and lives and works in Bangalore.

Read this article in the Adhyapak font.

Also in this issue

  • In defiance of the archaic, oppressive system, the tribe decided to tattoo the name ‘Ram’ all over their faces and bodies: a voiceless declaration of faith and its reclamation.
    Read More
  • Calm yet vocal, sentimental yet witty, Hema’s Extra Ordinary is likely to linger in your mind and remind you of the essentially fragmented nature of everyday city life and your own multiple selves, perspectives, disorders
    Read More
  • These Basterds are unapologetic. To quote 'An Introduction': “that would be perspective and THIS is propaganda”.
    Read More

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.