21st Century Typography | Faces

Clerkenwell-based designer Jamie Clarke explains how the local history of type influences his typographic posters and lettering artworks…

As a designer working with and writing about type in Clerkenwell, it’s uplifting to be surrounded by 300 years of the craft’s heritage. The Founder’s London A-Z, a gazetteer of historical foundries published in 1998, lists 30 in EC1 alone, of which William Caslon’s remains the most famous.

I’m certain this heritage contributed to my rekindled passion for typography, and my recent career change from owning a web design agency to refocusing on type. My fi rst project was a ‘typographic time capsule’ of Exmouth Market. The print documents the street’s colourful history – its beginnings as a spa, the blood sports and overcrowded graveyard – and its current restaurants, shops and cafés (three have closed since the print was produced late last year).

Each of the decorated initials spelling ‘Exmouth’ reflects the story that’s weaved around them. For example, the ‘O’ represents Joseph Grimaldi, father of all modern-day clowns, who lived at number 56. I chose Minion Pro, a modern typeface inspired by classical type that retains the flair of Caslon. I’ve used the Caslon typeface itself on several occasions when something formal, antique or floral is required.

I’m currently in the process of designing my first typeface. The learning curve is steep and the process requires an incredible amount of patience. Designing a harmonious a-z is challenging enough, but practical usage requires italics, bolds, diacritics, numerals and European language support, resulting in a typeface of hundreds of carefully crafted characters. Extremely large font families with many weights can include tens of thousands of characters.

Two well-respected type design companies have studios in EC1. Fontsmith has designed custom typefaces for Channel 4 and the Post Office, as well as ‘Clerkenwell’, a typeface inspired by the area. Monotype, who patented the first hot metal typesetting machine in 1896, recently opened a studio here.

Whether or not this is an indicator of Clerkenwell’s resurgence as a home of type, nowhere in the world can match its history. I recently discovered there had once been two foundries on my street, one in the vicinity of my home. I’d like to think the foundry was right here where I write.

Jamie Clarke is editor of the Type Worship blog (www.blog.8faces.com). His Exmouth print is on sale at Family Tree, 53 Exmouth Market.