“Last year I got into type design very intensely,” explains Belgian graphic design student Kenneth Vanoverbeke, “and pretty much from the start, I knew that I had to make a typeface.” Titled Basylisk, that typeface has now materialised, stating Kenneth’s intentions to explore type design in a speculative, yet considered way.
The typeface has emerged as part of a wider method of Kenneth’s working methods. “During our art history classes, we went over the romantic art period, which kind of piqued my interest,” he recalls. As a result, his recent work has been an exploration of typography based on visual references from this period. “The type always starts from a base font and is modified into something else. Sort of like expressionism but in typography and not painting,” he adds.
Basylisk, specifically, planted itself as an idea after a fellow student introduced Kenneth to the work of Gustave Doré. “I completely lost myself in his illustrations,” he recalls, “The portrayal of all sorts of mythical creatures and the romantic characteristics are what inspired this typeface.”
In order to channel Doré, he began by drawing the typeface’s “A”. A geometric shape, it features a vertical right stem, and a curved left stem which thins near its base. It was from this shape that all the other letters emerged, in an exercise of designing with restrictions, and to precise stylistic guidelines. “I used that shape to represent the uniqueness that romantic art wanted and wants to be,” Kenneth tells It’s Nice That, “Since it’s only an uppercase typeface with numbers, it was easier to attain a sense of completion using only this shape.”
Just as Basylisk takes its visual queues from the detail and expression of Doré’s wood engravings and illustrations, much of Kenneth’s work is imbued with the aura of other artists. “Visual references give a certain look and feel to the work shown next to them,” he outlines, “We don’t see this very much in contemporary design but typography can be so much more than a letter on a page meant to be read. I want typography to be a form of art – abstract shapes inspired by the image that is next to them.”
With this in mind, Kenneth has a wealth of stimuli when it comes to creating work, a fact which sees him producing typographic experiments on a regular basis. Often shared on his Instagram account, each one acts as an experiment for the budding typographer to scrutinise ideas or techniques. “Most of the time, these visuals are not just a reference,” he concludes, “they provide a certain expressionist side for my letters.”
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