Type designer Matthijs Herzberg injects history and a little bit of humour into his bold typefaces
The New Orleans-based typographer walks us through his brilliant, blackletter infused font Schmaltzy, and also gives us an insight into why he views type design as a form of artistic expression.
- Olivia Hingley
- 24 March 2022
Type designer Matthijs Herzberg leads his practice with the words of one of his biggest creative icons, William Morris: “letters should be designed by an artist and not an engineer”. Interpreting this in his own words, Matthijs believes type to be “a form of expression”. And, looking to artistic movements from the 1890s to the 1930s – such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism – for their “incredibly inventive and interesting” approach to typography, Matthijs seemingly has no trouble when it comes to sourcing such artistic inspiration.
But whilst Matthijs is so clear cut in where he sources his inspiration, his journey toward type design has (quite literally) been a much more long and winding road. Born in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, Matthijs tells us that whilst his family instilled a love for art and culture in him, he felt restricted by his hometown's isolated location and resulting “close-minded” attitude. After finishing high school in 2012, Matthijs hit the beaten track and went hitchhiking around Europe, later trying the same in the US before coming to “the painful realisation that Americans don't pick up hitchhikers”. Instead, relying on trusty greyhound buses, he ended up in New Orleans, where he “fell in love with the city and a woman named Katie”.
It was upon later moving to the US (to dedicate himself to his two newfound loves) that Matthijs first began to take notice of letters, which had before been “what they are to regular folks: utilitarian and invisible”. Toying with calligraphy and ornamental Victorian style lettering, Matthijs spent a lot of time doing painstakingly detailed drawings. However, before long, after striving for perfection “but never quite getting there”, Matthijs turned to his trusty computer. He drew his first font in 2019, without knowing much about the discipline he was pursuing, but now, having honed his craft for a few years and gotten into his creative comfort zone, his work has come on leaps and bounds. “I never did end up going to college for art or design” Matthijs ponders, “and at this point I have a full on career in the field, so I doubt I ever will.”
If there is one thing Matthijs really knows how to do, it's throwing himself headfirst into a project. From designing a type for a charity revitalising a rural Kansas town, to a custom typeface for a short horror film, Matthijs also has no desire to restrict himself in his pursuit of diverse briefs. But, one of our favourite of Matthijs recent designs (and his too) is his self-initiated typeface, Schmaltzy, released in January of this year. A “modern, friendlier and perhaps goofier” take on gothic blacklettering, the font applies a Cooper Black-esque effect, by rounding every sharp edge. Full of historicism, reminiscent of a centuries-old manuscript, Matthijs also has a knack for presenting Schmaltzy in inventive ways, surrounding it with ornate foliage and humorous declarations.
This focus on humour is an important element for Matthijs, which he began to include in his work after realising that “a lot of artists, myself included, kind of developed a uniform social media voice when presenting work, which is very vanilla. Descriptive, a bit exciting but not too much, sometimes a touch pretentious.” So now, in an effort to not seem fake or boring, Matthijs tries to let his personality shine through: “I try not to take it too seriously and don’t filter myself too much. Hopefully that comes across as funny, or at least a bit me.”
Looking to the future, in the short-term Matthijs wants to expand his type catalogue – which currently stands at five brilliant fonts – and improve all aspects of his “very young” foundry. In the long-term, however, Matthijs is keen to get out from behind the screen, have a go at designing and cutting his own type and maybe even using it to hand print a book... “I hear that it’s tricky to operate a printing press in New Orleans because of humidity, but who knows – the Dutch never let a little water hold them back.”
Matthijs Herzberg: Miscellaneous Lettering (Copyright © Matthijs Herzberg, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.