Having been founded in New York, Sharp Type has since been based in Granada, and is now run between Madrid and San Francisco, with employees back in New York, too. Living abroad has given Chantra and Lucas a new perspective on work: “The world is globalising, whether or not people are fighting against it… and we found that being in Spain was an amazing opportunity to jump ahead of the curve”, says Chantra. They’ve been working with people in China, Japan, Korea and India, as well as designers across Europe and the US, and finding the balance between working internationally and having a team mentality has been challenging. “We’ve been debating this – how to grow globally, but also be able to get people in the same room, at least occasionally” says Chantra. “When we were in Granada, we’d have lots of people over to our place. We’d try to have two weeks working, mentoring or just making friends and being in the same space, establishing that rapport”, Lucas continues. “The thing about the industry is, it’s small, and you never know where the next talent is going to pop up.”
For its most recent release, Garnett, Sharp Type worked with Connor Davenport, who’d originally conceived of it as part of his undergraduate thesis project. “It was nuts”, Lucas says. “He wanted to draw a different type family for every single entry of the 19th century British classification system, and we were like: ‘Dude, chill out, focus on one thing’, so he started refining the grotesk. We definitely took him through the ringer, [and] I’m really proud of him.”
Garnett is rooted in history, “imbued with the perfectionism and eccentric personality of its creator”. “Connor’s appreciation of history really shines through, in keeping with the best of that revivalist tradition” Lucas says. “It’s a really clean, contemporary aesthetic, but it has that twinkle of the imperfections of old work. It’s something that’s often ironed out, but we’ve found a way to work it in. It’s how typography is supposed to be – each letter has its own character.”
“We’re yet to see how it’ll be applied, but it’s a versatile typeface. We’ve been approached by a lot of innovative start-ups, who are trying to show a little bit of a creative side and try and stray from convention. While it’s a workhorse, it has that bit of wonkiness that people seek out” Chantra confirms.
Another example of Sharp Type’s technical balance between tradition and innovation, is the type family Beatrice, named after Lucas’ mother, to whom he traces his “artistic journey”: “She’s always been super encouraging, and she’s definitely always danced to her own beat”. An exploration of contrasting methodologies, it “[combines] various aspects from the canon – expansionist systems, inverted contrast, and the contrasting behaviour of standard sans-serif grotesks”. It’s “built on the foundation of a traditional American Gothic but with tight-as-can-be spacing”, and it spans a robust set of weights. “There are genres of historical conventions that you have to work with and may have a new take on, but largely you’re never reinventing the wheel. Beatrice is the closest we’ve come personally to eking out a new niche in the aesthetic eco-system” Lucas says.
“Rather than being based on the pen stroke, it’s based on looking at each letter as a contained unit and applying thicks and thins according to the proximity of the stroke to the centre” he continues. “We had a tonne of fun with the display version, which is really high contrast. It’s cool for editorial if people want to take a risk, but it’s a few years out from being something that could feel a little bit normal.
Beatrice is playful and weird, and although it looks like it doesn’t really fall into any conventional territory, it is related to that reverse contrast aesthetic that’s been in the zeitgeist of graphic culture for some time now – and it’s in the zeitgeist that people move forward.”
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