18 Jul 2016
We have a cracker of an interview for you this week. We chatted with the very talented Lucas Sharp, and thoroughly enjoyed reading through his insightful answers. It’s clear from the time and passion he put into these words how much more he must put into his work as a type designer. Lucas has worked as a draftsman under Joshua Darden at Darden Studio, founded Pagan & Sharp Studio with Juan Carlos Pagan in 2011 and now runs Sharp Type, a digital typeface foundry, with partner Chantra Malee. One of their typefaces, Sharp Sans, is being used as the main typeface for the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign.
“For me, typography is a practical way to explore 2-dimensional form in a way that is immensely satisfying and also useful to others.”
— Lucas Sharp
What is it you like about typography?
Lucas Sharp: For me, typography is a practical way to explore 2-dimensional form in a way that is immensely satisfying and also useful to others. Before I got into typography I was a painter and I always had an immense interest in contour lines and defining negative/positive space. My work in typography has always been about form and beauty. I’ve only recently began to really understand and appreciate the design and engineering aspect of it, so my early work was less practical and more display oriented. Love of form, of balanced and compelling form is still the driving factor in my work, but I do have a great appreciation for the utilitarian aspect of the craft as well.
At what point in history would you choose to live?
Even with all the problems in the world today, I would not want to live any other time but right now. I think we are at the precipice of a new era in human history in which the technological capabilities and the collective consciousness level of our civilization will either save us or destroy us. We are living and indeed causing one of the 6 largest extinction events in the entire natural history of the earth, our climate is changing and sea level rise is going to threaten every major coastal population center (which also tend to be the nexuses of human culture), climate change is already proving to be a greatly destabilizing force in areas most effected like the middle east and the most vulnerable areas like many parts of the third world, the oceans are dying, and a dangerous new wave of fascism in the west, totalitarianism in the east, and Wahhabism in the muslim world are on the rise.
At the same time solar and wind technology is getting cheeper and more widely adopted, especially in Europe, the battery technology to store and conserve that energy is coming along quite well thanks to visionary geniuses like Elon Musk, every day we are getting closer to attaining sustainable Nuclear Fusion (unlimited clean free energy), here in the west the bigoted voices are constantly loosing ground to progress and social justice (even if it seems we are backtracking sometimes) and the internet is creating a global dialog that is slowly bridging all cultural divides and actively challenging the new global imperialist hegemony (mostly but not only USA). I think my privilege as a white male American is coming through very strong here: if you ask a Syrian refugee, a Chinese or Russian political dissident (or an American whistleblower), A Venezuelan, a black male ensnared by USA’s racist criminal justice system, an Arab woman with an abusive husband living in Saudi Arabia, or a gay man in Uganda, if you ask them this same question they would probably say “ANY TIME BUT NOW.”
“…I still think that there was never a more important and exciting time to be alive and engaged with the world than right now.”
— Lucas Sharp
So although its easy to get caught up in the rat-race of our rigged economic system, especially living somewhere as unaffordable as Paris or New York where home ownership is almost prohibitively expensive, it is important to recognize our privilege as educated westerners living in liberal free societies and do what we can to help the situation, and advocate for the change that we must achieve in order that our species survive. So although it may be my privilege speaking, I still think that there was never a more important and exciting time to be alive and engaged with the world than right now.
Has your creative process changed over the years?
I would say my creative process has more than anything just been moved from the physical to the digital realm. Before I was a typeface designer I was a painter, and there was a time early in my career in typeface design that I would sketch letters with a pencil before executing them digitally. Now I am so fluid in the digital medium it is honestly faster to just draw straight into fontlab with my mouse and keyboard. This is why I am in the digital type stone age and still use fontlab instead of Robofont. Robofont has this millisecond delay on the arrow point nudge which slows me down so significantly that I just cant stand it; it’s like running with a backpack full of rocks.
I do think that one must have a great understanding of calligraphy to be a good typeface designer, but as long as you understand in your bones what the tool is doing to create the letters, you can execute those letters digitally without it. I rarely have a “blank page” anymore as I have started so many typefaces that I intend to finish and they take so long and I always end up expanding them beyond what I originally thought was possible. But when I do have a “blank page” and want to brainstorm new ideas I still do like to bust out the sketchbook and do some drawing, but that is only for when I don’t exactly have an idea of what I want to do.
Logotype jobs still involve a lot of sketching with pencils. Mostly I get sidetracked while working on a font with a new idea clear in my head and I just have to get it down somewhere, and that form is almost always digital. I’ve also had a profound change in my creative process that has been a byproduct of learning the craft of typeface design. This is the act of looking outward for ideas and actively seeking direct inspiration, then simply re-executing it in my own style with my own sensibilities. This was something that was an early part of my artistic development, but as I got better I felt an internal stigma about being super directly influenced by another artists aesthetic, and tried my best to find my inspiration through my own experiences, even if avoiding the aesthetic influence of work that really gets you is impossible.
“…convention is so important in typeface design that a good typeface designer must in a certain way let go of this idea of originality almost entirely to really learn the craft, then you can begin to break the rules again once you understand them.”
— Lucas Sharp
Typeface design is so much more of a craft and a discipline than painting, and convention is so important in typeface design that a good typeface designer must in a certain way let go of this idea of originality almost entirely to really learn the craft, then you can begin to break the rules again once you understand them. I guess this is true of all art but it feels especially true of typeface design. Typographic conventions are so immediately important in this world. The ingredients stay remarkable consistent but a good designer can subtly change the emphasis and the way they are arranged and suddenly you get those goosebumps and that “WOW THAT IS FUCKING SEXY TYPOGRAPHY” feeling. I do get sick of living in pixel land though so sometimes I experiment with painted letters and brush lettering, but I’m not really that good at it so I rarely show anybody.
What is your favourite magazine/movie/T.V. series?
Im really into Apartamento, Eye, and this random photography quarterly Conveyor magazine right now. I love photography and painting because I think I am obsessed with the physical experience of place and discovery, so any medium that can feed that need is candy to me. I think it is really important to surround myself with all forms of art and culture because it is creative fuel. I do love graphic design and follow the work of typeface and graphic designers I admire very closely but I also think it is important to keep yourself engaged with all forms of creativity because you never know where your next bliss shudder or death shudder is going to come from and that is one of the truest experiences of being alive. My last death shudder came from watching the film “Embrace of the Serpent” which may be high in the running of my favorite movies of all time right now but that is constantly changing.
My favorite TV series are/was Twin Peeks and Game of Thrones, although this last season of GOT was utter crap. I guess the writers decided they were just going to give the masses what they wanted which is always a TERRIBLE idea in art. You end up with the ultimate good guy fighting the ultimate evil guy to save the ultimately helpless girl and its all a tired bullshit mythology that is holding our society back from a true understanding of the world. Mythology is really important and although you don’t know it you all think mythologically and the narratives around you slowly feed into your generalized understanding of the world – So read good books and watch good films that challenge you and expand your mind! Don’t eat the mythological McDonalds of hollywood!
What sparked your interest in type design?
I ended up in design school at Parsons because both my parents were artists and scared me away from pursuing fine art as a full time endeavor because they never made any real money at it and didn’t want to see me with a no career prospects and an useless fine art degree. I think a major trapping in the millennial mindset was based on our upbringing. Our baby-boomer parents told us that we are all special and as long as we follow our dreams we can achieve anything. I do believe this in my heart but I also understand that the economic realities of our society are cold and hard.
A lot of people of my generation fell victim to this “i can do anything I want” mentality and ended up with working as a barista with an useless english degree and a mound of student debt. So here I was, a painter in design school and I was discovering graphic design. Like I mentioned before, I’ve always been in love with exploring 2-dimensional form, so when I took my first typeface design elective class with Joshua Darden I was immediately hooked. This also coincided with my first Typography 1 class where my very cool teacher brought us specimens of House Industries and introduced me to the work of Herb Lubalin. That was the first stuff that got me really excited about typography as an art form, and being able to learn directly from Joshua Darden, whose work continues to be the single greatest influence on my own, was just an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity that I am so grateful for.
Your most satisfying achievement?
I think every project I finish feels like it is my most satisfying achievement to date. It’s funny this font I am working on now has 40 masters and I’ve been drawing it for so long that parts of it feel like it was my best work then and the newest parts feel like its my best work now. This is just in typeface design though. Overall I’d say my most satisfying achievement in my lifetime is my relationship with my fiancé, the love and the trust that we have been building together for almost 7 years now, and the journey that will hopefully last for the rest of our lives.
Name something that inspires you.
I think I accidentally answered this in my answer to question 4! Besides all the things I mentioned there I would say my greatest inspiration and creative fuel is Music. I’m writing this now in a hotel lobby in Benicassim, Spain where I am doing the FIB music festival to see Jamie XX, DeLorean, and a bunch of others but mostly Kendrick Lamar. I think I am getting a bit old for the whole music festival lifestyle but its still fun to dance, experience all the amazing artists here, and watch all the teenagers going absolutely crazy with that amazing energy you have at that age. Music is one of those mediums where our best selves and truest expressions of humanity can come out, and it is a wonderful mixing pot of cultures and perspectives. I love seeing the way genres and traditions are reacting to and influencing each other these days. The two genres I am most obsessed with right now are modern and experimental electronic, techno, minimal, etc. and black music: African, Afrobeat, Malinese, Jazz, Hip-hop, Soul, Funk etc.
– Interview by Dave Coleman.
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