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Art & Design careers

Calligraphy & Typography

Why are calligraphy and typography important?

Art and design is not all about painting, drawing or digitally manipulating pictures. It’s also about letters, words, fonts, typefaces and alphabets. You may not know it, but many typographers and calligraphers dedicate their entire working lives to the artistic creation and design of typefaces, fonts or decorative lettering.

We are all influenced by fonts, typefaces and lettering every day. However, we might not realise it at the time. The careful choice of typefaces help us to recognise our favourite brands, they help us to read information more clearly, and when we write something on Word our choice of font reflects how, what and why we want to communicate with people (for example, we are currently choosing to use Arial, and we’re doing it for a reason!).

What is typography?

Typography is art with a purpose. Driven by functionality, the typographer’s painstaking craft is dedicated towards the creation of legible and readable characters for printing. Typefaces are silent masterpieces. The nuances and intricacies of an effective typeface go undetected by the reader whose primary concern is the information they are consuming. However, the subtle aesthetic of the letters can have a profound influence in its own right. The careful shaping of each character enhances the reader’s experience and each serif or curve holds its own semantic force.

Some typefaces are used all over the world for different things; for instance, the font, Helvetica, is one of the most used typefaces in the world, with the United States government and major brands such as American Apparel widely favouring its use. People are genuinely passionate about typefaces, with some fonts even sparking heated debate, such as Comic Sans.

What is calligraphy?

Calligraphy does not necessarily affect everyone’s lives to the same extent. However, calligraphic lettering can provide a source of fascination and wonder for people in the same way that an impressionist painting can.

Indeed, the craft of calligraphy is closer to fine art than design. Calligraphy is the craft of fine handwriting, a visual art where the legibility of letters may be compromised in favour of visual extravagance. In this context, the legibility of the word is no longer important, only the embellishments, the intricacies and the decorative quality of the letters.*

How are typography and graphic design related?

Specialist careers in typography are quite rare, and those who pursue them tend to be incredibly passionate people, who live and breathe type. In the digital age, typography has almost become a secondary skill, which many graphic designers possess within their batch of different talents. However, many people do still specialise in this area.

A typographer’s responsibilities simply involve the meticulous and careful design of fonts and typefaces. This is an incredibly difficult and technically challenging task, which requires a steady hand, an eye-for-detail, and creative flair.

Many companies and individuals want their own original fonts created, and will often commission typographers to design unique lettering that is legible and communicates their brand identity in a certain way.

Where do typographers work?

Sometimes typographers use traditional materials, but more often than not they use advanced computer software, such as FontLab. Some people just work as type designers, and other people also work as typography experts to assist graphic designers, book publishers and advertising agencies with their selection of typefaces for books, websites and posters. Typographers tend to work independently or often within specialist graphic design agencies, such as Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

Where do calligraphers work?

Careers in calligraphy are even rarer. They require creative talent, a skilful hand and meticulous attention to detail. Many professional calligraphers work independently or as part of collective calligraphy agencies. They tend to earn their money by receiving commissions for wedding invitations, formal letters, props for photo shoots, logo designs and other graphic design projects.

It’s a good idea to seek out local calligraphy guilds to generate contacts and help you find a niche in the market. The thing to remember is that professional calligraphers are very rare so if you can make a name for yourself, then work should come steadily. Some calligraphers even deal nationally and internationally, shipping their commissioned pieces across the globe.

A career in calligraphy and typography is something you’ve probably never considered, or even heard of, before – but that’s why we’re here! If you have creative flair spilling out of your ears and don’t know quite where to direct it, then this might be the industry for you…

Some of the content in this section has been taken from: Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters, (London: Black Dog Publishing), September 2010. This has been reproduced with permission from the publisher.