From Pixels to Splinters: Digital Type into Wood

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Tricia Treacy and Ashley John Pigford are the founders of the Vista Sans Wood Type Project, whose mission includes the creation of contemporary letterpress wood type and a set of prints by 21 international designers/artists/printmakers/studios. Treacy and Pigford used the modern technology of a purpose-built CNC router (constructed by Pigford) to create wood type of the digital font Vista Sans, designed by Xavier Dupré for Emigre Fonts. A set of five letters spelling “touch” was sent to the participants, along with a set of paper. Each was asked to create an edition of prints, reflecting the post-digital and multidisciplinary nature of contemporary artistic practice. Recently, I asked them to share their goals and outcomes.

Macy Chadwick

What’s the meaning of the name?We wanted the name of the project to be straightforward and descriptive. We decided to call it a “project” because it is an ongoing, collaborative venture that continues to evolve as more people become interested in it. We sent all of the participants the word “touch” as both a limitation for them to respond to, and because this word is so relevant to post-digital printmaking.

What is the outcome of the project?The 21 prints (in an edition of 38) are the direct outcome of the project, yet there are many indirect results as well. As artist/designers ourselves, we utilize a wide range of technologies and media from highly sophisticated digital systems to archaic physical machines, and this project seems to spark interest in others who are doing the same. The Vista Project combines elements from many disciplines (i.e. graphic design, letterpress and relief printmaking, book arts, typography, and physical computing) and exists as a combination of all of these. It’s multidimensional, which keeps it evolving.

Dafi Kuhne

What has surprised you about all the work you’ve done?The most surprising aspect of this project is the involvement and commitment from the artists. We started this project by emailing people we greatly respect for their contemporary approach to letterpress, typography, and printmaking. To our delight, the vast majority said yes right away. We were floored by the response. Of course, then we had to follow through!

We were also pleasantly surprised with the experimental nature and unique translation of each artist. The final set of prints represents a broad range of creative processes and approaches to the materials.

Is wood type making a comeback?We think the tactile nature of letterpress, specifically wood type, has always been coveted by graphic designers and printmakers. Now that technologies like CNC routers and laser cutters are more available, artists and designers (specifically those with typographic fetishes) are able to make digital data into physical objects as part of a larger creative practice. And in the wake of the digital revolution, a return to “touchable” media is certainly being amplified in many forms. This postdigital reality is evident in the intuitiveness (and proliferation) of touch screens. As humans we relate best to a world that is most like us—physical things that we can manipulate (and sense) with our hands.

Alex Cooper + Rose Gridneff

David Wolske

.You might also enjoy the book Tactile: High Touch Visuals—and its sequel, Tangible—now on sale at