Mark Gowing Of Formist’s ‘The Art of Letters’ Is A Study Of Typographical Details

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The Art of Letters is a book designed by Mark Gowing. Not only is the book's cover design elegant, mysterious, and boldly minimal, but the interior pages are a typographical adventure that explore Kris Sowersby's work.

Throughout the book, the question, "We are surrounded by letters. Yet, how do we perceive them? Are we even conscious of it?" is vastly explored.

Through oversized typography and the sole use of black type on white pages, the reader is forced to examine these letters and glyphs in detail that they never before have. It's a study of type, but more so, it's a study of the details.

(You can read Steven Heller's interview with Kris Sowersby here.)

A visual feast of letterforms celebrating one of the world's leading type designers.

Formist Editions is proud to announce the release of the publication Kris Sowersby: The Art of Letters.

Kris Sowersby: The Art of Letters is an 800 page publication expressing the intersection of art, function and form in type design. It examines type designer Sowersby’s letter drawing practice while considering the characters as independent works of art. It champions the absurd beauty involved in creating multiple expressions of predetermined alphabets through nuance and theory.

We are surrounded by letters. Yet how do we perceive them? Are we even conscious of it?

While a typeface is a well considered set of many elements, if one removes the context of language systems and alphabets, each character may be viewed as a singular abstract drawing, as art in its own right. As presented in this book, it allows us to re-see, or to see for the first time, their individual form and function.

Formist founder Mark Gowing describes of the concept as "asking more questions than it answers. What type designers do is often discussed as a kind of science. But the process of type design is also highly creative and involves an intuitive artistry led by thousands of minute decisions. I wanted to look beyond the function of type and realise the beautiful art form within the system. Type is an expressive art that can embody complex concepts and social meanings."

For a type designer, their relationship to letterforms is intimate and complex. Something Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Foundry can attest. Along with his popular library of commercial fonts, Sowersby has designed custom typefaces for commissioners including The Financial Times, PayPal and National Geographic. He has received numerous awards and accolades, including a Certificate of Excellence from the New York Type Directors Club and the John Britten Black Pin, the highest award given by the Designers Institute of New Zealand. In 2019, Sowersby was named an Art Laureate by The Arts Foundation for his continuing contribution to New Zealand Art and Design.

As Sowersby explains, "Each letterform in a typeface is painstakingly drawn. It simultaneously has to function on its own and with others. Typography is language made concrete, and typefaces are the material from which it’s made."

Kris Sowersby: The Art of Letters is finished with black-edged pages and a dust jacket featuring gold foil-stamped custom typography. Inside Sowersby's letters come to life, printed one per page in black on cream paper. The book features a fascinating essay titled 'What we read when we see' by graphic designer, writer and educator Paul McNeil and a foreword Gowing.

As McNeil writes in his essay, “Freeing Sowersby’s glyphs from their semantic and syntactic shackles exposes their internal mechanisms, functions and relationships as complex visual organisms, reminding us that text – whether inscribed by hand or composed by machine – is not language in itself but a technology whose sole purpose is to give language an enduring material form."

Sowersby and Gowing collaborated on a custom typeface, Brotunda, used to typeset the book. Inspired by the rich history of rotunda typefaces, its use is exclusive to the publication.

Project Credits:

Mark Gowing, Formist

Dave Foster, Foster Type

Kris Sowersby, Klim Type Foundry