Morgane VanTorre details the beginning, middle and end of her ever-evolving type design process
In dedication to the mastery of type design, French graphic designer Morgane VanTorre crafts delicate and detailed typefaces alongside her MA degree at École Estienne in Paris; resulting in an ever-evolving portfolio that emphasises her education and process. We caught up with her to find out more about how she does it.
EM Hi Morgane, how are you?
MVT Hi Elliott! I feel good thanks to the arrival of sunny days even if I’m going through a pretty intense period. :)
EM When did you first become interested in graphic design?
MVT As far back as I can remember, I have always felt drawn to shapes and letters. As a child, I spent a lot of time drawing but also creating books with my drawings and my own texts. All my teachers as well as my family said me I should keep up that way. I listened to them and followed first art courses and then did graphic design studies.
I wanted to find the perfect balance between gracefulness and strength.
EM How did you take your first steps into type design?
MVT During my two-year degree in graphic design, I had the opportunity to get a deep approach to typography. It was especially my semiology teacher at this time who taught me what written language really represents and he helped me to conceptually understand the characteristics of writing and what it conveys. I immediately found it passionating. And, with a step back, following a type design master degree was an obvious continuation. I have always been attracted to art and have followed both a literary and artistic course. I think I found in type design a meeting point between these two fields that combines the linguistic and the image, and which put the creation at the heart of their process. It is the combination of a cleverness of mind and a sensitive approach that makes me so passionate.
EM What do you enjoy about working on serif typefaces?
MVT In fact, I have always been in love with serifs and always been in love with the old shapes, especially for their subtlety and delicacy. So, with Arthemys, I naturally wanted to interpret these shapes in my own way and try to link the past with my contemporary eye. By interesting me to thin contrasts, I was looking for atypical shapes which speak to our eyes through the beauty and sensitivity of ancestral shapes, but also share a kind of self-assurance. In other words, I wanted to find the perfect balance between gracefulness and strength, between sensitivity and audacious aesthetic.
Once you start, there is a spark inside you that will help you reach your goal.
EM How does the process of starting a new typeface typically begin? Do you create instinctively or already have an idea of what you’d like the outcome to be?
MVT Starting from scratch is indeed stressful for me, it’s an open door to fall into nonsense or do things for free, which is the antithesis of a good project. In my opinion, the important thing is to first define the limits of the subject.
The first step is research: an essential step that I take seriously. This is where everything starts and what will define the direction of the project. Where to start? At this stage, everything is open and everything remains to be explored depending on the subject you are going to deal with. It’s like having a mountain to climb. It may seem scary at first, but once you start, there is a (creative) spark inside you that will help you reach your goal.
I would say that I start with an idea, a desire (clear or not) of which I come to exhaust the possibilities by various documentations (readings, visual research…). In general, I do not hesitate to be exhaustive, I open my horizons while asking myself the right questions and refining and directing my exploration according to where I want to go. In general, I don’t anticipate the result very much, I prefer to let myself be guided by my experiments and tests in order to be as close as possible to the subject and concept to which I am attached. Imagining a final result too quickly can restrict our creation in my opinion.
In the context of Arthemys, the aim was, first of all, to establish a historical overview of the history of typography in the 18th century, and then, quickly, to carry out formal research, which first of all involved drawing on tracing paper. I thus gave myself the opportunity to define, by hand, my own ‘rules of the game’ which led to setting the tone of the typeface. Draw, fail, start again, ‘fail better’…
So, being aware of what you want to say and put forward seems important to me to feel effective and inspired. That’s why I see every typeface creation process as an inverted ‘funnel.’ I personally have the habit of constraining myself at the beginning of the project in terms of materials, shapes and/or concepts. It’s like a game: finding a system, defining your own arbitration. And the more I progress, the more I free myself from these rules, without forgetting them. In the end, each detail I deal with is more and more liberated and often contributes to establishing a ‘side step,’ which gives a singular aspect to the project. The icing on the cake, as they say. It is at this stage of the project, when the foundations are perfectly established, that I feel my creativity is freed from all constraints and that I perceive a gateway for the insertion of new experiences. For example, it might be thinking of a special serif for a particular letter, a detail of the typeface that differs from the original matrix. For me, the beauty of a typeface comes from the intelligence of its system and the subtlety of its shapes.
EM What’s the most challenging stage of the type design process?
MVT I could say that the most difficult thing in type design is to find a singular unity and harmony between all the letters. Giving a unique character to each glyph while keeping the whole thing coherent, without falling into caricature or a too light personality. This requires making a lot of choices, sometimes abandoning certain ideas, trying again… Finding this perfect balance is not easy. However, it is what makes the difference in the end.
EM How do you know when a typeface is finished?
MVT I never know aha. To tell the truth, I stop when I feel that the whole thing is properly stabilised, whether it’s the drawing or the spacing. But I always have trouble considering a character as finished. With hindsight and a fresh look at my file, I always find things to refine, improve, complete. For me, a character has an evolving life. That’s what I think of for Arthemys. After I graduate, I want to continue its development. Correcting, refining my drawings and of course completing the family.
Finding this perfect balance is not easy. However, it is what makes the difference in the end.
EM Do you have any favourite examples of your typefaces in use?
MVT Oh yes the choice should be quite difficult! It’s always a warm pleasure for me to see my work used by other people. Concerning Arthemys, I enjoyed seeing it used for numerous fields such as music. I’d be happy to mention Syncsmith who adopted it for their logotype, but also the album cover and clip videos for Holy (by Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper), X Factor Italia who used it for its communication, oh and I don’t want to forget the nice work of Serafim Mendes for the music group Septeto Interregional. More recently, there are also the rapper Villabanks who used it for his last covers, and the Glastonbury festival which adopted it for its communication on social media and posters.
Arthemys was also used for cinema (I’m in love with the short film PILAR by Aniol Oliver), fashion (Pas une Marque’s collection), Serafim Mendes, theatre (O corporate de Helena by Theatro Nacional 21)…
Otherwise, I’d be happy to quote J.Hannah for whom I designed a bespoke typeface for their signets and other jewels, or even the florists Versus for whom I designed a logotype which was painted on their shop window. In any case, I am always so grateful for the interest people have in my work and how they make my characters their own.
EM What do you have in the works at the moment?
MVT Currently, I’m on the last push of my type design MA at École Estienne. Now I’ve completed my dissertation, I’m working on my diploma. My oral presentation will be next June, it approaches quickly! Besides, I’m continuing my freelance activity and working on several type identity projects for clients. I can’t wait to graduate to take it to the next step and be fully involved in my professional practice even, I have to admit, I also love experimenting, doing research and writing. I hope I’ll be able to keep this opportunity in the future.
EM How do you find balancing your studies with your freelance work?
MVT To be honest, it’s not easy because both are time-consuming and require a deep involvement but I managed to find my rhythm and it suits me very well, I’ve never been so fulfilled with what I’m doing. Of course, combining studies and freelance requires a lot of sacrifices to maintain a good work dynamic and not to be overloaded. Actually, I have very busy days that sometimes tend to encroach on my private time but I learned to manage and balance my schedule properly.
Organisation is the key. If I have one piece of advice to give, I would say it’s very helpful ‘to be in the aftermath.’ I mean appreciating the present but thinking in the long term rather than the short term. It avoids surprises or oversights. At the same time, it’s important to listen to yourself and take breaks. I quickly learned that it is not a waste of time to take time for yourself, on the contrary!
EM Do you plan to continue freelancing after you graduate or would you like to work within a design studio, or even officially establish your own?
MVT Very good question. I feel that I am at a turning point in my career: this switch from studies to professional life. As I already have a foot in the freelance world, I obviously intend to continue this activity and work with various clients. However, I would also like to continue developing my skills in a type foundry. It would be a great opportunity for me to work with other type designers. That’s what I’m looking for next year (if any foundry sees this message, don’t hesitate to reach out to me aha).
And of course, after that, my dream would be to open my own foundry and be totally autonomous :)