Typography Spotlight: Brian Gartside

ADC Young Guns 12 winner's hobby and career are "the same thing".

With all of the action and excitement around the ADC campfire these days — from announcing the full line-up of workshop presenters for the ADC Festival, to promising a free plane ticket to one lucky Festival attendee, to showcasing the Tomorrow Awards Twelve and highlights from last year’s show ahead of this year’s deadline —  ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month has admittedly been lost in the shuffle. But rest assured, we still have lots of lettering goodness left for the ADC community!

Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.

Today’s Typography Spotlight isn’t just an ADC Young Guns 12 winner: his lettering skills were employed in creating the Young Guns 12 trophy! 



New York, NY, USA



Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?

My interest in typography began in my type 101 course at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University). Reading Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style for the first time, I just fell in love with typography. I soon came to realize that the difference between a good designer and a great designer often came down to their handling of typography, so I set out to learn to use type well in my projects. From there I started reading as much as I could on the subject, but the thought of being a typographer didn’t occur to me until my senior year.

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

I was fortunate enough to attend a university that offered a type design elective for seniors, which is where my love of typography really came into its own. Before that I had been fascinated with the subject and had tried to make my own rudimentary type for a few projects, but hadn’t ever considered creating typography to be a viable option for my career, and to be honest, didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I got my foundations in that class, learning things about proportioning, proper point structure, spacing, etc, and then continued to practice and learn on my own once I’d graduated.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?

I try to avoid having a “style” but I do have a tendency to go through phases where I’m really interested in a specific variety of typographic forms. These phases tend to coincide with a particular project that demands that specific kind of typography. For example, right now I’m rather obsessed with fraktur, and am working towards becoming competent at that particular style of calligraphy. I think if I worked in one style for too long, I’d get bored of it. I’d also run the risk of becoming known for a specific type of lettering, at which point it would become difficult to get other types of work. That certainly works for some people and (to an extent) seems to be required in the illustration world, but it’s not for me. Typography is already so specific a field of study that I don’t feel the need to specialize further. I like to keep my stylistic options open.

Walk us through your usual type design process.

I always start on paper. For lettering projects, I’ll start in pencil, sketching until I get the layout and proportions the way I want them to be, then I’ll go over with ink and refine the forms. I tend to get a bit…obsessive at this point. I like to try to get as close as I possibly can to a finished product (done in one sitting) before I move on to the next step. Once that’s done, I’ll scan it in and then redraw it in Illustrator. For drawing type, the process is much the same except that I’ll usually do a very rough digitization in Illustrator before moving into font production software (I use Font Lab).

“People tend to assume that because I can draw letters, I should also be able to draw other things.”

What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?

I have a really hard time calling one specific typeface my “favorite,” but currently I’d say I’m marginally obsessed with Quarto from Hoefler & Co. It’s a display face so it’s probably not the absolute most “practical” typeface out there, but it is absolutely gorgeous. Hoefler’s type is always executed to a ridiculously high level, but even compared to his other work, Quarto stands out to me. It’s a near perfect balance of character and precision.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?

My favorite letters to draw would have to be the two story a, or the two story g. They’re the most fun because they’re the most complicated, and lend themselves towards having a lot of character.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Serif I suppose. Serifs can be rather sharp, and I’d imagine would provide an advantage in a fight. More seriously though, they both have their applications and are separate enough in my mind that there’s no need for a fight. They’re different, but equal in my mind.

The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.

I’d say there’s very little in the way of natural overlap between illustration and typography. People tend to assume that because I can draw letters, I should also be able to draw other things. Similarly to how being able to draw type doesn’t necessarily improve your penmanship, it also doesn’t seem to improve your general drawing ability…or at least hasn’t improved mine.

What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

Type is my only real artistic passion. It’s probably not the most interesting answer, but I’m very lucky in that my hobby and my career are the same thing. If I couldn’t get a job working with type, I’d still be drawing it in my spare time. It’s a sort of obsession that I’d say is required (on some level) to do good work as a typographer. As for inspiration, there are a number of websites I visit like designspiration and typeverything, but really most of my best ideas come to me when I’m doing something mindless like taking a shower, trying to sleep, or riding my bike.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world?

The type community is small but full of some really exceptional people. For typeface design, I really admire the work of Joshua Darden, Christian Schwartz & Paul Barnes, and Kris Sowersby. For typographer/designers, Craig Ward, Sean Freeman and Jordan Metcalf all do amazing work. More recently I’ve started getting into calligraphy, and spend a lot of time looking at Seb Lester and Doyald Young’s work.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

I’ve been working in advertising for the past 3 years or so, and the most difficult thing I’ve found is dealing with the timelines. Anyone who has ever done custom typography/lettering will know how long it can take, and me being a perfectionist, I’m unwilling to release a project that’s not executed to the best of my ability. By contrast, most clients don’t really have the same understanding of how long these things take, so it can get a bit hectic from time to time and you have to do your best to educate your clients as to the value that good typography adds, and explain why certain things take longer than others.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

I get paid to play with letters. It’s an amazing job. I love making things, and I’m incredibly fortunate that so far in my career, I’ve worked at places and with people that have supported that desire. Every day is different and every project presents unique challenges, which keeps my life interesting and allows me to be constantly experimenting with new forms and materials.