NOT WORKING: BLESK
For those of us unversed in the annals of typeface design, we can sometimes take lettering for granted. WNW Member #2053 Ksenya Samarskaya is not one of those people. She can hold court for hours on the subject of typography, expounding on the intricacies of a glyph and teaching us new vocabulary. Though Ksenya has made dozens of typefaces before, they were always for clients. Now, Blesk is out and it's all her.
The Czech word for lightning flash, Blesk is a chromatic typeface inspired by vintage book covers and designed for magazines, headlines, theater, animated titles, three-dimensional printing, literary foils... the list goes on. Full-Stack Developer and fellow WNW Member #722 Eric Jacobsen brought Blesk to life through a whimsical site with just enough hidden goodies to keep you hitting refresh.
Tell us about the birth of Blesk:
I’ve worked on dozens of type families for companies and various foundries in the past but this is the first one that I’ve released directly to the public.
There’s an established history of chromatic typefaces, often inlines and outlines of a similar form that’ve been used in the letterpress days. Whenever I start toying with a concept, I’m constantly asking myself: Can I contribute something to this conversation that doesn’t exist? Am I offering a viewpoint that hasn’t been covered and is beneficial to designers? Even in some subtle minute way. I felt like there was something in developing and having a font that layered in another way, the coming together and breaking apart of it, the contrasting elements going on inside and outside of it, that hasn’t been fully explored.
How did you know you were on to something?
I played with it before I committed to it. I got the idea and then James Todd and I started by sketching out a few letters and words to see if it worked. I tried it in some of the design projects I had going on to see how it felt and to see if it was usable besides just looking good isolated on a shelf.
If you’re still motivated and inspired during the process, you keep growing and adding to it. Typefaces take a long time to create and if you’re motivated enough to work a full typeface to the end, that already says something about it.
Where did the name 'Blesk' come from?
You’re working with people, so you’re always talking about these things and personifying them. Even if it’s meaningless, or Project No. 319, you’re referencing it and you cycle through different terms you’re using for it until you land on one that feels just right. When I got to the word Blesk, which translates to flash, lightening, or thunder in Czech, I knew it was the right one immediately.
It had the feel, the energy, and the connotations of the typeface on multiple levels. It looked good. In the way that the website is an extension of the mood or the concept, the name functions in that same way.
How do you know when a project is done and ready to be released to the world?
When doing something that's self-released, there’s always the voice that’s saying “What if i’m not ready, what if i could make it better?” Several people who've known about Blesk have been playing with it since we wrapped up most of the drawing in the fall, but I kept procrastinating on announcing anything. Then several diverging things came together, and as I was thinking of making an announcement… a couple other people started tweeting about the new release earlier this week! So then it was a natural follow-up: other people were tweeting its release so I realized should probably say something too..
How do you market a typeface?
Since this is our first public release, I still have no idea how to market it.
After James and I finalized Blesk, we started working with Bo Fahs on the quirky copywriting and with Eric Jacobsen to expand the mood of the type into the development of the website and how the type makes it’s introduction into the world. I didn't set out to make a microsite, I just love making, building, and perfecting things. I'm a creative at heart! We looked through a lot of movie and animation credits from the same inspiration era as the typeface, trying to get a sense of playful movement. Like a couple of sides that come together to make a full letter.
In addition to a traditional press kit, we created matchbooks as a unique promo piece. Since its a throwback typeface named after lightning, creating a vintage style letterpress matchbook just made a lot of sense. We worked with Salt and Cedar out in Detroit to letterpress the them. (And for the first 50 people who purchase the whole font family, Ksenya will send a matchbook to you!)
When you’re describing the font, it sometimes sounds like you’re describing yourself. if you were to have a font with your name, would it be this?
It wouldn’t be this, no. There’s an element, definitely. You always bring all of your history and experiences and background of your work. All of my typefaces do come from me.. Identity is prismatic, you're not the same you at different times or in different circumstances, just as you wouldn't use one typeface for everything you make. As for choosing one that I feel could identify me, I’m not ready yet. I feel like you’re only allowed to name things after yourself on your deathbed. My story isn’t over yet :)
Where can we go to learn more about type?
The Type Directors Club does an amazing job in organizing lectures & workshops here in NYC. They’re going to have their first conference in June. Its an amazing resource that not enough people take advantage of. And when you go to these things, the typeface community is pretty small and nerdy with a lot of brilliant minds and brilliant people around who would be happy to talk about their experience.
Besides the year long type design certificate program, Cooper Type hosts free public lectures and paid weekend workshops throughout the year.
The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography has an eminent collection of design works. You can schedule an appointment to look through all of it.
TypeCamp has several weekend workshops coming to NYC and still has spots available. They provide an alternative educational experience to anyone who wants to learn more about typography and design.
Typecon is an American conference that travels from city to city. It’ll be in Denver this year.
ATypI is a more academic and international conference, happening this year in Sao Paulo.
And finally..the public library! They're a fantastic resource to find old type specimens.
How would you like to see Blesk used?
The beauty of designing type for people is that it’s a conversation, a dialogue. I certainly have a vision of how I see it used but other people may see it differently. Type design is very much an exquisite corpse: you contribute all you can and then you pass it on… and it’s not necessarily how you would imagine. If it shows up in film or on bathroom wallpaper, absolutely. It was used on a book cover and a couple of the glyphs were stretched out to look like a railroad, I wouldn’t have thought of it - and I loved it.
What's up next?
We’re constantly building and conspiring. There’s definitely a lot of stuff in the hopper that’s going to come out soon. I’m not yet sure of the timing or order so will not say exactly what, but definitely expect quite a few more font releases in the mix.
Any other WNW members whose work you admire?
WNW has been great for me to get back in touch with people and start up conversations. I posted a job opening on there a while ago when I was looking for someone to help me out, and that instigated various phone calls and plans to collaborate, a film animator in Portland Michael John, an ex-New York designer turned Los Angeles-bikebuilder and all around fascinating individual, Sam Potts.