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When was the first time you remember becoming conscious about type and typography?
Jason Castle | “My father taught me to use a typewriter when I was about eight years old. (This was long before word processing or even electric typewriters.) I don’t remember thinking about the letter forms so much at that point. But, I remember that when I was in third grade, my teacher did not appreciate the curly-cews that I added to my penmanship, complaining to my parents that my style was ‘ostentatious.’ I wonder what my father thought about that, since he was sometimes commissioned to do the calligraphy for graduation diplomas for my school … in very florid copperplate script, which he had learned in business school. When he taught me that style of calligraphy when I was around eleven, I was hooked. I also enjoyed watching him do sign lettering for his various business ventures. Around the same time, I was also drawn to reproduction of typed or handwritten material, such as printing and so on. I even remember carving potatoes to use as stamps, and later buying rubber stamp kits and setting type. For a short period of time in my thirties, I did typesetting for a French newspaper in San Francisco. Not too surprisingly, I’ve also always loved books (perhaps inherited from my mother) and languages (both human and computer). So, when I discovered type design, it was a wonderful opportunity to bring all these interests together.”
Did you start your career designing type straight away, or do you come from another background?
Jason Castle | “I became a type designer almost by accident, or perhaps it was just a lucky coincidence. When I first started working for a living (shortly after high school), digital type design was not yet a possibility, so it was not something I would have even considered. I did a variety of things during the many years before that technology became available, from washing dishes to playing music at weddings.”
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“It wasn't until I was in my forties that I was lucky enough to discover my true passion: type design. I was a computer programmer/analyst at the time. After several years of doing that, my head literally felt lopsided from so much analytical thinking. I’m more of a creative, intuitive type. So, I felt a need to balance things out a bit, but had no clue how to do that. In one of my computer magazines, I was intrigued by an article about Judith Sutcliffe, who was using Fontgrapher to design typefaces inspired by Medieval and Renaissance calligraphy. Years earlier, during my ‘Medieval Period’ – several years in which I performed Medieval music, organized elaborate Medieval banquets, established a ‘free’ university for Medieval studies, etc. – I had been doing a lot of Medieval and Renaissance calligraphy (and illumination), so I was excited to see that there was now a way to do that without all the mess of nibs and ink. I bought Fontographer and, as an experiment, digitized the drawings by Frederic W. Goudy for what later became his famous Goudy Text. That was so much fun! I wrote Sutcliffe, who encouraged me but suggested that I not quit my day job. Eventually I did quit my programming job after landing a lucrative contract with a software company as a font consultant. (Actually, I was a contract programmer at the time and simply didn’t take on any more projects; so it was a smooth transition.) Later, I was approached by a font distributor to license my fonts, and I soon became a full-time type designer.”
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Your latest release Cradley – which was featured in the FontShop Newsletter just recently – is inspired by the work of William Caslon, but you said you would not call it a “revival” per se.
Jason Castle | “The word ‘revival’ is open to interpretation, of course. Where does one draw the line, so to speak? What I mean is that I did not slavishly follow a particular model (or set of models) for Cradley, as I might have done 25 years ago when I was first commissioned to digitize some historic typefaces. In those days, I assumed the client would be disappointed if I didn’t reproduce every subtle nuance of the original design, even if there were irregularities and inconsistencies. (Eventually, I realized that was not necessarily true.) Over the years, I’ve gradually started to trust my own eye and sense of logic. So, now I give myself a little more leeway, using a historic design – such as Caslon – more as an inspirational starting point than as a model that I want to replicate precisely.”
What was your approach to this design?
Jason Castle | “With Cradley, I worked from digital specimens of William Caslon’s work, paying particular attention to the larger (display) sizes. My intention was to create a typeface with a Baroque feel to it, but with a modern or contemporary (rather than ‘antique’) look. So, for example, many of the letters in Cradley are proportioned somewhat differently than in Caslon’s design, and many subtle elements that might seem ‘quaint’ in the original have been eliminated or modernized. So, I think of Cradley not as an ‘authentic’ Baroque-era design, but as a modern typeface with a Baroque spirit.”
“More to the point: I love Baroque music, and thanks to digital technology, I’m now able to perform it (using an electronic wind controller coupled with state-of-the-art sound libraries). Periodically, I post one of my interpretations of a Baroque piece to SoundCloud and then send the link to my friends in an email with the title ‘SUNDAY BAROQUE’.”
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“At first, I used Goudy Trajan for that title; then it dawned on me that it might make more sense to use a Baroque design. But, I didn’t have any in my library (somewhat to my surprise). So, I did a little research and discovered that some type critics consider Caslon’s designs to be the best from the Baroque period. I found some specimens and went to work on the 11 letters that I needed for my newsletter. As the design evolved (or revealed itself to me, as it seemed), I became excited and soon finished the complete alphabet. While refining and extending that, I decided to try a few letters in ‘open’ style, just for fun, again using a Caslon specimen and comparing it to modern interpretations. It happened to be the eve of a friend’s birthday, so I focused on designing the letters I would need to send him a graphic birthday greeting the next morning. His name is ‘Max’, so I designed the first 11 letters (‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAX!’) that evening. He fell in love with the font, which inspired me to finish the first draft of the alphabet. It turned out to be a lot more work than I originally anticipated, as I went back over it and added many subtle refinements. However, comparing it to the various versions of the Caslon™ Open typeface (and similar designs) that I was able to find on the web, I’d say that Cradley Open is one of the most elegant open styles available.”
Why an all caps design?
Jason Castle | “Why not? Uppercase letters were all I needed for my purpose. In any case, when I see Caslon used out in the world (for signage, for example), it is always all caps. For an elegant look, the use of all caps seems to work well. For example, the Futura® typeface looks elegant and timeless when it’s used in all caps, but a little clunky or at least dated, when lowercase is added. Having said that, Caslon’s lowercase is particularly elegant, so I hope to eventually add lowercase to Cradley.”
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You seem to have an eye for classic typefaces, interpreting them for your library. Where does this interest stem from?
Jason Castle | “Why is anyone drawn to a particular style of self-expression? My formal education is in psychology, and I’ve often thought it would interesting to bring together two of my passions by doing some studies on the psychology of type, including whether there is a correlation between an individual’s personality and the type styles that person prefers. Typefaces clearly have unique personalities, just like people, so it would not be surprising to find a relationship between the two. As for me, in general, I prefer things that might be labeled ‘classic’ or ‘classical’ (music, art, literature, etc.), things that are simple and/or understated (such as black and white photography), and so on. But, I also love the flamboyance of tropical gardening and Afro-Latin dance (two other of my many passions). I think my library reflects all these various interests, but certainly with a predominate influence from classic, timeless design (such as the work of William Caslon). Also, as much as I love it, type design is a very time-consuming and sometimes tedious endeavor, and I’d rather spend my time with something that is pleasing (for me) to look at for extended periods of time, and that, hopefully, will stand the test of time. It is very gratifying that my Goudy Trajan and Carisma families, very classic designs, are becoming more and more popular; I can only hope that the same will happen with Cradley. Only time will tell.”
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Caslon’s œuvre has been explored before. What do you hope to add to the canon with Cradley?
Jason Castle | “There is no argument that there are quite a few interpretations of Caslon’s work available. I had a lot of fun designing Cradley (named for William Caslon’s birthplace), and that is more important to me than creating something totally new. I doubt that I am different from any other professional type designer in loving what I do and hoping that my enthusiasm comes through in the final product. I feel that if one looks closely at Cradley and compare it to other interpretations of Caslon’s work, my passion (or perhaps, obsession) will be apparent. If I’ve added something worthwhile to the canon, then all the better.”
What is the next typeface design project you have your eyes on? Do you have some kind of Holy Grail, a specific typeface you want to tackle?
Jason Castle | “No Holy Grail. I’ll probably spend the rest of the year extending a couple families: adding a normal width to Dionisio, and obliques to Standard. Nothing glamorous, but hopefully welcome additions to my library. After that, maybe I can get around to adding a lowercase to Cradley.”
Trademark attribution notice Akzidenz-Grotesk is a trademark of Berthold Types Limited. Caslon is a trademark of Monotype ITC Inc. and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Futura is a registered Trademark of Bauer Types. Real is a trademark of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.