Ordinary came about through a formal collaboration with 3st on the designing of architect Iker Gil’s MAS Context. The task I received was straightforward: letter the word “ordinary” in a grocery style. Grocery lettering styles vary greatly across sign-painters and markets, while I believe much of the personality is unintentional the style still speaks. The tall and slanted style reads like speed to me, perhaps even freshness. From the bold, upright, fairly weighted ones I see affordability.
My approach was to define what might be a publicly acceptable form to elicit a feeling of ordinary. The first thought was it’s not a form’s style alone that makes it speak.
The mediums and materials are the first-order considerations in this equation of articulation. Here honesty would be achieved through brush-in-hand execution following trade-style lettering structure. The next factor is the context it exists on and then within. DayGlo paper with black paint is the commonplace in the urban environment. Maintaining authenticity, STR Fluorescent Orange paper from Chicago’s Rayco Sign Supply would be the substrate.
With medium, material, and content, I turned to research to see how might I riff on what history has set as precedent. Looking for a relative to sign-painter’s speed-stroke, I stepped into Chicago’s type-design history and quickly found what looked to be a relative. Ray Baker’s Film-O-Type LaSalle, named after the downtown street for its finer goods and the lettering styles of the storefront showcards.
It seems while Film-O-Type was based in New York, they often hired Chicago lettering artists to produce drawings for their typefaces. Ray Baker’s history places him in Chicago’s Lettering, Inc., one of the earliest photo-typesetting companies in existence. Their point of distinction in the industry was the ability to achieve dramatic effects through setting type on angles, curves, or bends, and then photographing it—producing flawlessly set headlines that looked like ordinary authentic lettering.
Wanting to find in-use examples that perhaps predated Film-O-Type, I pulled samples of Lettering, Inc. sales collateral archived at the Newberry Library. There it was, it was generically credited as Script, used often in titling treatments for their own material. Through the photo-typesetting technology, came ease in reproduction. The sophisticated distinction once applied by hand was right here being used for a middle-grade supermarket in the 1950’s.
Today, as the all the todays of yesterday, our tools are more accurate, faster, and increasingly connected to each other. Each of us are a tutorial, skill-share, or Google away from becoming half-informed or skilled on anything. Our skills and knowledge are completely up to us and our determination. With this advancement, our work can become increasingly quick or increasingly rich. When determining an approach on a project I always choose for the work to be purpose based, informed by discipline, tradition, history, and impact.
For the ordinary work, I choose to base the lettering style upon LaSalle, for it’s visual alignment achieved over a lifetime of fluctuating ordinary behaviors. A modern cut of Filmotype LaSalle is available for use and purchase through MyFonts.com.
As a designer I approached this project by exploring the meaning implied by style and understood within the collective conscious of the public.
As an artist I’ve continued the painting of these forms. The idea being to test the grounds of transcendence through meditation while experiencing the loss of meaning through repetition. The zen-like exercise of painting the now familiar is much less about style but the nuances within the single word. This practice passes from the tradition of Chinese calligraphy and enters the realm of contemporary art, by way of Pollock, Warhol editions, Ross Bleckner’s Blah Blah Blah series, etc. and so forth.