Typography is present all around us. From billboards and posters to newspapers, magazines, blogs, infographics, advertisements, and art, we can see it in every material that has text in it. This goes beyond being a plain or random display of letters – it’s a carefully designed art with an objective to convey a particular feeling, brand image, or to help readability. But, what exactly does typography art mean? In this blog, we’ll take a more in-depth look at its definition and how this art has been used by some famous graphic designers around the world.
What is Typography Art?
The dictionary defines typography art as “the style, arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter.” In simple words, it is a creative technique that involves arranging words, alphabets, phrases, painting, figurine, or digital art forms to create a piece of work that’s visually attractive and conveys a purposeful message. Even standard designs or printed materials can be made more interesting and attractive with the use of customized fonts and typographic arts.
Before the advent of the digital era, typography was a specialized art form, typically confined to book and magazine designs and a limited spectrum of advertising and public works. Billboards, road signs, and product packaging were some of the most examples where typography was used in the physical world.
As the internet became an indispensable part of our lives, the typography art was used in a thousand different ways. Never before did fonts show up in such abundant visual diversity. Today, graphic designers have countless fonts to choose among, as font-creators sell and share their work online.
Typography Art History
As one of the primary and most basic forms of contact, writing and typography have their roots in the Upper Paleolithic times when humans used only symbols in cave paintings as a form of expression. According to records of the formal history, writing was developed by Sumerians around 3,500 B.C. As humans advanced and became civilized, their need for communication also increased and became more complex – hence the advent of Egyptian hieroglyphics. By 3100 B.C., the Egyptians started using symbols or ideograms in their art, architecture and writings.
Additionally, by 1600 B.C. Phoenicians invented phonograms or symbols to represent spoken words. Currently, there are several phonograms incorporated in the English alphabet, for example % to signify “percentage” and # to signify “number” and so on.
It was Phoenicians who credited the very first alphabet and around 1000 B.C. this same alphabet was used by the Greeks. The word Alphabet is a permutation of the first two Greek letters – Alpha and Beta.
The Romans, after many years, refined the art of handwriting and fashioned a number of different styles of lettering, which are still in use. Additionally, they also introduced two types of scripts – formal and informal for official and personal writings respectively.
Aside from popularizing illustrated manuscripts and calligraphy in handwritten texts, the Middle Ages also witnessed the invention of the moveable printing press in the 15th century, by Johannes Gutenberg. This was a significant event in the history of typography as books could now be published and distributed on a huge-scale, meaning widespread education and awareness.
Typefaces became bigger and catchier, with bolder lettering and shading, which were evident in signboards, posters, newspapers, periodicals and advertisements. Patterned or ornamental typography was another important highlight of this era. In the 1800’s, medieval and hand crafted individual art became mainstream, and international creative styles developed significantly.
11 Outstanding Typography Art Designs From Famous Artists
Here are a few celebrated typography artists and their iconic creations that deserve to be applauded.
- Sabeena Karnik’s Paper Letters
Sabeena Karnik has a unique and colorful take at the typography word art. She owns her unique paper quilling technique, which involves long thin strips of paper, glue, and loads of patience. The paper strips are rolled, pinched, or torn into smaller pieces, and then cautiously glued in place. Karnik’s Instagram feed has many of her quilling videos. Aside from individual letters as shown here, she also creates more intricate designs, some of which are for famous brands like Google, Instagram, and Adobe.
- Paula Scher’s Maps
One of the most renowned designers around and a partner at the famous New York design firm Pentagram since 1991, Paula Scher is a familiar name in the world of typography art. Some of her most celebrated works like the Tiffany & Co. and Citi logos have influenced the world of typography graphic design as we perceive it today.
MAPS is a collection of 39 paintings, sketches, prints, and environmental graphics, wherein the artist uses colorful typography to outline the entire world. Each creation has its own theme, such as politics, climate, US zip codes, airline routes, and median home prices. Some of them are as tall as 12 feet (3.7 meters).
- Peter Strain’s Posters
Peter Strain, an AOI award winner, designed this stunning typography poster as a part of a series sponsored by Pottermore. The compilation features a total of four designs, each featuring a memorable quote from one of the seven books. Strain also has many other striking typography designs in his portfolio, including portraits of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, Freddie Mercury, and David Lynch. Since he’s also an ardent fan of Wes Anderson’s movies, you’re sure to find some of them featured in his work.
These typography art prints are perfect for decorating your home or office walls.
- Alexis Persani’s 3D Digital Letters
Alexis Persani, a French artist has taken typography graphic design to an all new level with these vibrant, shiny, intricate 3D letters that’ll make you want to reach out and feel them. His creations include various objects, materials, and patterns forming unique letters, words, and phrases.
Persani’s social media feeds display several of his typography artworks, some of which look like they’re made of metal, water, or paint. Fascinating indeed! Digital 3D lettering is a trending typography art form and Persani is surely being a genius at it.
- Lex Wilson’s 3D Illusions
Lex Wilson is an exceptional typography artist captivated by how the human brain is tricked by optical illusions. He designs clever 2D images which the audience perceives as 3D, and 3D images that appear 2D when perceived from certain angles. He is also curious about the duality of English words and has designed several foam sculptures based on this concept. For example, the same image can read “REAL” from a certain angle and “FAKE” from another.
- Pae White’s Fascinating String Art
This string art technique by Californian artist Pae White takes typography designs to an all new level. Named Too Much Night, this is an essentially enormous thread art inspired by her insomnia. The design features 48 kilometers (roughly 30 miles) of yarn in purple, red and black, reading “TIGER TIME” on one wall and “UNMATTERING” on the other.
The string pattern near the ceiling, creating a maze of different colors is reminiscent of the brain of an insomniac. Although White isn’t mainly known for typography art, this creation definitely registered his name on this list.
- Fred Eerdekens’ Light and Shadow Play
Fred Eerdekens, one of Belgium’s most renowned contemporary artists, , is known for creating typography art using three mediums—language, material, and light/shadow. His creations can be construed as a study of the correlation between visual cues and the literal meaning behind them. For example, the twisted copper and aluminum coils here mean nothing in the first place, but when placed against the light, reveal the hidden words.
These words are often poems penned down by the artist himself, which are a display of opposite and even contradicting ideas, depicting the play of light and shadow.
- Ralph Ueltzhoeffer’s Celebrity Portraits
Some of the biggest celebrities featured in Ralph Ueltzhoeffer’s typography portraits are Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Madonna, David Beckham, Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, Jack Nicholson, and Audrey Hepburn. The font looks similar to old computer input because Ueltzhoeffer uses these celebrities’ biographies and other details from Wikipedia and other online sources. Next, he arranges these words in a linear pattern on a black background until they give the desired effect. By doing so, the artist also makes a unique statement about how the digital information available about us can portray us in the eyes of others.
- Farhad Moshiri’s Knives
Farhad Moshiri’s knife sculptures are an exemplary typography artwork on social media. The most fascinating factor about his work is the underlying irony and humor other than the variety of colors and mediums used. In this “Life is Beautiful” image (as pictured here), the positive words are spelled out using knives—tools often linked to violence and bloodshed. Additionally, the fact that the knives are stuck in the wall suggests anger and frustration. His work is also reminiscent of the fact that appearances are often deceiving. When one goes closer to one of his sculptures and see what it’s made of, your expectations will be shattered.
- Nicola Yeoman’s Installations
Nicola Yeoman blends still life with typography to create some masterpieces. For her series named “Alphabetical,” she arranged several seemingly useless objects in what appears like an empty industrial space to create letters like E, Y, X, or D. She uses paint and the negative space between the objects to make the letters visible from a particular point.
Apart from her gallery art, Yeoman has collaborated with big brands like Alexander McQueen, H&M, Selfridges, Jay Z, and The New York Times. In the editorial section for the Times, she redesigned the publication’s iconic first brand name letter in an uncanny and mesmerizing sculpture made of translucent fabric and wood sticks.
- Ebon Heath’s Dancing Sculptures
Ebon Heath’s creations prove that typography art doesn’t have to be in a particular pattern or even legible to make a commanding statement. Heath makes lively sculptures by putting together words he curates or creates on a special theme. In order to create a natural and lively movement, he even collaborates with eminent dancers and choreographers. His objective is to liberate words from the typical 2D space of the paper or screen. He began his typography artworks from simple, hand-cut paper. Gradually, he moved to laser cutting, which gave him more space and freedom to work with various materials and experiment with larger-scale projects.
So these were some of the most creative examples of typography art that have inspired thousands of other graphic designers. These spectacular creations are as diverse and prominent as any other type of art. If you’re looking for a typographic design for your logo, website, wall paint or even t-shirt, consider collaborating with DesignBro. They are one of the best global creative design platforms that work with only the top, hand-picked, creative designers.
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Head of Design at DesignBro and is responsible for UI/UX Design, managing the global designer community, and ensuring quality levels of both designers and designs remain high.