Hand Painted Type

Curator: Jesse Reed
date: November 17, 2011
Categories: Advertising, Typography
Tags: digital, font, hand, india, ornament, script, Type
Interviews with both camps: original sign painters and the new computer-based designers/printers.

Hand Painted Type is an effort to preserve the ubiquitous sign lettering done by street painters in India. The project aims to collect as many typographic specimen sheets as possible, and digitize them before they become obsolete. Hanif Kureshi of Wieden+Kennedy New Delhi along with a handful of other contributors are the brains behind the operation.

I’m posting this in hopes that it hasn’t already reached the majority of designers on the internet, and that by sharing it here, maybe it will. The concept behind this process is what really inspires me, more so than the fact this it’s chronicling decorative type. I don’t normally fancy myself an ornamental designer, but there’s something to be said about preserving any historical method of production. 

Kureshi and his team have done a wonderful job at prompting individuals (living or traveling to India) to participate in the project and help cover as much ground as possible. You simply go out and find a sign that you think has archival-worthy qualities, hope that the artist is around to give you the A–Z, and throw him Rs 500–1,000 for a job well done. Not only do the characters get digitized, but they are separated into their respective layers of composition. 

Like many type designers, and I consider myself an amateur in the French definition of the word, the hand-constructed typography of our surroundings at one time or another is a catalyst to a unique solution. I’ve often had typographic epiphanies from the painted lettering of bread factories and bodegas that populate my neighborhood, and soon enough they’ll be replaced with Impact or Arial. It’s ideas like Kureshi’s that gives me the great desire to start doing the same thing in every small U.S. town that I come across. 

Painter Kafeel—original painting

Painter Kafeel—digitized alphabet

Painter Kafeel—digitized characters, shown in separate layers

Painter Kafeel—digitized characters, shown in various color combinations

Painter Umesh—original painting

Painter Umesh—digitized alphabet

Painter Vasant—original painting

Painter Kafeel—original painting

From the time that I first learned about this project to checking up on it this past week, it doesn't look like there’s been much progress. Hopefully I’m wrong and it’s just taking a while to digitize all of this awesomely complex type. In any case, if this got your heart racing like it did mine, go contribute.
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