Decorative letters may have piqued my interest in designing type, but text is what keeps me here.
By Victoria Rushton
I stumbled into art school because I was good at drawing, and I stumbled into drawing letters because I love to read words. I give away substantial chunks of real estate in my weepy heart to certain novels and essays and poems. I tell myself that if I weren’t a designer, I might’ve been a writer, and I still wish in this lifetime to be more pointed and more graceful and more sloshing like a glass filled to the brim with vibrant metaphor, or something.
Part of what formed Embury is that I had aspired to make a text face before, but didn’t make it text-face-like enough—tall enough x-height, simple enough serifs, wide open counters—to work. So I was determined to do that this time, and the pendulum swung to super sturdiness; very wide with very high x-heights and fairly tall small caps. There would be no mistaking, by myself or by you, that this could be used small for reading.
The rest came from the way that my mentor Cyrus Highsmith taught me to draw type. He taught me to think of a use for a new typeface—a magazine cover, a receipt, a safety manual—and make whatever that has to be. When I do this, I reach for texts that moved me. That might have just been what happened to be within arm’s reach; but let’s say that I want to form the letters used for the kind of writing that formed me.
Not long after I started drawing Embury, I read an essay called The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, which I can’t describe to you now, but it rattled loudly in my head for months. And I wondered what it’d be like to draw a face for that essay—something rounded in most places and unapologetically cutting in others, like the way the lowercase curves are big and soft but the italic forms corners to kick out every exit stroke leaving a subtle peppering of sharp points. Something a little unbalanced within the softness, like the way the inside white shapes are pointing in different directions than the outside black shapes.
I proofed Embury in The Empathy Exams a lot. It’s still not perfect for that essay, but those were the words that were reverberating in me while I was drawing.
There are spots of flourish for a text face that are a result of the fact that I reward myself for doing rounds of repetitive edits with making new glyphs. That’s how the swash caps got there—I was busy revisiting the curves and spaces of the capital letters for so long that I wanted to draw new ones. The swash caps include full language support, which took rounds of edits, resulting in some alternate structures for the italic k, p, g, and y. Those, in turn, resulted in some ornamental borders. The cycle broke when the ornamental borders didn’t require too much revision, or else who knows what would have happened.
In the italic, the 2 and the 7 are what I arrived at when trying to fit in more pointy exit strokes—this perpendicular intersection was what worked. The 2 reminds me of a severed tree branch. It’s a moment of unconventional fanfare that I like to sneak into the default character set, but if it’s too much for you, there are alternate straitlaced ones.
If I think about it too hard, I can get myself really worked up over the thought of drawing the words that someone will commit to reading an entire novel in, of making something that someone will look at for hours but that they will not see, or of having created a link in the chain between a writer and a reader and how they both may be freer, lighter, better for that connection, and oh God I’m tearing up stop me now.
I delight in making decorative type inspired by lovely signage, hand and ink on paper, or new combinations of relics from our histories. But I’m even more compelled to draw for the texts I loved long before I knew that those other things existed.
Victoria Rushton is a lover of letters, both in their purest form as shapes, and as the building blocks of communication. She spends her days drawing type while making social media a little more human, and a lot more interesting. Embury Text is the second original typeface family Rushton has released through the independent foundry she launched earlier this year.