Love of lettering in the Hallmark kingdom

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[Alyson Kuhn] Until several weeks ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the lettering on Hallmark cards. But then I found out that Hermann Zapf served as a consultant to Hallmark for many years … and designed custom typefaces for them … and began work on a lettering manual for the company. Today, Rick Cusick, manager of Font Development, carries the typographic standard forward.

Rick Cusick wrote and designed this book about Hermann Zapf’s years (1966–1973) as a consultant to Hallmark Cards. Cover typefaces, all designed by Zapf for Hallmark, are (top to bottom): Crown Roman, Jeannette, Hallmark Uncial, Crown Italic. (RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2012) Photo: © 2011 StudioAlex

I recently visited the Hallmark store closest to me (conveniently located approximately one minute from the Apple store), and then I called Rick with umpteen questions. I am delighted to report that he answers the phone, “Lettering.”

What did you do pre-Hallmark?
One thing I did was attend junior college in Stockton, where I took a couple of lettering classes from James R. Lewis. That’s where I learned about lettering as an element of design and the expressive possibilities of letters. One of my classmates, Dona Aquaro, went on to Hallmark as an illustrator. She and I kept in touch, and I learned about a 16mm film Hallmark had made called “The Art of Hermann Zapf.” You could ask to borrow it, and Hallmark would send it to you, and then you simply paid the return shipping. I borrowed it many times, and I would just show it on my wall and study it.

One of Rick Cusick’s pages for Manuale Zapficum, a joint 90th birthday gift to Hermann and Gudrun Zapf, from a handful of their lettering friends and colleagues. The roman alphabet is Optima Nova; the quote from Hermann is his Scriptura typeface designed for Hallmark. Rick had his pages for the book letterpress printed at Skylab Letterpress. Photo: Jill Bell

You were interested in lettering from the beginning?
Yes, since I was a kid. I began corresponding with several “old masters” of lettering arts when I was in junior college, including Ray DaBoll. He was a legendary designer and art director in Chicago, from 1912 to 1952. Ray asked to include part of the first letter I had sent to him in a book he was writing, Recollections of the Lyceum and Chautauqua Circuits. I also found lots of books in the local library on typography and design. Eventually, I put it all together.

Bayou, designed by Myron McVay, based on lettering (ca. 1984) by Rick Cusick. By being “gray,” the lucky lazy dog gets two more descenders.

What happened next?
I designed illuminated signs in Stockton for 13 months for a company called Ad Art, Inc., which provided signage for casinos in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe. I spent a lot of lunch hours photographing old signs in the yard while I was there. And then I went to Art Center in Los Angeles for a year, where I studied with Mortimer Leach. And I kept borrowing the film about Hermann Zapf from Hallmark. There was also a mini-exhibition — three black boxes of Hermann’s art — that you could borrow. I never did. And one day I received a telephone call from Hallmark. I assumed that Dona had told them about me, but it was the reverse — they had asked her about me, because I had borrowed the film so many times! They were looking for calligraphers to hire, largely because Hermann was a consultant.

Rimshot Fancy, designed by Terry Lee for Hallmark

How long were you at Hallmark before you actually met Hermann Zapf?
I think it was two or three months after I started that I met him when he came for one of his visits. He had first visited Hallmark in 1965, to discuss the consulting arrangement, and his contract began the following year. J. C. Hall, the founder and president of Hallmark, issued a memorandum that, after some discussion, prompted the relationship with Zapf. His memo included three bullet points about lettering and typography.

J. C. Hall’s first point, set here in Shakespeare, designed by Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse for Hallmark

How many typefaces have you designed for Hallmark?
My lettering has been the basis for several fonts, but I did not design all of them myself. I began in the Alphabet Group, which was started by Myron McVay in the mid-’60s, then I moved to the Book Department about a year and a half later. I designed a lot of product, and my lettering and calligraphy was the “raw material,” if you will, for a dozen or so fonts.

J. C. Hall’s second point, set here in Write Typer, designed by Terry Lee for Hallmark

We now have two full-time font designers in our department, Terry Lee and Josh Scruggs, and are lucky to still have Myron McVay, who officially retired from Hallmark years ago, to design fonts for us part-time. I spend about half of my time designing fonts. Our group only works on proprietary font designs, including fonts for various Hallmark subsidiaries.

J. C. Hall’s third point, set here in Asta Slab Medium Condensed, designed by Josh Scruggs for Hallmark. (Asterisks from Drummer Man, designed by Rick Cusick for Hallmark.) In his book, Rick comments, “A few cynics on staff joked that this last point was a parapraxis, revealing Hall’s true feelings, i.e., ‘Too bad lettering has to be on the cover at all!’”

Where does all the ‘raw material’ come from to keep these designers designing?
We do a lot of designs based on the lettering of other people in the company. Hallmark has been able to hire and/or develop outstanding lettering artists for many years. I don’t know anyone who didn’t get better after working here awhile. Also, if we see somebody’s handwriting that looks distinctive, we might ask them to write out a laundry list or a grocery list or a stream-of-consciousness thing. We don’t want them to become self-conscious and lose the spontaneity.

Fonts designed by Terry Lee: (top) Runyan, based on lettering by Terry Runyan; (bottom) Ultra Jason, based on lettering by Amber Goodvin

But we still have many, many old typefaces in our library that we have never gotten around to digitizing. Plus, there is a lot of material in the Hallmark archives that we refer to periodically. The group has always been involved with developing fonts for Hallmark “properties.” We either design these from scratch, or start from the original artist’s lettering, like Myron did with Charles Shultz’s lettering for Peanuts. These fonts are restricted for use only on the property they’re designed for.

Fonts designed by Josh Scruggs: (top) Brownie, based on his own lettering; (bottom) Andrea, based on lettering by Peter Noth

Does Hallmark also maintain a library of commercially available fonts?
Oh, yes, we have close to 5000 commercial fonts in our library. In fact, we have licensed a curated selection of about 70 of our proprietary fonts to Monotype Imaging for commercial distribution in the Hallmark Design Collection.

It’s very rare that we commission font designs from the outside, but last year I was happy to have the opportunity to commission Dignitas from Sumner Stone. He started here just before I did — he was another one of us hired with a background in calligraphy.

Sumner Stone’s Dignitas family includes roman and italic, in regular and semi-bold. This old style was commissioned with the understanding that Hallmark would use it both in print and on the web.

All graphics: Rick Cusick. Lead image fonts designed by Rick Cusick (top to bottom): Romance Novel, Mistery Jay Cee, Funky Roman, Jessie Bell. All fonts © Hallmark, shown with permission.

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Comments (5)

  1. Posted by Allan Haley on 04.6.12 at 12:04 pm

    Rick is one of the unsung heroes of the type design community. Thank you for sharing his story.

    The Hallmark Design Collection has been an important addition to Monotype Imaging’s font offering. We are delighted that these great designs will now find homes in a variety of new projects.

  2. Posted by Diane Tompkins on 04.6.12 at 8:43 pm

    Rick is a generous teacher at Hallmark – he’s helped so many of us make more thoughtful, beautiful product. Thanks, Rick! And great interview, Alyson.

  3. Posted by Julie Salestrom on 04.9.12 at 8:16 pm

    Another Kansas City gem! Great to hear this story…

  4. Posted by Jerry Kelly on 04.10.12 at 11:54 am

    NIce interview.
    I agree wholeheartedly with Allan:
    “Rick is one of the unsung heroes of the type design community”

  5. Posted by Calvert Guthrie on 04.10.12 at 2:23 pm

    I enjoyed the interview, Alyson. Thanks.

    Several decades back there were few places where a designer whose interests focused on alphabets and hand-lettering, could find a home. Hallmark was one of them. The job provided a rainbow range of graphic challenges, the collegiality of some total letterform freaks, and high-caliber design leadership. The exceptional standards set by the Zapf legacy, Rick Cusick, Myron McVay, Bill LaFever, Jerry Lobato, & others, constantly inspired the staff to expand their skills & deepen their understanding of lettering design.
    For another look at the Lettering Department, get a copy of Rick’s article for Letter Arts Review [about 10(?) years back].

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