[Tom Biederbeck] Martin Venezky gives his typographic palette a workout in “Rise of the One Percent,” an Op Art piece that appeared in the March 23 edition of The New York Times. He and colleagues at Appetite Engineers have a gift for creating visual euphoria (his word, more below) in print and online. Here is Venezky on how type can speak to a timely statistic.
What was your brief on this project?
The brief was “Do something with this.” I worked with Matt Dorfman, the Op Ed art director at the Times, and the text was written by Peter Funt. It was a typed manuscript, with each fact a separate paragraph. Matt told me the space I had to work with and gave me some examples of past Op Art pieces. Most of them didn’t have as much text as this one.
A lot of the type in the image is from old alphabets I scanned from type specimen books and put together letter by letter. Many of the larger letters and unusual fonts, and even some of the plain sans serif letters, were scanned and stitched together.
I really like doing the letterspacing this way. It’s slow, but that’s how I was raised. When I first started setting type, it was on a phototypositor. You had to decide on every space between letters.
How many typefaces did you use?
There are about 50 of the hand-assembled typefaces and some regular set type, too. For something like this, I pick out a bunch of type that I may want to use — some condensed faces, some extended faces, some fanciful things — and I make a selection. It’s like a cast of characters
I enjoy making type that, when you read it, it “sounds” like it’s spoken. The type induces you to move through it. It gives you little clues in subtle ways. Things are pushing against each other, but not in a chaotic way — more in a euphoric way.
Is that because you were having fun with type, or was it because you were into the statistics?
The numbers by themselves don’t make me jump up and down. But as you create personalities for them, they start to feel more emphatic. It almost becomes like someone’s giving a speech.
The piece is based on the old form of the broadside, which is where you see a lot of hand-set type. One thing I like about doing this work is you don’t see it very often — and the reason you don’t see it very often is it’s so time intensive. There are ways that are quicker … but I don’t feel the pieces lock together in the same way.
Take the banner that says “military.” I actually cut it out of paper and photographed it, so the type really would wave. Since it was moving, I figured it would make sense to have it break into the item next to it.
How much time did you have to put the piece together?
Not much at all! I was tempted not to take this on — I wanted to be sure I could do a good enough job. But I just started on it and kept going, and I made the deadline. It probably took about a week, working pretty much full time. I like dwelling on these tiny details!
Martin Venezky’s interest in intricacy, complexity, ornament and handwork has resulted in acclaimed work for the Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chronicle Books, Princeton Architectural Press, Blue Note Records and others. His work has been featured in museum exhibitions and every major U.S. design publication and many outside the U.S.