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Louise Paradis’s Revival of Recta

Italian Aldo Novarese typeface revived by an intern from Montreal.

It’s rare for Font Bureau to have an intern, but for three weeks we were delighted to have Louise Paradis intern with us in our Boston studio. She hails from Montreal, worked in Los Angeles for a time, and is now a graduate student in art direction at ECAL, Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (University of Art and Design Lausanne) in Switzerland. I had a chance to talk with her before she left.

MLM: What led you to Font Bureau?
LP: Well, one project for a class of mine was by my professor François Rappo. He required us to draw a revival typeface. I picked a font from an Italian type designer Aldo Novarese. It’s called Recta.

I chose it because I think it’s beautiful, and it’s never been fully digitized. You can definitely see that Recta, it’s Italian-the round and curves are really very specific. It was created after Univers came out, around the same time in the late 50s–early 60s when every [European] country wanted its own font like that. Recta was like that for Italy.

A composite image by Louise of the Recta specimen pages that were sent to her from the Typoteca Museum, Italy.

So I started to research it, but I found it difficult to get a printed sample of Recta to work from. Through contacts we found out that Font Bureau may have started something. It was Frederik Berlaen, a guest teacher who introduced us to FontLab and Robofab, who contacted Font Bureau and asked about it. I was sent their concept sketch for Recta, but it was also never digitized. Sam Berlow said he had always wanted it done.

(When I asked Sam about why he liked Recta, he said: “I like it because it is clunky and sweet at the same time. Sort of Futura, Din, Haas Grotesk…smashed together”)

I was in Montreal and had some time before I had to go back to Lausanne, so I proposed to Sam if I could do an internship at Font Bureau. He said yes.

MLM: Tell me a little bit about your design background.
LP: I received my bachelor’s degree in graphic design, worked for a year in advertising in Montreal, then got a job offer to work in LA for a clothing company, American Apparel. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll try that. Sure. Anything. I’m ready.” The look of American Apparel was inspired by Swiss style of design — strong use of the grid, less is more, a clean yet solid typographic sense — Helvetica and all that. So I became interested in where this design style came from. I always wanted to go to grad school, so when the time came, I applied to ECAL. I’ve been there a year, with one more year to go. After that, I don’t know. The world is open.

MLM: How is Lausanne?
LP: Lausanne is a great city with nice people. It’s nice to go back to a French-speaking place. Swiss-French is different from Quebec-French — it sounds more fancy, like British English compared to American English.

MLM: For the past three weeks when I’ve come into the studio in the morning, you’ve been here working at the table. And when I leave for the day, you’re still here. Then I come in the next morning, and you’re here again. Have you seen much of Boston?
LP: (laughs) I’ve seen Boston a little.

MLM: What was your favorite part?
LP: Dyana introduced me to lobster rolls and I loved it!

Louise working away on Recta at the FB studio.

MLM: Dyana Weissman and David Jonathan Ross gave you guidance while drawing and developing Recta. What will you remember from working with them?
LP: They have both been very helpful! They’re very nice people. From Dyana it’s kerning — she has a real eye for that — and how to draw the black weight from the roman, how to proportionally distribute the weight and to counterbalance the white space. From David it’s “wiggle room” — in the context of how much you can push the curves, there’s an area in which you can push to a certain extent and it can still work, and maybe push it a little more and it still works, but it’s up to your own sense to know. And from Cyrus it’s the Nebiolo foundry books — even though it didn’t have Recta included, it was interesting to see these actual old specimens from the foundry.

MLM: What did you accomplish in the time that you were here on Recta?
LP: When I first came here, I had the upper- and lowercase done, but Dyana and David helped me
— work on the “color” to make it more uniform when printed out on a page,
— make adjustments to some of the characters,
— start a black style,
— begin to draw an italic and learn how to expand a character set
— think about kerning
Three weeks is not enough for a font. I would have liked to have done more.

Overall showing and detail of Louise’s revival of Recta.

MLM: I also had a chance to check in with Dyana and David to ask them about their experience working with Louise during her internship.

DW: I felt my role was to guide her through the process of making a typeface. I wanted to give her skills that she could expand on when she was no longer here. We wanted to teach her the fundamentals of making a good font, but also to be aware of how it would fit in while conceptualizing a full family. I felt it was important to let her decide which direction the typeface was going in, rather than just tell her what to do. I wanted her to feel confident in her decisions. She also had a good sense of what made Recta, Recta.

DJR: Louise was very self-directed and came to us with a project already under way. She thoughtfully engaged with Recta’s shapes through drawing and revising and revising again, paying careful attention to the drawing/spacing of each glyph. I saw her begin to grasp the network of relationships in the typeface and extend them from glyph to glyph and from weight to weight. She had to balance her desire to remain faithful to the source material and her desire to develop a coherent, contemporary series.

MLM: What will you do after you leave here?
LP: I’d like to finish up Recta; but for the class, it’s up to each student how far they want to complete the typeface. This is my first font.

MLM: I think we’d all be thrilled to see you finish Recta! Keep us posted on how it develops. It was nice having you in the studio, and best wishes from all of us on your return back to Lausanne.
LP: Yes, thank you as well. It’s been quite a good experience.