Script and its graphic language

30 October 2020


Irina Smirnova
Max Ily­inov

and its graph­ic lan­guage

he title of this es­say was sug­ges­ted by Oleg Mat­suev’s thoughts about the far from simple situ­ation in which Cyril­lic finds it­self today. Does Cyril­lic have its own unique graph­ic lan­guage? What is it? Where is it to be found? And why is there so much doubt that it even ex­ists?

Start­ing point

To be­gin to un­tangle this knot, however, we must start with an­oth­er ques­tion: to what script do we look in our search for a graph­ic idea of a typeface? A glance at the se­lec­tion of typefaces in Cyril­lic Type Travel Book Com­men­ted shows that, while only 23 of the 50 Cyril­lics here were worked out as sup­ple­ments to a Lat­in face, the forms and rhythms of at least two-thirds are con­di­tioned by Lat­in script.

Do we really know what Cyril­lic is and how to work with it? If we were to ask people about Cyril­lic, someone not in­volved in graph­ic design might re­mem­ber it as let­ter­ing seen in church. And what about those let­ters we use for text mes­sages? Civil Type, someone with some know­ledge of the his­tory of type might an­swer, but that is just one of the many forms of Cyril­lic. What kind of let­ters did we use in school? That was curs­ive, and that is also Cyril­lic. The di­versity of Cyril­lic is im­press­ive, con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of lan­guages it works for and the vari­ety of styles and forms de­ve­loped with it over the cen­tur­ies. To name just a few : flu­id and ex­press­ive Skoropis, sol­emn, litur­gic­al book styles, woven or­na­ment­al head­lines, in­tric­ate Art Nou­veau let­ter­forms, the bru­tal geo­met­ric let­ters of the re­volu­tion, the skill­ful titling by So­viet book artists, and the great di­versity of today’s cal­li­graph­ic ex­per­i­ments. 

Des­pite the vari­ety of op­tions, the look of Cyril­lic today is be­ing formed neither by ex­per­i­ment nor by crit­ic­al re­think­ing of the past, but rather by a sup­posedly “ universal recipe ” : find a Lat­in typeface, then copy and paste the key let­ters that define the rhythm and iden­tity of the typeface from Lat­in to Cyril­lic (А, В, Е, К, М, Н, О, Р, С, Т, Х ; а, е, о, р, с, у, х). The oth­er let­ters are then de­signed ac­cord­ing to gen­er­ally ac­cep­ted rules, con­sid­er­ing what is ap­pro­pri­ate to a giv­en style and after test­ing dif­fer­ent con­struc­tions when op­tions are pos­sible. This is not to deny the com­plex­ity of this work or the skill needed for it.

But however mas­ter­fully loc­al­iz­a­tion is done, we can­not get rid of the feel­ing of im­it­a­tion, the sense that cre­at­ive en­ergy has been trapped in the arms of the Cyril­lic К. With op­tic­al com­pens­a­tions and wide ex­per­i­en­ce, we can make European clothes fit Cyril­lic let­ters quite well. But we seem al­most to have for­got­ten that there is a dif­fer­ent way of work­ing : with Cyril­lic forms and the rhythms nat­ive to them. And yet, among the many pro­jects in the world of Cyril­lic, someone some­times does dare to fol­low an un­trod­den path. These cases are worth look­ing at ­at­tent­ively. 


Work­ing on her Type & Media  graduation pro­ject in 2005, Vera Evstafieva de­cided to take as her start­ing point not one script but three. The com­mon prac­tice is to take a his­tor­ic­al style be­long­ing to one script and to in­vent the forms for oth­er scripts as if they ex­is­ted. Vera com­bined three dif­fer­ent sources — pre-Pet­rine Cyril­lic, Lat­in, and Greek — in an un­ex­pec­ted way : sim­il­ar rhythms were her found­a­tion, des­pite their ori­gin in dif­fer­ent ages and cul­tures. This pro­ject is mean­ing­ful be­cause the three scripts con­trib­uted equally to the iden­tity of the typeface, and a new path emerged far from the main road. 


Yulia Baran­ova began work on Gamos in 2015 and start­­ed with cal­li­graph­ic ex­per­i­ments. She car­ried over to Cyril­lic the forms of Greek in­scrip­tions. Tri­an­gu­lar let­ters and the char­ac­ter­ist­ic joints of the ho­ri­zont­al and ver­tic­al strokes are es­sen­tial to the rhythm of the typeface. These forms are abund­ant in Cyril­lic but rare in Lat­in. An at­tempt to build Lat­in from ele­ments found in Cyril­lic and Greek failed : Beauty and Beast here sud­denly ex­changed roles. Lat­in looked strange and was dif­fi­cult to work with. The solu­tion was ob­vi­ous — re­turn to writ­ing and the search for the rhythms nat­ur­al to Lat­in in­stead of look­ing at Cyril­lic. 

Sample set­ting in three scripts. Typeface: Gamos by Yulia Baran­ova (2019).

Soy­uz Grotesk and Tekh­nicheskaya Es­tetika

In 1962 the first is­sue of Tekh­nicheskaya Es­tetika was pub­lished. The logo and typo­graphy were in­spired by con­struc­ted sans serifs pop­u­lar in the West. It­al­ic forms looked quite nat­ur­al in “the first Cyril­lic ver­sion of Hel­vet­ica,” as we can call this logo. Cyril­lic here is not a mil­li­on miles away from Lat­in — it is built of the same arches, which are easy to write and cre­ate a strong rhythmic bond. 

Cov­er of the Tech­nicheskaya Es­tetika magazine, 1979•De­sign­er Valery Chernievsky•Photo by Sergey Pet­rov.

In 2017 Ro­man Gor­nit­sky used the same prin­ciple in his typeface, Soy­uz Grotesk, and went even fur­ther : rhythmic unity al­lowed him to push Lat­in to­ward Cyril­lic, mak­ing its rhythm more com­plex by adding un­usu­al forms, re­mov­ing some as­cend­ers, and trans­form­ing everything in­to uni­case.

This clearly un­con­ven­tion­al design, in­ter­est­ingly, has found a firm place in con­tem­por­ary ty­po­graphy and has slightly shif­ted our no­tion of what is pos­sible in Cyril­lic, not as to what is al­lowed or for­bid­den but of the avail­able ar­sen­al of graph­ic ideas. 


A def­in­ite rhythmic sys­tem de­ve­loped in Lat­in over the cen­tur­ies — a pre­cise bal­ance of circle, tri­angle, and square. Everything is re­lated. Cyril­lic, on the con­trary, con­sists of many com­plex and some­times con­tra­dict­ory forms, and the rhythm they make is dif­fi­cult to con­trol. 

Ger­ard Un­ger in his for­ays in­to the his­tory of Romanesque in­scrip­tions found Lat­in to be no less com­plex. Hav­ing come to this un­der­stand­ing, he for­mu­lated a con­cep­tu­al found­a­tion for cre­at­ing non­vi­ol­ent unity among dif­fer­ent scripts. 

Romanesque in­scrip­tions are the sub­ject of Ger­ard Un­ger’s doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion. He found that sim­il­ar let­ter­forms were used throughout Europe from West to East, even in Cyril­lic. Maybe this is why the Romanesque style be­came a good found­a­tion for a multi­script typeface.•Photo by Ger­ard Un­ger

The se­lec­tion of let­ter­form vari­ations: a com­ment in Un­ger’s dis­ser­ta­tion ex­plains that it was not pos­sible to col­lect all the vari­ations and that it is un­likely that even those who were mak­ing the in­scrip­tions in the 11th or 12th cen­tur­ies ever had a com­plete set in their hands. Let­ters in­flu­en­ced by in­su­lar forms, roun­ded and squar­ish, curly and un­cial-style forms, un­ex­pec­ted lig­at­ures and clas­sic­al ro­man cap­it­als — this unique med­ley con­stantly var­ied —from one as­sign­ment to an­oth­er, when skills were passed from mas­ter to stu­dent, or simply ac­cord­ing to the per­son­al pref­er­en­ces of crafts­man or cli­ent. Nev­er­the­less, every form was as­sim­il­ated ac­cord­ing to the bal­ance of pro­por­tions, size and scale of the de­tails, how they fit in the over­all rhythm and ad­ded to the lively di­versity pe­cu­li­ar to the com­plex or­gan­ism that is Romanesque style.•It­al­ic forms in Cyril­lic are con­sist­ent enough to ima­gine (if one would want to) a sys­tem sim­il­ar to the European mod­ern­ist vis­ion of an al­pha­bet. But the reg­u­lar al­pha­bet in Cyril­lic is not that simple — there are forms of dif­fer­ent ori­gin wound in­to it: let­ters com­ing from Greek and bor­rowed from Lat­in, a not quite de­lib­er­ate mix­ture of up­per- and lower­case, rare in­flu­en­ces of pre-Pet­rine writ­ing styles, not as a con­sol­id­at­ing prin­ciple but as an­oth­er ele­ment that adds even more comp­lex­ity to the whole sys­tem. This might be the key to un­der­stand­ing Un­ger’s idea of Cyril­lic as a com­pos­ite al­pha­bet.•The il­lus­tra­tion from doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion Al­verata: con­tem­por­ary European let­ters with me­di­ev­al roots by Ger­ard Un­ger, Leiden Uni­versity, 2013.

This idea of a “com­pos­ite al­pha­bet” is a unique gift for us, full of pos­sib­il­it­ies that we are yet to dis­cov­er. In­deed, Cyril­lic let­ters can be eas­ily di­vided in­to sev­er­al groups, each with its own lo­gic. There is no need to hide this dif­fer­en­ce. It can be used openly as a design prin­ciple. 

“ The mo­ment I got con­trol of the me­di­ev­al forms and real­ised how they worked, I had a look at the Cyril­lic and I thought : this is the same thing, just an­oth­er com­pos­ite al­pha­bet like the Romanesque let­ter­forms. Great fun! Some let­ters which are round in Lat­in are an­gu­lar in Cyril­lic, and you have a re­versed ‘ R ’ in Cyril­lic — me­di­ev­al stone carv­ers mirrored let­ter­forms quite reg­u­larly. The mo­ment I star­ted look­ing at Cyril­lic with me­di­ev­al eyes, I could ­design it.”

The idea of pure form and ty­po­graph­ic­al prag­mat­ism were Ger­ard Un­ger’s guid­ing prin­ciples in design­ing Al­verata. He di­vided the vari­ations found in Roma­nesque style in­to clear cat­egor­ies but then al­low­ed them to mix freely.

Greta Sans Cyril­lic and Greta Ar­ab­ic

Greta Sans is a sys­tem with a wide range of widths and weights. Work on it was go­ing on in the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mu­nity of the Hag­ue, where Kristyan Sar­kis was work­ing on Greta Ar­ab­ic.


Sample set of Greta Sans and Greta Ar­ab­ic fam­il­ies.

Fre­quent dis­cus­sions of the chal­lenges and dis­cov­er­ies gave an op­por­tun­ity to see Cyril­lic through the eyes of a per­son from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture in the frame­work of one typeface. The graph­ics found in Lat­in were trans­lated in­to two dif­fer­ent lan­guages. And through this work the dif­fer­en­ce be­came ob­vi­ous : Kristyan could freely con­sult and in­ter­pret his­tor­ic­al manuscripts, us­ing them as his found­a­tion. In Cyril­lic, on the con­trary, the only avail­able found­a­tion was the con­strain­ing rules de­ve­loped in the dif­fi­cult 1990s, though the Cyril­lic tra­di­tion of hand­writ­ing is no less in­ter­est­ing and rich than Ar­ab­ic. Why was the same step to the manuscripts not pos­sible?


The ques­tion is not as simple as it might seem, but the an­swer can help us un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing with Cyril­lic today. Look­ing at the present situ­ation without bi­as, one can no­tice a slip of at­ten­tion, some fa­mil­i­ar mech­an­ism at work. In or­der to be­come un­biased enough, let’s take the idea of the Rus­si­an physiolo­gist Alexey Ukhtom­sky : 

Dom­in­anta, or the main cen­ter of nervous sys­tem ex­cit­a­tion, uses oth­er weak­er pro­cesses to in­tensi­fy it­self. The closer to the dom­in­anta, the more dif­fi­cult it gets not to play by its rules. This prin­ciple is found­a­tion­al for any hu­man act­iv­ity. 

Where are the fron­ti­ers of dom­in­anta in Cyril­lic type design? Let’s have a look at the re­la­tions of Ar­ab­ic and Cyril­lic scripts in the fields of cul­ture and ty­po­graphy. Where do we have sim­il­ar hot spots and where do our roads di­verge?

If one wanted to ex­per­i­ment freely with Cyril­lic forms and rhythms, one would have to ques­tion com­monly ac­cep­ted prac­tices and dare to think dif­fer­ently. Kristyan Sar­kis faced a sim­il­ar chal­lenge when he de­signed Greta Ar­ab­ic. His choice was to use late, “flu­id,” book styles as his found­a­tion — and this made all the dif­fer­en­ce. 


In es­sence, there are two dif­fer­ent groups of writ­ing styles in Ar­ab­ic. The “sol­id” group emerged first and was used for sac­red texts as well as in temple ar­chi­tec­ture. These styles are re­cog­niz­able by straight ho­ri­zont­al parts and sol­id baselines. Mod­u­lar geo­met­ric Kufic used for mo­sa­ics be­longs to this group.•The second group is “flu­id.” These styles emerged later and were used ex­clus­ively for text. The ho­ri­zont­al parts have roun­ded, flow­ing forms, and in­stead of sit­ting on a sol­id ho­ri­zont­al baseline, the words flow down the slopes formed by the let­ter com­bin­a­tions.•On the left Samarkand Kufic Qur­an, 8th cen­tury. On the right Qur’an­ic manuscript writ­ten in Muhaqqaq script in 14–15th cen­tury.

The most com­mon and pop­u­lar solu­tion at the time was to go “the easy way” and use one of the early, “sol­id” styes, and even fur­ther — to dress this sim­pli­fied con­struc­tion with the nat­ive-to-Lat­in kind of con­trast. In this case, the iden­tity of the script was lost com­pletely — Cyril­lic is not the only script be­ing dressed in West­ern clothes.

Nev­er­the­less, Kristyan de­signed the typeface with the nat­ive-to-Ar­ab­ic con­trast dis­tri­bu­tion, ex­tend­ing it fur­ther in the nar­row, wide and black styles.     

Plan of the type fam­ily Greta Ar­ab­ic

Be­fore, such trans­form­a­tions had been ap­plied only to the typefaces based on geo­met­ric styles used in ar­chi­tec­ture. Work­ing on Greta Ar­ab­ic, Kristyan did not slip in­to the old groove, des­pite the dis­com­fort and doubts that ac­com­pany any step in­to un­known.

A few years later, Kristyan Sar­kis and Lara Kaptan for­mu­lated their stand in this manifesto : 

 What we ask for may sound ob­vi­ous and it is. Un­der­stand­ing the script then mov­ing to type is nowhere near in­nov­at­ive. In Ar­ab­ic however — con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief — this bridge has not yet been made. Throughout the 500 years of ex­ist­en­ce of Ar­ab­ic type, we have seen a gradu­al re­gres­sion of aes­thet­ics, heavy west­ern­isa­tion of our char­ac­ters, Lat­in-based mech­an­isa­tion and a great loss of the form­al and tech­nic­al com­pet­en­ce that was present in the script.

We can re­place the word “Ar­ab­ic” with “Cyril­lic” and come to sim­il­ar con­clu­sions.

Ar­ab­ic has one strong ad­vant­age over Cyril­lic : in­de­pend­en­ce from Lat­in. Not a single ele­ment can be copied. 

“ The char­ac­ters of the Ar­ab­ic and Lat­in scripts are dif­fi­cult to com­pare be­cause they differ in al­most every as­pect : pen angles, stroke dir­ec­tions, line thick­nesses, speed con­trasts and vari­ations.” 


With in­creas­ing of weight Ar­ab­ic grows in height.

Per­haps it was ex­actly this to­po­lo­gic­al dif­fer­en­ce that al­lowed Kristyan to freely com­pose his own melody in type design in­stead of dan­cing to sb’s tune. Per­haps close­ness to the dom­in­anta is ex­actly what stops us from reach­ing the treas­ures that our cul­ture has in store. 

But we can­not simply dis­card well-es­tab­lished prac­tices — they ex­ist in the body of Cyril­lic and act re­gard­less of our will. But, keep­ing them in sight, we can try to walk softly side­ways and break new ground for an al­tern­at­ive dom­in­anta. In the end, every ex­ist­ing situ­ation changes, and it is pos­sible con­sciously to as­cend to a new plat­eau, not fight­ing the old but walk­ing closer to the mar­gins. And in or­der not to slip to the cen­ter or fall from the edge, we need a strong guid­ing thread — the thread that con­nects writ­ing and ty­po­graphy since the olden days. Let us have a look at how Wil­li­am Mor­ris found this thread in late 19th cen­tury Eng­land, when this con­nec­tion was con­cealed in dark­ness and how Dutch type de­sign­ers took it over at the end of the 20th cen­tury. 

Re­la­tions of Cal­li­graphy and Ty­po­graphy

In 1888, the first ex­hib­i­tion of the Arts and Crafts move­ment opened in Lon­don. New tech­no­lo­gies — elec­tri­city and pho­to­graphy — cre­ated new pos­sib­il­it­ies, and Emery Walk­er was giv­ing a lec­ture with a ma­gic lan­tern, show­ing en­larged frag­ments from in­cun­ab­ula and It­ali­an manuscripts of the 15th cen­tury. People had nev­er seen type and cal­li­graphy in such close de­tail be­fore. When Ar­righi’s writ­ing ap­peared on the screen, the audi­en­ce burst in­to ap­plause. Be­sides the evid­ent form­al con­nec­tion between type and cal­li­graphy (such as the con­trast dis­tri­bu­tion in­flu­en­ced by the broad-nib pen), his point was that a com­mon cre­at­ive en­ergy gives birth to both cal­li­graph­ic and ty­po­graph­ic forms.

The same even­ing, on their way home, Wil­li­am Mor­ris and Emery Walk­er de­cided to start Kemelscott Press. But the Eng­lish school of cal­li­graphy, so well known today, did not ex­ist yet. Ed­ward John­ston was 16, and it would be 10 years be­fore he ar­rived at the Cent­ral School of Arts and Crafts with his am­a­teur­ish manuscripts. There Wil­li­am Lethaby, one of Wil­li­am Mor­ris’s as­so­ci­ates, wel­comed the young man and en­vi­sioned him as the one who would re­vive cal­li­graphy. After a whole year of study­ing and copy­ing manuscripts at the Brit­ish Mu­seum, in the au­tumn 1899, John­ston star­ted to teach and, to­geth­er with his stu­dents, re­cre­ated the nearly lost craft  of writ­ing with a broad-nib pen. In 1899 he de­scribed his meth­od in the book, Writ­ing & Il­lu­min­at­ing, & Let­ter­ing. This book be­came the lode­star for Ger­rit Noordz­ij and greatly in­flu­en­ced his prac­tice, his the­ory of writ­ing and the type design pro­gram at the Roy­al Academy of Arts in the Hag­ue. The broad-nib minus­cule that stu­dents from all over the world prac­tice nowadays at Type & Me­dia ori­gin­ates in John­ston’s found­a­tion­al hand. Through John­ston, it goes back to a 10th cen­tury psal­ter, which he re­worked, re­thought, and placed in a con­tem­por­ary con­text.


Here we need to pay at­ten­tion to the fact that in Lat­in there is no fun­da­ment­al dif­fer­en­ce in let­ter con­struc­tion between 10th and 14th cen­tury manuscripts and con­tem­por­ary typefaces. A text writ­ten with a broad-nib pen can be quite straight­for­wardly trans­formed in­to a typeface, and look­ing at some serif types we can see their de­riv­a­tion in hand­writ­ing. A broad-nib pen (quill) was used for writ­ing in Europe as well as in Rus­sia for a long time, so the forms of both scripts — Lat­in and Cyril­lic — were de­ve­loped by hand move­ments, in­flu­en­ced by hu­man ana­tomy and guided by visu­al per­cep­tion. 

In Cyril­lic, on the con­trary, between con­tem­por­ary forms and the ages of hand­writ­ing stands Peter the Great’s re­form. At­tempts to write the let­ters used today for read­ing (forms that de­rive from Civil Type) with a broad-nib pen hurt both eyes and hands, while go­ing back to pre-Pet­rine let­ter­forms makes writ­ing flow eas­ily and flu­ently, like a clear stream in a forest. Nev­er­the­less, those nat­ive forms look a lot stranger and more ar­cha­ic to us than ro­man cap­it­als or Renais­sance manuscripts. 


At left is an ex­ample of Rus­si­an curs­ive (Slovo Va­siliia Ve­likogo, 1556), and at right a Hu­man­ist minus­cule (De in­com­pre­hens­ib­ili Dei Natura Beati Jo­han­nis Chryso­stomi, 1458). Al­most all the con­struc­tions of the minus­cule are used in ty­po­graphy to this day. The curs­ive is very dis­tinct­ive and has a rhythm rich in the vari­ety of in­ter­con­nec­tions, but the idea of set­ting a mod­ern book with these forms still seems re­mote.

Cyril­lic and writ­ing today 

Nowadays, there is no need to wait for a mes­si­ah who would re­vive cal­li­graphy in Rus­sia. Over the last 10–12 years a bright and lively school of cal­li­graphy has grown and flour­ished, in­deed there are an in­fin­ite vari­ety of schools, groups, courses, and en­thu­si­asts of dif­fer­ent levels and prac­ti­cing with dif­fer­ent as­pir­a­tions. There are three is­lands in this primev­al ocean that are im­port­ant for type design : it­al­ic at Eu­geny Dobrov­in­skiy’s school, stud­ies and re­viv­als of pre-Pet­rine writ­ing styles by the cal­li­graph­ers from Saint Peters­burg, Mo­scow, and Nizh­niy Novgorod, and the con­nec­tion between writ­ing and type design be­ing ex­plored at Aleksandr Tar­beev’s work­shop. 


Ana­stas­ia Lev­ina, point­ed nib, Cyril­lic Spenseri­an, 2013.

It­al­ic at Eu­geny Dobrov­in­skiy’s school 

In Cyril­lic, it­al­ic forms have al­ways stood in the shad­ows and been con­sidered in­feri­or to the reg­u­lar forms. Nev­er­the­less, they have one strong ad­vant­age — they are easy to write and they cre­ate a nat­ur­al rhythm. Those forms were stud­ied, in­ter­preted, and pol­ished in writ­ing over 12 years — just think of that num­ber! The ques­tion of wheth­er it­al­ic forms can be used in­stead of reg­u­lar has been ex­plored by many type de­sign­ers. In fact, they are used for sec­ond­ary roles in Rus­sia, but Bul­gari­an ex­per­i­en­ce proves that they can play the main role as well. 


Rus­si­an writ­ing 

The ex­hib­i­tion “Rus­si­an Writ­ing” and all that led up to it con­sti­tu­te an­oth­er in­ter­est­ing event, on a par with, al­though much quieter than, John­ston’s re­dis­cov­ery of the me­di­ev­al tra­di­tions.     

Egor Go­lovyrin, ex­hib­i­tion logo, 2017.

A small group of cal­li­graph­er-en­thu­si­asts suc­ceeded in re­viv­ing pre-Pet­rine writ­ing styles, with all their nat­ive forms and rhythms, for use in con­tem­por­ary con­texts. It is of­ten true that such forms carry with them trains of some­times in­ap­pro­pri­ate as­so­ci­ations. So it is wise to heed the ad­vice of Brody Neuenschwander and en­tirely re­think how things have been done his­tor­ic­ally — al­ter­ing con­trast, us­ing dif­fer­ent tools and ma­ter­i­als, chan­ging scale, sub­ject mat­ter, in­ten­ded audi­en­ce, and every con­ceiv­able para­met­er. The poster for the ex­hib­i­tion and Egor Go­lovyrin’s page are fine ex­amples of pre-Pet­rine forms lib­er­ated and made con­tem­por­ary, no longer cler­ic­al and ar­cha­ic.


Pre-Pet­rine forms and ty­po­graphy

Des­pite the mul­ti­tude of in­ter­est­ing cal­li­graph­ic ex­per­i­ments, logo­types, typefaces, and com­pos­i­tions us­ing pre-Pet­rine Cyril­lic, in which tra­di­tion­al Rus­si­an writ­ing has been re­thought both pre­cisely and sens­it­ively, al­most noth­ing that is dar­ing and con­tem­por­ary has been pro­duced. The first sw­al­low of this sort, however, was Oleg Mat­suev’s typeface, Epi­phany, pub­lished in 2005, with curs­ive forms of low con­trast.

In 2018 Mar­ina Marjina cre­ated her Novgorod typeface. The let­ters, in­spired by the small win­dows of the vast white-stone cathed­rals of Novgorod, look, on close ap­prais­al, like av­ant-garde com­pos­i­tions. But the spir­it of the ori­gin­al im­age is main­tained. For all their free­dom, Mar­ina’s graph­ics are very true to their source. 


In terms of meth­od­o­logy, the typeface is based on the com­pound writ­ing whose form­al prin­ciple was dis­covered and de­scribed a year ago by Oleg Mat­suev and Maria Skop­ina. Their dis­cov­ery gives us a new in­stru­ment for us­ing a cal­li­graph­ic stroke for the design of new shapes. Such a bridge between hand­writ­ing and typeface design opens up an as yet un­ex­plored space for ex­per­i­ments. And this means more than free­dom with re­spect to form cre­ation. It is also a way of work­ing, of writ­ing, that is or­gan­ic to our own tra­di­tions of writ­ing. The fact that such dis­cov­er­ies are pos­sible shows how little we as yet know of Cyril­lic over­all.

If we are to forgo ready-to-use re­cipes and start ex­per­i­ment­ing, what can we rely on or be guided by? “The word form­a­tion is dom­in­ated by rhythm,”•Ger­rit Noordz­ij wrote on the met­al tab­lets for his stu­dents in the mid-1960s. These were re­cently found and pub­lished in the book, Ger­rit’s Early Mod­els (The Hag­ue, 2013).

The first sw­al­low from Al­ex­an­der Tar­beev’s work­shop traveled all the way to the Roy­al Academy of Arts in the Hag­ue. It triggered the birth of a move­ment among Rus­si­an type de­sign­ers, who now reg­u­larly travel to study in Hol­land. This, of course, has strongly af­fec­ted what we may now call the Cyril­lic space in type design.

Lit­er­ally, the name of the magazine trans­lates as “Tech­nic­al aes­thet­ic,” with the term stand­ing for design as an in­dustry.

From Ar­ab­ic script to Type: A Mani­festo by Lara Captan, and ­Kristyan Sar­kis

The ­In­flu­en­ces of Greta Text Ar­ab­ic, Kristyan Sar­kis.

The first ex­hib­i­tion took place in 2017, but the pro­cesses that led to it go back more than a dec­ade. His­tor­ic­al scripts were care­fully stud­ied, ana­lyzed, and taught. Whole new gen­er­a­tions of cal­li­graph­ers came in­to be­ing.

From Ar­ab­ic script to Type: A Mani­festo by Lara Captan, and ­Kristyan Sar­kis

The ­In­flu­en­ces of Greta Text Ar­ab­ic by Kristyan Sar­kis.

The first ex­hib­i­tion took place in 2017, but the pro­cesses that led to it go back more than a dec­ade. His­tor­ic­al scripts were care­fully stud­ied, ana­lyzed, and taught. Whole new gen­er­a­tions of cal­li­graph­ers came in­to be­ing.


Lit­er­ally, the name of the magazine trans­lates as “Tech­nic­al aes­thet­ic,” with the term stand­ing for design as an in­dustry.