Sharp Type — Interview
Interview with Chantra Malee & Lucas Sharp, the creatives behind the type company Sharp Type.
Dennis Moya: Can you introduce yourselves?
C&L: We are a two person team. We met at Parsons and were recently engaged. We just moved to Granada, Spain, but still have an office in NYC.
Chantra: I’m from Newport, RI. I worked for my parent’s at their shops since I was 9, which first sparked my entrepreneurial spirit. I moved to NYC for college to study Design and Management at Parsons. Following graduation I worked as Senior Project Manager at a boutique branding agency in NYC called Love and War for about 4 years.
Lucas: I’m from the Bay Area and moved to NYC to study graphic design at Parsons. I was introduced to type design there and studied under Joshua Darden who mentored me and hired me as a draftsman at his studio. I was really lucky to be able to work under Josh, and I thrived in the informal environment of the studio. We just loved typography and were excited to come to work everyday to work on it together. I learned a lot about there, but the learning never stops. I try to perfect my craft every day.
DM: How did you come to start up Sharp Type?
Lucas: After working at the Darden Studio for a few years I went independent, forming Pagan & Sharp studio with fellow parsons alum Juan Carlos Pagan. We had a lot of success together, but in the end it was clear that our careers had different trajectories. So after we went our separate ways in 2015, I formed Sharp Type with my partner in life and business, Chantra Malee. Her background in design and business made her uniquely qualified to manage licensing as well as marketing, design, and everything else that you need to run a successful foundry.
Chantra: Ever since I worked the registers at my parent’s shops I knew I wanted to build my own business. The “what” was yet to be discovered, but I think that is a challenge every entrepreneur faces. I had observed Lucas run his first foundry from the beginning. His work was undeniably good, and he had developed an incredible library over the years. When he first approached me to partner up with him, I was of course hesitant given our relationship, but certainly not because it didn’t sound like a good venture. Because it definitely did. Lucas had the product and the ambition to expand his business, and I had the branding, marketing and management background to get us there. It became an easy yes for me. Plus, we got to move to Granada.
DM: Where does your interest in type design come from?
Lucas: I’ve always been a student of form, whether it’s drawing, painting, or designing typefaces. At Parsons as a student I took a few branding and corporate design themed classes that stressed the designers role as a kind of curator: someone who takes pre-existing modular elements and arranges them skillfully into a well articulated “brand”. As someone with a fine arts background and a big oversized youthful ego I deliberately rejected this role and became intent on producing all the ingredients of my design recipes from scratch. Around this time I picked up photography, and I began experimenting with drawing my own letterforms. When I took my first typeface design class with Joshua Darden who was filling in for James Montalbano for a year it was the start of a decade long love affair with the craft of type design.
I think I love it so much because it is raw contour form in its most essential sense, negative and positive space formed along a set of loose guidelines embodying the humanity of the designer, a body with emotions and motivations and history all harkening back to the platonic skeletal structure of the Latin alphabet. And it is actually very useful to people. Ideally the countless hours, days, months, and years you spend with it from conception to actualization are just the beginning of its life, before it flies the nest and goes out into the world. But the exploration of raw form is what attracted me initially and continues to keep me rapt up in it.
At this point in my life typeface design is a daily meditative practice that I am very grateful for.
DM: Would you like to talk about one of the recent project you designed?
Lucas: Um like most creative people I mostly want to talk about the stuff I am working on currently but since none of it is ready for the light of day, I will tell you about the monstrous font family we just released called Sharp Grotesk. It was a monumental undertaking and we are pretty proud of it.
It started off as legit pencil on paper poster lettering about 6 years ago and grew and grew and grew until it was a 249 font superfamily with every weight and more widths than anyone in their right mind would ask for. The point of having 21 widths per weight was to be able to hack a less than perfect method of employing width interpolation as a tool in design software (Adobe, Sketch, etc.) The idea being that one could get perfectly justified lines of type for awesome compositions. So it wasn’t about providing distinct and contrasting widths, but providing a smooth gradation for fine tuning type width.
The design of Sharp Grotesk is, like all my work in the genre, a hodgepodge of different and often unrelated historical forms and inspirations as well as many of my own ideas. Multi-width gothics, grotesks, and neo-grotesks provide a wealth of precedents too many to count. I would say of these, Frutiger’s Univers was the most influential. Frutiger is one of my favorite type designers of all time. Some of the wonky stylization and unexpected constructions were inspired by American wood type, and the feeling those wonderful forms convey was very important to the conception of the typeface.
As a tool I am very proud of it from a utilitarian standpoint. The mid to light range of weights and mid to wide range of widths was proofed at every optical size and performs well as a plug-and-play tool. The display stuff pops quite loudly, and the middle widths could replace Helvetica if you wanted something that functions the same with a bit more soul.
DM: Where would you like to see your typefaces used?
C&L: Honestly we have no preference or prescription on where they should be used. We would hope to be surprised.
DM: A designer that you admire?
Lucas: My friend and mentor Joshua Darden is criminally unrecognized for his genius and contribution to the field. He basically re-invented and set the new standard for optical size design in typography for the digital age. His aesthetic and sensibilities greatly informed my own. His letterforms have so much life. His typefaces are pure Jazz.
DM: A favorite book about design?
C&L: The Arts of the Beautiful by Etienne Gilson