Contrast Foundry: bliss and temperance in type design

Based in Moscow, Contrast Foundry was launched last year by Maria Doreuli, Liza Rasskazova, Nikita Sapozhkov and Anna Khorash. This highly motivated team develops fonts and logos for its clients as well as fonts for the retail market.

Doreuli in particular garnered attention with Chimera, her 2013 graduation project for the Type & Media masters program at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK). Based on a calligraphic experiment in reversed contrast with a broad-nib tool held at a 45° angle, Chimera is a design paradox that oozes confidence and challenges standard type classifications. Compelling and eye-catching as a display face, it is also surprisingly legible in its text weights (just try it!). It was also recognized by the Type Directors Club (TDC²) and won the Silver Prize in the Latin category of the Morisawa Type Design Competition.

CoFo Chimera

Not content only to open new paths, Doreuli also applied her formidable design skills to her revival of the types cut by William Caslon during the first half of the 18th century. William, a project started in 2008 and released by Typotheque in 2016, is arguably the most comprehensive attempt to renew and adapt this classic design for the digital era.

William

“I don't remember a particular moment when my interest in type design developed,” says Doreuli, “but it definitely connected with the name of Alexander Tarbeev and the Moscow State University of Printing where I studied from 2004 to 2010. Besides various kinds of live drawings, compositions and theoretical exams like history and Russian, the entrance exam also included a type design assignment. Each applicant had to draw a particular word in a suitable typeface/style from memory. The assignment certainly was not inspiring for me at that time, but the fact that this exam existed is quite remarkable when I think about it now. I don't think that there is any other university where you have to pass such a test to be admitted to a bachelor’s program.”

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“I think the people around me—who studied around the same time and also attended the Type Design Workshop—are what developed my interest and inspired me the most. There were students from different years working in the same small room together. This made you see what you would have to go through in the future and what you would need to achieve. I felt like everybody was so smart and I didn’t know anything, and I remember always trying to catch up. There was a similar environment at Type & Media in The Hague.”

Establishing a foundry and working with other people was an idea that arose at a difficult time for Doreuli. “In 2009–2010 at the end of my university studies in Moscow I wished I could join a team where I’d be able to continue learning about type design. The reality was that there was only one large studio, and I was not eager to work there. That was the very first time I thought that the only way to continue doing type design would be to start my own foundry.”

“It is worth mentioning that at that time all the remarks I heard sounded very pessimistic. Type designers were saying things like ‘I will only start selling my typefaces when designers start being aware that type is worth money.’ I thought that that wasn’t true, and only by putting your work out there could you get designers excited about type, which would eventually lead to a bigger market for it. And when I got my first request to license William in 2009, I had to learn a lot about the whole process, about laws, EULAs, etc., but I quickly realized that this part of job was also interesting for me and I continued to sell my typefaces on request for a number of years.”

CoFo Sans

“Another push to pursue the idea of a foundry came after going back to Moscow from The Hague. I worked from home by myself for a year. There were still no job offers in Russia, where I would have expected to see a potential. Remembering my thoughts as a graduate, I decided that I could try and create this kind of place myself—on the one hand, a place to sell my own typefaces, and on the other hand an environment were people could work collaboratively and learn from each other. This was when I met Liza Rasskazova, a graduate student of Tarbeev’s workshop with whom I eventually started working.”

“There are four of us now. I try to keep a variety of projects on our desks. Each new person coming to the studio usually gets to work on one of the ongoing projects, which is a good way to learn a lot about our workflow. This is the way that Liza and I started worked closely on expanding William between 2014 and 2018. At the same time, she also had her graduation project Robert (CoFo Robert) to complete and publish at the foundry. A combination of having a foundry project and a personal project as well as shorter term custom lettering or typeface projects, this is what I aim for each of us to have. And in the meanwhile we also teach. We organize a 2-week summer workshop ourselves (typedesignworkshop.org) and teach typography and graphic design in a few universities throughout the year.”

CoFo Robert

“Pure type design may be tough, but it is just a matter of what you do and how much. I think it is important not to lock yourself in. Have fun, sketch, do crazy stuff, meet people and collaborate.“

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Contrast Foundry font families available to rent on Fontstand for a fraction of their retail price.

It is very likely that Contrast will soon stand out as a foundry to reckon with. “Our plan for the near future is to have fun — start new projects, new collaborations. We will have a release soon, as well as something special going to print, and we are full of new ideas to start exploring. Of course there is always the routine work of typeface and website updates, but at least we have a good foundation to build on.”

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