28 Jun 2019
The Melbourne-based designer and artist Maria Montes creates intricate, nostalgic and downright FUN lettering and illustrations out of her studio in Fitzroy, where she also runs workshops teaching others the art of writing. Trained as a graphic designer, Maria Montes studied in Barcelona in 1996, where learning calligraphy was compulsory. After spending over a decade working in the field, she decided to re-explore letterforms, resulting in a postgraduate course in Advanced Typography, followed by a year-long stint and further study in New York City. Her journey ultimately ended in Australia, where she’s been living, working and loving over the last 12 years.
Maria will be speaking at the fourth #tptalks session on Thursday 4 July 2019 at Le Tank. Registration will open on 25 June 2019!
I thought of W.A. Dwiggins who is an all-time inspiration. (…) He also released his first commercial typeface in his forties.
Green Fairy has just turned one year old. How was this project born? At what time or why did you decide that it could be an entire typeface? Which were the reasons that pushed you to create and produce the entire character set?
Maria Montes The origin of my Green Fairy font family is the lettering I designed in 2015 as part of my illustrated cocktail artwork called “Absinthe. La Fée Verte” (The Green Fairy). Originally, this lettering only featured eight letters “AB·SINTHE” vector drawn in Illustrator. Right after creating the full-colour artwork, I designed a fountain-letterpress print version in collaboration with Ladies of Letters, A.K.A. Carla Hackett and Amy Constable.
At the beginning of 2016 —and thanks to the project @36daysoftype— I found the motivation, and most importantly the deadline, to draw the rest of the twenty-six letters of the uppercase alphabet.
Releasing a font commercially has been on my to-do list since I first studied typeface design. In the past, I had tried to finish my first typeface design without succeeding. I also tried to finish my second typeface, but the task felt really daunting and I never had the guts to do it. So, after having Green Fairy’s uppercase characters designed, I fantasised with turning this project into a commercial font but after my two former intents, I feared failing and disappointing myself for the third time…
Then, I thought of W.A. Dwiggins who is an all-time inspiration. He was a prolific American book designer, calligrapher and type designer who coined the term graphic designer for the first time in 1922. He also released his first commercial typeface in his forties. I was just about to turn forty myself, so I took it as a sign; plus let’s be honest, I love challenges.
I started 2017 having my first two calligraphy courses sold out —which I took as a second and definitive sign— and decided to devote myself to Green Fairy for nine months straight. I purchased the font software Glyphs and I started to re-draw all twenty-six letters of the uppercase alphabet again, followed by the numbers, currency symbols, diacritics, punctuation marks as well as spacing and kerning.
Green Fairy is a seven-style chromatic font family highly ornamented for display purposes. This project is the result of an intense nine-month-full-time personal investment and I couldn’t be happier with the release. The font is now available commercially on my online store as well as at MyFonts.
(…) Foreground and background are two elements with the same volume of importance.
Which advantages do you think you have as being an illustrator in the typography field? There are quite a lot illustrators which are lettering artists too, but your case is not as common: you have a good command of type design, lettering, calligraphy, illustration and even textile design!
I guess that’s the result of having W.A. Dwiggins, Rudolf Koch and William Morris (all three type designers as well as masters of lettering, calligraphy and illustration) as referents in my career.
In the commercial world, it seems like the more specialise you become, the better; but my personality is always hungry for learning and experimenting with new things and new techniques. These practices that seem so different (calligraphy, lettering, typography, type design, illustration and textile design) hardly go out of my interest for up-skilling my eye. To quote Ed Benguiat, I once was an “eye-deaf designer” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHjdoSP-jVc) and since then, I am constantly teaching myself to see.
To answer your question, the main advantage being an illustrator and a textile designer in the typography field is the strong use of colour, I guess that’s why Green Fairy is a chromatic font family after all.
And vice versa, the advantage of being a type designer in the illustration/textile design field is that my eye is incredibly fit, having a deep understanding of the figure/ground relationship, where foreground and background are two elements with the same volume of importance.
Something about these letters caught my attention and I could not stop thinking about them for months.
Do you remember when did you decide to conduct your career to the letter world? What made you choose that?
My grandmother has been a huge influence in my life. She was a fashion designer and a dress maker. With her assistance, at the age of sixteen I started to cut and sew my own garments, and I loved it.
So at the age of eighteen I applied for a fashion degree. I was not convinced that you can make a living as a fashion designer, so I decided to enrol for a graphic design degree simultaneously. That year, I spent my days drawing fashion silhouettes and my nights typesetting QuarkXpress and Page Maker.
Paco Rabanne was one of my first big fashion influences. He was born in Basque Country and fled Spain for France with his mother after Franco won the war, in 1939. In 1995 –while studying fashion and graphic design–, Paco Rabanne released XS. I remember discovering the perfume’s packaging. Something about these letters caught my attention and I could not stop thinking about them for months.
By the end of that academic course, I decided to only specialise in graphic design as I would have the opportunity to learn more about letterforms.
When you started, who were the teachers or professionals who had the greatest impact upon you?
My teacher and then studio director Josep Bagà. I worked with Josep for three years upon graduation from my BA Honours in Graphic Design. He taught me a great deal about graphic design, typography, photography, music and the cultural scene in Barcelona, and I’m deeply grateful for it.
What is your favourite way to start your day? What is the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk?
I’m currently a morning person, which was impossible to conceive a few years ago! I currently wake up and meditate for 15 mornings every morning, followed by 15 minutes of salut to the sun yoga practice; these two activities keep me sane and have become a priority in these days.
I stopped drinking coffee as I noticed my calligraphy practice being affected by it. Since then, I’m pretty much addicted to herbal tea and dark chocolate in a daily basis, so I traded one addiction by two of them!
The first thing I do on my desk every morning is answering emails. Then, planning my day ahead and finding a second to be grateful for doing what a love for a living.
Do you prefer a permanent/dedicated workspace, or do you like to keep mobile (i.e. cafes, outdoors etc)
I’m most productive when having a permanent workspace and a daily routine. I have been at Rotson Studios co-working space for 4 years now, it has been great. Being surrounded by people who respect, support your work and understand the mindset of a freelance designer is key.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone wanting to become a designer / type designer / art director?
I can definitely recommend watching a couple of talks:
– “The Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated College” by Debbie Millman.
– Eric Hu, Hassan Rahim + Erik Brandt on “What is design education actually for” by Aiga Eye On Design.
Thank you very much, Maria!
– Interview by Gina Serret.