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Fred Smeijers's Arnhem typefaces

By Andy Crewdson

Implicit in Fred Smeijers’s best known typefaces, Quadraat and Renard, and explicit in his 1996 book Counterpunch, are arguments for a more rigorous, craft-centered approach to type design. Building on his research into the methods of sixteenth century punchcutters, Smeijers has not only advocated forgotten practices, but has shown with his type designs how these ideas, when applied, can yield impressive results. Quadraat, which was first published in 1992, is an inventive interpretation of the genre exemplified by the romans of Garamond, Granjon and Haultin. [Quadraat] Renard, which was first used to set the text of Smeijers’s book and has more recently been offered for sale, is a masterful revival of a late-1500s type that was one of the earliest of the so-called ‘Dutch taste’ romans. [Renard] In their approaches to detail and irregularity, both types reflect Smeijers’s employment of what he describes as the early punchcutters’ ‘connection with craft.’

It was this same connection that Smeijers chose to deliberately avoid when beginning work on a new typeface in the late 1990s. Taking the era that followed the introduction of the romain du roi (the first size of which appeared in 1702) as an initial frame of reference, Smeijers aimed to draw a typeface in the context of the ‘constructed’ and more consciously designed approach of the famous French academicians. [The romain du roi] Though it is now accepted that the romain du roi’s planners were more informed by historical and contemporary type design than had previously been thought, as James Mosley writes, their project remains the first in which ‘the form of the alphabet for a printing type [was] determined independently of its means of production.’ It was this unprecedented undertaking, in which Enlightenment concepts mixed for the first time with type design, that Smeijers looked to for inspiration. As with Quadraat, this new type would be an attempt to reference ideas rather than a specific set of letters.

 
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