Finkel’s Southeastern Road Trips Lead to Typeface Development and Design Fellowship

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Robert Finkel, Associate Professor and Program Chair of Graphic Design in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design, has been documenting lettering and typography throughout the Southeast United States.

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He is working to pursue a visual analysis, recreation and digitalization of vernacular lettering, which is typography designed for a certain location or culture, found on the signage and memorabilia he has photographed on his road trips across the region. Finkel will use this collection of imagery as a basis for preliminary drawings and studies to create a typeface, a visually unified system of letterforms and glyphs. His work on this project has led to a $5,000 Design Fellowship from the Alabama State Council of the Arts.

Finkel started taking road trips across the region back in 2013, usually taking side excursions while traveling with family or for work. “I always keep the camera close at hand and typically give myself an extra hour or two to take the backroads and make stops along the way,” he explained. Although these side trips were undertaken with very little planning, Finkel did keep a running list of places to visit, including some locales he passed through but didn’t have time to stop.

He has returned to visit some of these sites more than once, and these experiences can serve as a poignant reminder that things are constantly changing. “There have been several signs or buildings that I’ve been able to capture a wonderful image of only to find out on a return visit that they have been torn down, sometimes just within a matter of weeks or months,” he stated. “That experience comes back to the idea of being present in a moment and finding value in it and recognizing that all things are temporary.”

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The Alabama State Council of the Arts fellowships recognize artistic excellence and professional commitment and are used as a means of supporting growth and development of Alabama artists’ careers. Finkel will begin by surveying, classifying and analyzing the lettering from select images this fall which will lead to preliminary sketches and drawings. He hopes to begin the digital drawings and type design in the spring.

Finkel says that while traditional typefaces are visually unified along prescribed rules and have a utilitarian function, he hopes to find flexibility in his work. “My initial approach will be to follow this tradition and I may very well find some usages of the typeface in certain design projects,” he said. “But I’m also not going to limit myself to the established definition of typography. In the spirit of the activities that have led me to this point, I’ll let the process determine the outcome.”

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Robert Finkel