A Type of Beauty
Unique fonts designed by artist Richard Kegler, '94, run the gamut from the sublime to the absurd.
"I'll take Common Denominators for $400, Alex," you say to yourself as you play along with the Jeopardy! contestants on television.
"The clue is: Rod McKuen, Starbucks and the Philadelphia Museum of Art," host Trebek replies, "and please make certain your response is in the form of a question."
As you mentally dance with joy around the family room, you shout the response you know is correct: "What are Richard Kegler's P22 fonts?"
A few years ago, Kegler's Buffalo-based company, P22, didn't even exist. Now its exclusive digital typeface products are so widely available they're seen by thousands of people. They are used by cultural and visual influences like poet Rod McKuen (his 40th-anniversary reissue CD, Beatsville) and companies like Starbucks (on coffee mugs and packaging) and museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which commissioned Cezanne, a font that reproduces a faithful rendition of the artist's own handwriting, for the museum's exhibit of his works).
Today, anyone using a Mac or PC has a selection of fonts provided within the basic software; with a quick click or two, the typeface seen on the monitor screen can be changed to suit the user's desires. The P22 Type Foundry, the main thrust of the company, markets more than 100 fonts, history and science. Working closely with museums and foundations to develop historically and aesthetically authentic products, the font sets are packaged with information on their source and inspiration.
The fonts created at P22 cover a wide range of styles. Several are based on an artist's own handwriting; others reflect historical art and design movements, or classical and cultural themes. One very unusual font is Insectile—it utilizes actualscanned and rearranged insect parts to create letters.
Other P22 interests include audio products, such as CDs, that feature an entirely unique combination of an exclusive font set and an audio work of music or poetry, like Beatsville.
UB graduate Richard Kegler, M.A.H. '94, never thought of himself as a business executive. Even now, with his company well established in the United States and Europe, he thinks of himself more as an artist.
"The satisfaction comes in knowing I've created something new, or brought something previously unavailable into general use," Kegler says. "One example is De Stijl, a font set inspired by the Dutch De Stijl movement of the 1920s. The movement sought to create art that took abstraction to its logical extreme; one of its best-known practitioners was Piet Mondrian."
Kegler's specialty after earning his undergraduate degree in 1988 in art and design from Buffalo State College was in relief printing, using his own woodcuts for the handbound, one-of-a-kind collage books he created.
The turning point was his master's thesis at UB. His UB program was flexible, a combination of art and media studies, which allowed him to move easily between the two disciplines. An early interest in video quickly changed to the digital arts.
Kegler's thesis focused on the work of Marcel Duchamp, extending the artist's ideas and philosophy using technologies, such as computer representations, that were not available until after Duchamp's death in 1968. Kegler searched for a typeface to use for a portion of the thesis installation; when he couldn't locate an appropriate one to portray Duchamp quotations, he created it with the assistance of Michael Want, who became a P22 associate. They used historical reference materials and the artist's handwriting as a guide.
Today Kegler still uses the University Libraries for much of his research. Recollections of his graduate years at UB include Anthony Rozak, an associate professor in the art department. "Tony was very influential in dispelling the myth that artists just do whatever the hell they want to do," says Kegler. "He was very practical in overseeing my thesis project and he pushed me to higher levels.
"In a different way, Tony Conrad [professor of media study] showed me an interesting approach to teaching and media production. He used different techniques for teaching video production, and an unorthodox approach to theoretical and hands-on media production. I became so fascinated, before long I was teaching in the department."
Other UB connections include Tim Conroy, former head of the publications office, who now has his own consulting business in Buffalo. "Tim has an extensive knowledge of type history. He's been supportive of what we're doing at P22, assisting with research into the history of the original type fonts being revived.
"Type was new to me," Kegler continues. "I didn't know I had the fortitude to do this—the tedium of crafting and fine-tuning the letters. Yet there's something very satisfying about making every letter work with every other letter. It takes mathematics, design skills and technical and computer expertise to make it all come together."
In 1994, Kegler, a Buffalo native with five brothers also active in the arts, had been marketing his book art to museums when word of his Duchamp font led to more typeface design work. The distribution network already in place for his books helped him introduce his new, historically significant fonts. P22 products are now available in museums, in retail stores like The Museum Company and in mail-order catalogs, such as The Discovery Channel catalog and Flax. P22 mails its own catalog as well.
Our http://www.p22.com Web site pops up when someone is researching Leonardo da Vinci's handwriting, for example, as well as when designers are selecting fonts," Kegler points out. "The fonts can be used in most word-processing, painting and page-layout programs, for anything from personal stationery to restaurant menus, annual reports—you name it."
Other places the fonts have been used include title credits for TV shows, covers of compact disc packages (Geffen, Virgin and Vanguard labels), catalogs (Nordstrom) and magazines (Madison, Rolling Stone, Playboy and Buffalo"s Artvoice).
One of Kegler's favorite fonts is the London Underground font set, which was produced in an exclusive arrangement with the London Transport Museum.
"They came to me because of our Child's Play font for a children's transportation museum project. When that was put on hold temporarily, I approached them with the idea of doing the original London Underground fonts.
"The original typeface, designed by Edward Johnston in 1916, was very influential, with clean, functional sans serif letterforms, a counterpoint to the excesses of the Victorian age. Previously, the original font had been totally unavailable; working out the licensing agreement with them was very unusual. P22 was the first to do this in any form. The museum supplied us with printed samples and a rare book that used the original wooden typeface. Including research and development, it took six months to do."
Creating a digital font is no picnic. The more geometric a font might be, such as Albers (which adheres to Bauhaus principles of graphic efficiency), the more friendly it is to the computer medium. A handwriting font, such as Cezanne, Da Vinci or Vincent is more complex for the computer designer. "To craft a font, you go through several types of software and spend design time on the computer getting things technically worked out; at almost every stage things are scanned and reworked. Some require enormous precision."
The core P22 staff is small—eight, currently—but there is a long list of consulting collaborators both here and abroad. Carima El-Behairy, Kegler's spouse and business partner, runs the P22 office, maintaining relationships with clients and sales outlets. She affectionately describes her husband as very focused. "Driven: He has vision and direction, and a way of pursuing things," she says.
Kegler's vision includes a view toward expanding into related fields in the future.
"Historical clip art is a natural extension of what we are already doing. It's not widely available, and some is not accessible at all; it's lost on library shelves. But if it's historically relevant, we'll seek it out."
Pat Pollock is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.