Anna Laing-Fraser: Interview
Cassidy Hart spoke with artist, designer, and SomoS Artist-in-Residence Anna Laing-Fraser about her love of typography, her process moving from paper to digital, and her work in Berlin. Her project, Building Characters, exploring the connection between typography and architecture, was presented at SomoS on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018.
Can you give us an introduction to yourself and what you’re working on in Berlin?
I’m a graphic designer and scenic painter based out of Toronto, Canada and I’m here in Berlin working on a new typographic project. Based on my experience in film as a scenic painter and graphic designer, I work with a lot of set designers so therefore I get to see the process of making blueprints and that’s really what’s inspired my project here in Berlin. So with my love of typography and seeing these really fantastic blueprints my colleagues were making, I saw a really unique synergy between the structure of typography and architecture. So I decided I would design a typeface so I came to Berlin to do this great residency where I get to focus on creating this new alphabet of mine.
How did you become interested in design?
I grew up with a dad who is a backdrop and visual effects artist and my mom is a faux finisher and interior designer. She does a lot more detail work and he does a lot more large scale stuff. So with these two perspectives it gave me a little more of a broad understanding of arts. How I went into design was that I thought, “how am I going to make a living as a creative individual?” I figured getting a visual arts degree would make it a little more difficult to make money in the end so I figured why not do graphic design where I can actually have a consistent job and still approach it with a painterly style. And my love of typography just unfolded through school, just experimenting with it in different ways, and of course having really great professors and then also doing sign writing in film. Film ended up being a part time job for me when I was in school, probably around my second year. I needed to make money to pay for it so I started working in film with the help of my dad. I fell in love with it and kept going and pursued design after I graduated.
You’re a very hands-on, paper oriented person. Can you tell us a bit about how this factors into your creative process?
I like to work with paper because of course having more of a hands on background there’s just something different from working on a tablet. I find that I get all of my stylistic qualities and expression out on paper and I then transfer it to vector by scanning it in and then I work based on the tablet. The reason I do it that way is that I find that it’s very personal and I can get a chance to draw and then the next step is to do digital. It’s fun more me to see it as a step by step process and watch it unfold into a final piece.
Do you find that your graphic design work is influenced by your background in scenic painting or vice versa?
I would say I didn’t really think about how graphic design and scenic painting were married together before, but now that my work is changing as I continue to do my own personal design work, I add a lot more texture and layers into my work because I find that it adds depth. And with scenic painting, that’s what we do. We’re constantly working with different colors and layers and effects and it adds more interest to the work in the end, so I get to incorporate the two together in that way.
Why are you drawn to typography specifically?
Typography is such a universal design concept. It’s so important in society and in terms of how we communicate as a whole. I mean, the simplest little element makes it a little more legible, and the kerning, and how you set the type can make much more of an impact in terms of what it’s actually saying depending on what typeface you use, the color content, the contrast. How it’s handled really makes a big impact. And I feel like with typography there’s so much you can explore. They say you can’t break rules, but if you break them in an effective way, then you can do anything with it.
What has your creative process been like in Berlin?
I tried to figure out at the beginning how I was going to go from doing a lot of research. I went to the archival library to see if I could find some interesting information, which I did, and then computer research just to form a better understanding of how I could shape letterforms based on architectural terminology and different factors of architecture. But I felt like the most effective thing to do, especially because I’m in Berlin, would be absorbing everything that’s around me. So I just started going out and engaging in the environment we’re in and being present and opening my eyes up to what’s around me. Then from there, drawing things, taking photographs, and at the end of the day taking it back to the studio where I work with what I’ve gathered.
I think doing a residency is really valuable because you learn a lot about yourself as an individual and as an artist and how you work and your process kind of unfolds. So it’s a really personal time for you to engage with the space that you’re in and you learn along the way. It can be tricky but it’s also very eye opening and I’m really happy to be doing it and I think it’ll be really beneficial for me in the long run.
Who or what are you influenced and inspired by?
I would say that I’m really inspired by seeing what other artists are doing. We all influence each other and instead of being competition, we’re actually working together as creative people in society. So a lot of my coworkers are very inspirational to me and they’re very supportive and nurturing. They teach you so many new skills and they’re not afraid to show you what they know and I find that extremely encouraging. My dad is also very important to me in terms of what he’s taught me.
Can you tell us a bit about your vision for your project?
I’m designing a whole character set of letters and then that will turn into exclamation marks, question marks, parentheses, different character elements and the numerical characters as well. It takes quite a long time to develop a typeface, so I’m at the rudimentary stage now. This is just the beginning for me, but it’s exciting because I’m exploring with different drawing techniques and I’m seeing how I can push myself. I’m going out of my comfort zone in terms of what I see around me and having a different perspective into the structures I see. Currently, I’m probably a third of the way through my alphabet. It will take change though, because I think everything does change as you work. But for the event, I’m going to have a few variations of letters displayed. In the long term I think what would be really cool is having a variety of styles within my typeface. Whether it be displaying Art Nouveau, to Gothic, to Modern, to Brutalist, I think that would be really fun. So that’s the shape it’s taking at the moment.
Photos courtesy Cassidy Hart