Dave Foster’s type travels

Stone carving

Dave Foster is a type disciple. He spends most of his days studying under the tutelage of some of the greatest living typographers of our age.

Foster is the 2011 recipient of the Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship offered each year by the NSW Government, with the support of the Powerhouse Museum and the British Council. He used his $18,000 scholarship to help fund a year-long Type & Media Masters Degree at the prestigious Royal Academy of Art (KABK). Its teaching focuses on the processes needed to create fonts suitable for all mediums.

Under the piercing blue skies of Den Haag in The Netherlands, Foster’s studies range from designing fonts using open-source software to learning how to carve letters from stone. In this interview Joan-Maree Hargreaves talks with Foster about his experiences, achievements and challenges so far.

JM: How does studying in The Netherlands differ from studying in Australia?

DF: It’s hard to make a comparison between studying in Australia because I studied a degree in Australia but this a postgraduate course so the nature of it I think is quite different. However, my experience so far has been amazing. At times it can be stressful, and will continue to be this way but it’s a price that’s easy to justify when given such a great opportunity. For anyone interested in the details of my experience, they can visit my blog at http://kabk.davethedesigner.net. It’s important to also make the point that the knowledge about type just isn’t available in Australia. So there’d be no possibility for me to do it there. Without this chance to focus and be surrounded by people with such energy and determination I couldn’t improve at the pace I am, nor generate the volume of work I currently have or will create. The best part is that I feel my graphic design will improve from this too.

JH: What were your expectations of the course, the place and the art school itself and have they been met?

DF: My expectations were to be in an environment where I could focus on type and where I would be surrounded by classmates and teachers who shared my passion. The teachers especially have such a deep understanding and enthusiasm through practice but I’ve learnt almost just as much from my fellow students. They’re all very inspiring. I also had the expectation that the course is really about learning through practice. I have to say that I’m extremely happy and feel like what I expected has been exceeded. As far as other things go, I expected cold weather and to be riding my bike a lot. The weather hasn’t been as bad as I expected (yet) and I love riding my bike everywhere.

JH: What has been the biggest lesson or challenge so far?

DF: It’s very hard to say because I’ve learnt so much. But really there are a few major things. Learning how to evaluate shapes and proportion is an ongoing learning process. It’s one I think never really stops for any one designer. But if I was going to isolate a general philosophy that sits above all my subjects, it would be learning how to make mistakes faster.

JH: What has been your greatest achievement?

DF: Nothing really springs to my mind immediately. Mainly because the process of learning here is so steady (in a steep kind of way) that nothing spikes up as a dramatic achievement compared to anything else. But also by being here, you realise how little you really know, so it’s hard to see anything that I do as a great achievement. Out of all the things I never expected I could do before I began, designing a Greek typeface and learning scripting are the two that were at the top of that list. But I still have trouble believing I got this scholarship and that I’m here, doing what I love and being able to concentrate on it. So much time and effort was put into being accepted here, applying for the scholarship and moving my whole life over here. So I’d say the thing I’m most proud of is just being here.

JH: Tell me about some of the interesting people you’ve met?

DF: I’ve had the honour of meeting people I’ve respected since I began as a designer. Wim Crouwel is one in particular who has influenced my work and the work of many Australian designers whom I also admire. We will be designing the Gerrit Noordzij Prijs exhibition containing his work in the middle of next year. I have also met Matthew Carter, one of the most widely known and important contemporary type designers responsible for Verdana, Tahoma and Georgia among many. I also met Lida Cardozo of the Cardozo Kindersley stone carving workshop in Britain. But inevitably my classmates and teachers are the ones I’ve become the most acquainted with and they’re all interesting people that I feel lucky to be among.

JH: Tell me about some of the events you’ve attended?

DF: My trip began with a type festival here in Den Haag called ‘Now We’re Talking’. Shortly after beginning the course we went to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Meermanno Museum here in Den Haag. I’ve been to Antwerp for ‘Integrated 2011’ design conference and while I was there we visited the Platin-Moretus Museum, one of the oldest archives of printing materials in the world. ‘Type Amsterdam’ conference at the University of Amsterdam was also really fun. I’m looking forward to May when we go to ‘TypoBerlin’, one of the most well know type conferences. But besides design related events the Dutch have big holidays here and it’s good to get into some stuff once in awhile. Since I’ve been here they’ve had Princes Day and also Sinterklass, which I travelled to Utrecht to see.

JM: Can you take me through some of the subjects you’re currently taking?

DF: My class schedule is currently Mondays with Paul van der Laan creating a revival of Caslon from a book series printed by Jan van Krimpen in 1925. On Tuesdays I start with stone carving, in the afternoons we are currently designing a Greek companion for an existing typeface with Peter Bilak, we also practice our public speaking in preparation for our graduation. On Wednesday mornings I have python programming and in the evenings we discuss a variety of subjects with Petr van Blokland, mainly based around workflows, the design process and the commercial side of things. Thursdays are one of the busiest days. We have Erik van Blokland in the mornings and Peter Verheul in the afternoon. Initially these subjects started with calligraphy but have now moved into drawing types based on those calligraphic principals. Fridays are spent planning the upcoming exhibition for Wim Crouwel or going on excursions to Museums.