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Ditchling Residency 2016: Reflections on Type Design

© British Council

21 August 2017
by Gian Luca Amadei

Polish type designer Viktoriya Grabowska was selected for our first Ditchling Residency in 2016. Over the course of her residency at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Viktoriya looked into how typefaces are part of the urban visual landscape and how they are related to the identity of a particular place or even a group of people. 

We asked her for some reflections on her time in Ditchling, exploring the rich archive at the museum, and how her understanding of type design and her practice has developed following her four-week residency in the Sussex village. 

What did you gain from the experience in Ditchling?

Being fascinated with Johnston Sans’ typeface, I was able to get closer to Edward Johnston’s work and study how his typeface helps us to navigate the built environment. At the start of the residency, I was completely absorbed within Ditchling itself, its museum, its history and the amazing surroundings. I looked for Johnston’s influence in the local signage, observing how people used it. I also felt very privileged to access Johnston’s archives as well print the poster I designed during my residency on the museum’s Stanhope printing press.

While chasing the letters I was lucky to meet many wonderful people and had many interesting conversations. I felt very welcome in the studio of David & Sally, in the museum and my temporary home in Hassocks.  I have also learned that bacon can be served with pancakes, and it’s actually good!

How has your practice evolved as a result of your residency?

The residency allowed me to study and research how typefaces are part of our visual landscape and how they interact with the identity of place. I feel that the work I did in Ditchling opened up a new perspective on how typography is so interconnected with its environment and context.

During my stay in Ditchling I was working on a typeface which mixed inspiration from two different starting points; Polish road signage typeface which surrounds me in my daily life, and Johnston Sans, my beloved typeface by Edward Johnston, alongside the typefaces and lettering I found on signs between Hassocks and Ditchling. These grew together into one typeface with a specific character, I like to think of it as a personality that started to take shape during my residency. The process of designing a new typeface is long and laborious,  so the story continues as I am currently working on the design of its character set. 

Did you find the experience valuable?

I think it’s important once in a while to take a break from my usual work practice, and make space for different projects that allow me to focus on speculative research and testing new ideas.  In a daily working routine it’s not easy to find the time to research.  The residency allowed me to create a physical distance (being in the UK and not in Poland) for a while and to dedicate time and creative energy to a particular idea, and dive completely into research and the residency project. I found out that Ditchling village and the Museum in particular is an easy place to concentrate.

I should also add that from my personal perspective, finding myself in a new place and culture was creatively motivating and challenging at the same time. A very energising experience. 

The 2017 Ditchling Residency is currently taking place, find out more about our next designer here. To find out more about our design residencies, visit our Opportunities page.