Designer: Barrett Reid-Maroney
Release Date: August 2021
Back Story: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” Shakespeare wrote in Act three of Hamlet. In the case of Arras, a new typeface from designer Barrett Reid-Maroney, the typography wears a suit of its own inspiration. While completing his Master’s in English literature concentrating on book history and typography at the Huron University College in Ontario, London, Reid-Maroney became transfixed by tedious, intentional type design while examining and admiring the craft of 20th century Shakespeare volumes. He noticed the elements of performance in the type used for these translations. Gestures in the stems and serifs were reminiscent of the dramatized movements of actors on a stage, arms, and legs extending in large movements, hands and feet holding space between stage and sky. “During my studies, I volunteered in the letterpress studio at the university. I would sort type stamps, assemble the presses, ink the rollers—words became tangible in this very honest, humble way. I began to revel in my interactions with type in this physical, material way,” he said. “Seeing words form from rhythmic, process-heavy gestures gave the type a personified, non-static life on paper. Each letter began to hold its own, like an actor on stage.”
Why is it called Arras? Besides the term’s phonological svelte, Arras is the technical word for stage curtain (appearing almost palindromic with Rs that sweep curtain-like). English in origin but French by reference, Arras is a city in France where picture tapestries were commonly made. Fast forward 200 years, and these tapestries would become the divider between the real world and picture world. Arras doesn’t refer to just any stage curtain, however. What theater other than The Globe could bear such a profound historical heartbeat?
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Arras’ most prominent feature is a continuing house shape — Reid-Maroney’s typographic allusion to The Globe’s unique, original architecture. More specifically, Arras is representative of the tiring-house, a room in the theater where actors would prepare to enter the stage and become their characters, or exit the stage in a dramatic, flourishing death. The tiring-house was shrouded by a set of hangings (arras). All that to say, architecture is the defining feature of Arras’ structure and stems, but the humanistic references are noticeable in the daggered serifs and bloated bowls. In addition, certain letters are upright and rigid (hello, Polonius) while the lowercase m leans back (Hamlet and his madness). “The hints of theatricality are purposefully noticeable. The way the uppercase T next to a lowercase H transitions like an arch is the apex of the Globe’s influence,” said Reid-Maroney. The humanistic qualities are housed by the structural “beams,” leaving each word with a stage and actor.
How should one use Arras? According to Reid-Maroney, Arras translates well both digitally and physically. “I could see promotional posters and bold branding benefiting from the gestural but legible curves,” he says. “Arras is obviously suited for anything Shakespeare, like a digital revival of one of his works. I’m partial to Richard II.”
What would be your dream location to see Arras displayed? “My favorite place is the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Ontario,” Reid-Maroney said. “They put on rare book exhibitions often, and I mean rare. They have a book with Galileo’s handwriting. To have a book in this library would be the one.”
What typefaces would you pair it with? Reid-Maroney said he could imagine pairing it with humanistic serifs and other typographic revivals. “Typesets from Aldus Manutius, pioneer of italics, would pair well. Arras is the character list, ‘Act’ text, title page, and solidifying moments of written work—the body text could be or not be whatever compliments the main character,” he said.