Who is Nick Curtis ?
A bon vivant, a raconteur, a grandfather of ten. But
I get ahead of myself; let me start at the beginning.
I was born on the south side of Chicago which, according to Jim Croce,
is the baddest part of town, in 1948, the oldest of what would turn
out to be eight children. That same year, my father purchased our first
television set, a tall, narrow cabinet with a lid on top. The picture
tube faced up, so you viewed the picture in a mirror on the bottom of
the lid. My mothers father, who was a professional scenic artist
(designed and painted scenery for the theater) saw possibilities in
this arrangement, and he and my father, with the aid of another mirror
and a fresnel lens from a spotlight, created what may well be the worlds
first projection TV.
This electronic marvel must have made an impression on me because, one
evening when I was three, after seeing a Flash Gordon serial on the
television, I drew a mural in crayon on the wall next to my bed. When
my parents discovered it the next day, they were not pleased, and contemplated
suitable punishment. My grandfather, however, saw artistic merit in
the creation, and declared that "the kid has talent." Thus
began my artistic career.
Our family moved to Texas in 1952, which would remain my home for the
next forty-five years. I learned to read at an early age (four), and
quickly devoured all of the books in our home library. I got my first
library card when I was eight, and thereafter spent a great deal of
my free time at the public library. As it turned out, my favorite subject
proved to be American popular culture in print and on film.
My first exposure to typography as a distinct discipline occurred in
my thirteenth year when, one fateful day, I was making the rounds of
the neighborhood alleys in advance of the trash collectors to see if
I could find any treasures that someone else had thoughtlessly discarded.
This particular day, I found a treasure trove: hundreds and hundreds
of mosaic tiles (mostly shades of blue and green), and a big fat green
vinyl binder from Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall Typographers, Dallas, Texas.
Inside were hundreds of typefaces most utilitarian, but many
exotic with names like Orplid and Umbra and Venus.
I gathered up my treasures and carried them home: some years later,
the mosaics became a coffee table top; the typeface binder became my
bible, my chapbook, my inspiration for forays into handlettering.
In high school, I was active in the drama club, the newspaper and the
yearbook. In the last two clubs, learned the rudiments of practical
graphic design, and I continued that involvement into college and beyond.
My second typographic awakening occurred in my later college years,
when Push Pin Studios enjoyed its heyday, and the San Francisco rock
poster movement flourished. Push Pin has strong Art Deco influences,
and the poster guys borrowed heavily from Art Nouveau, two historical
periods of type design that were entirely new to me. During this time,
I tried my hand at poster design and did some of my first type design
sketches. My freeware font Nickelodeon was taken from drawings
I did in a notebook in 1969. After college, I pursued a career in graphic
design in succession, in a computer company, and advertising
agency, an audio-visual presentation company, and broadcast television.
These various positions also correspond roughly to the duration of my
first marriage; when I divorced, I took about a year off to dabble in
the acting thing again, with a troupe of aspiring stars. Most of them
(including me) did simply aspire, although one member of our group,
Lou Diamond Phillips, did get a paying job or two.
In any event, after a year of R&R, I returned to the graphic arts
field in electronic pre-press at the time when desktop publishing was
just coming into its own. In 1990, I met the lovely lady who was to
become my second (and final, I hope) wife, and we married in 1993. She
had two daughters, who each had three children, so I became an instant
grandfather (both daughters have had two more children each since then).
In 1997, a friend of mine, who had become disgusted with trying to learn
fontographer, sold me his copy, and I began my first forays into font
creation. Later that same year, my wife and I moved to the Washington,
DC area, where we have been ever since. In 2000, I notice that Bitstream
was soliciting font designs for their New Font Collection, so I sent
them a few of my designs. I was elated when they chose to license Steppin
Out and Picayune Intelligence.
Emboldened by my newfound success, I submitted several designs to ITC.
In 2001, they licensed twelve of my designs, and their parent company,
Agfa-Monotype, licensed another three. Two of those designs ITC
Jeepers and Agfa-Monotype Woodley Park were honored
by the Type Directors Club of New York as among the best new type designs
of 2001. I was gratified, of course, but I didnt get filthy rich
as a result.
When MyFonts.com was
launched as an independent marketer of third-party fonts, I took the
plunge and established my own independent foundry, Nicks
Fonts. I have added incrementally to my collection and, with my
first releases of 2003, will have 103 fonts in my portfolio, with more
always more to come.
||Art by Bert Beckers.
Font used: Quigly Wiggly
What is your classical process to create a typeface
? Do you only use a computer or do you draw it before on a paper ?
Many years ago B.C. (Before Computers), I did all of
my lettering by hand, but Ive gotten lazy in my dotage. Now, I
almost always do all of my design work on the computer, unless I am
out and about and see an interesting typeface on a poster or billboard
or even, as in the case of Quigley Wiggly, on a toothpick wrapper.
The first step in the process of creating a typeface is to determine
the rules to be followed: x- height, serifs or not, monoline or thick
and thin strokes, and things like that. After that, creating the font
is simply a matter of applying the rules consistently. For me, the most
important characters in a typeface are the letters S (uppercase and
lowercase), lowercase a, and the ampersand; a nice question mark, pound
sterling sign and paragraph mark are also desirable.
A lot of your typefaces are Art Deco inspired. Why
I grew up in the 1950s, when commercial television in
the United States was still relatively young. A lot of the programming
in those days was movies and cartoons from the 1930s (which, incidentally,
is when my father was growing up). Now, I dont know if you have
looked carefully at movies from this period, but many of them are textbook
examples of Art Deco advertising, architecture and furnishings. Marx
Brothers movies, for example, were particularly up-to-the- minute for
In general, Art Deco typography is playful, inventive, a little sophisticated
and a little naïve, all qualities that I find appealing.
You offer a large collection of free fonts on your
site. Maybe larger than the collection of the commercial fonts. In which
case do you offer your creation for free and in which case do you sell
the typeface ?
Theres no formula. At any given time, I may have
as many as 100 fonts in various stages of development. To determine
which ones become commercial fonts, I ask myself "Is this font
unusual enough that I would pay money for it if I didnt make my
own fonts?" If the answer is yes, then that font becomes a commercial
property. So far, my instincts have been fairly good: at least 80% of
the fonts that I have chosen to sell have been selling.
Art by Christian Musselman.
Fonts used: Boyz R Gross,
East Coast Frolics NF
Do you have some news of the use the people create
with your fonts ?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I have included a new section
on my website called "Nicks Fonts at Work," which showcases
projects that have used some of my fonts. Since I instituted this new
area, people have been sending me examples of my work, and I plan to
add to this section on a regular basis.
||Art by Christian Musselman.
Font used: Dusty Rose
What is your favorite typefaces among the creations
of your peers ?
Thats a difficult question. So many fonts, so little
hard drive space/time/money. Once upon a time even twenty years
ago it was possible to know virtually every typeface available
by name but, with the explosion of typefaces that accompanied the desktop
publishing revolution, thats not the case anymore. There are many
designers whose work I admire, and I discover new gems all the time.
But you probaly want specifics. I would have to say that Greg Thompsons
Bodega series is my all-time favorite. Both the serif and sans-serif
versions are marvelous exercises in minimalism not a single extraneous
point or line. Other favorites include Daniel Pelavins ITC
Anna (serious Art Deco), and Jim Parkinsons ITC Jimbo series
(just plain fun).
Related article: Riquet,
typeface portrait (March 2003).