CR Blog

Saving India's street type

Graphic Design, Type / Typography

Posted by Patrick Burgoyne, 4 September 2012, 10:17    Permalink    Comments (15)

The distinctive handpainted signs of India are rapidly being superseded by digital alternatives. HandpaintedType is a project dedicated to preserving the work of those who create them and finding new uses for it

Among the photos of almost every tourist to India will be shots of the handpainted signs for shops and other businesses that, alongside elaborately decorated lorries ('horn please') and gloriously decaying palaces make up so much of the stereotypical visual vernacular of the country. But those signs will shortly be a thing of the past, as will the artists who paint them. Digital printing is taking over, with many Indian businesses swapping their distinctive frontages for the worst that a (pirated) copy of Corel Paint in the hands of an untrained, underpaid and overworked DTP operator can conjure.

In order to preserve the work of his country's street painters and give them an alternative source of income, Hanif Kureshi (who by day is a creative director at Wieden + Kennedy in New Delhi) has set up the HandpaintedType project. This film explains the sign writers' situation.

The idea of the project is not only to create an online resource documenting the sign writers' work, but to create digital typefaces from lettering designed by the street painters themselves. These typefaces are for sale through the site: half the proceeds will go to the painter and half to keeping the not-for-profit project going.

One of the first digital typefaces to be made available is by Painter Kafeel, a 45 year-old based in Old Delhi. Kureshi's process is to commission each painter to paint an alphabet, a set of numbers and, if possible, a variety of symbols on a 3ft by 8ft banner cloth. Kureshi pays the painter the going rate (anything from Rs300 to Rs1000, or £10) for the banner. The letters are then digitised to create the typeface.

Painter Kafeel's banner

The finished Painter Kafeel font (which can be purchased here) comes in nine layers.

Here are some examples of its use:

And this is the complete character set

 

Kureshi is attempting to gather work from sign writers across India as the styles vary greatly from region to region as well as from artist to artist. Here, for example, is the work of Painter Umesh from Gujarat. His typeface can be downloaded for free from the HandpaintedType site.

 

While this one is from Painter Bimal in Mumbai

 

And this from Painter Bindra in Rajasthan

 

There are also typefaces in Devanagari script and Urdu.

But there is only so much Kureshi can do by himself. He is encouraging others to collaborate via the site which includes a full set of instructions on how to brief the painters, what to pay and how he will reimburse costs.

Kureshi showed the project at the Kyoorius DesignYatra conference in Goa last week, of which more soon.

 

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15 Comments

There's something really nice about most of those hand painted type sets and yet it's that same something that gets lost when digitised. Even so a nice project and love of the art.
HappyC
2012-09-04 12:49:42


Great video, although very sad example of the decline of industry. Of course this has been a worldwide trend just at different points in history.

I did love his reason for using Arial though - i'm going to use it next time i'm asked.
mark
2012-09-04 15:47:08


The digital versions lack the warmth of the hand painted type sets, which are really charming. But it will be interesting to see the uses designers find for them.
Charlee Sully
2012-09-04 15:56:52


It's sort of sad that digital print is taking over this wonderful tradition of hand worked typography that is so ingrained in the Indian culture.
However, it is also nice to see digital reproductions of the artist's letterings reproduced and for sale. Hopefully this will help the artists continue this culturally rich tradition and enable this unique visual aspect of graphic design to keep on developing and thriving. The visual examples included in this article suitably highlight the very rich visual tradition that has developed in India over the years.
Chew @ graphic design belfast
2012-09-04 18:48:04


Great idea, however, I agree with the others that some of the charm and "hand painted" quality is lost when digitized.
Sam
Sam Kanga
2012-09-04 19:09:13


Good :)
Zabeeh
2012-09-05 10:29:05


This is a great project, much respect to Hanif for pushing ahead with it. India is not alone in losing hand painted forms to digital technologies. Sadly it is a global phenomenon. I attempt to document examples around the world on my ghostsigns site. This started out covering fading advertising on walls in the UK but has evolved to have a broader focus on hand lettering from around the world. I hope that there will be other ways of keeping the craft alive for many years to come and welcome Hanif creative way of doing so.
Sam Roberts
2012-09-05 12:19:53


great news, Th's something really nice about most of those hand painted type sets and yet it's that same something that gets lost . Even so a nice project and love of the art. Myself Copperplate calligraphy Artist!
Reena Methar
2012-09-05 17:13:46


This is a fantastic skill which these artists display. I hope there is a way to sustain their skills for the future. @theampatel
Amit Patel
2012-09-05 17:17:24


Very cool! Unfortunately I don't think the price will convince the design guy in the video to improve his methods ; ]
parcodiyellowstone
2012-09-06 11:30:06


Wait a minute - you pay the designer £10 for creating the artwork, and then sell it for how much?

Robbery I call it, preceded by an expletive!
Skipper
2012-09-06 13:23:38


@ Skipper



No, you pay the designer to create the artwork, take it away, have it made into a proper typeface (for which there is a cost), set up a website to market that typeface and share half the proceeds with the original designer while the other half goes toward the running costs of the project and extending it. So the painters get paid for their work (work that is increasingly scarce) and earn extra money from sales of the typeface. You call that robbery do you?
CR PatrickBurgoyne
2012-09-06 13:34:00


The main confusion I had was how I'd missed Hanif Kureishi changing career from writing into advertising! Took a wee while to realise it's a different guy (with no middle 'i' in his surname). In fairness they are both film-makers.

It's good he's trying to do something positive about the situation. Seems like there could be scope for another social enterprise to offer custom signs or prints to a Western audience to support the sign painters. Maybe somewhere between Indian Hippy and the cool interior stuff you get from Fab?
Decimal
2012-09-06 17:32:03


Dear Chew,
it's sad, but we must think of it as about something normal because of the ongoing technology development.
I like these visual examples as they very much tell about the traditional typography involved many years ago.
Martin
2012-09-14 16:18:54


I agree with Martin, it's nice to bring a traditional art form into the digital realm. It both opens it to millions of new people and immortalises it to an extent.
Stuart Crawford
2012-11-21 09:29:43


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