Interview with the Tactile Typographer

Dominique Falla is a designer and illustrator who spends her time between Brisbane and Byron Bay in Australia. When I first saw her typographic poster "We are all a part of the same thing", I was instantly captivated by the ‘woven’ inscription and after writing about it I realised I wasn’t the only person to be enamoured; it received the most ‘likes’ and ‘re-blogs’ of any Type Worship post; nearly 22,000 and counting!

The piece was created with tiny nails and wound cotton during Dominique’s ‘Year of Helvetica’ (to prove a point, she committed herself to using the ubiquitous font exclusively for 12 months); a period that ended last month with a 'Goodbye Helvetica' exhibition. She’s now “kicking up her heels with joy” at the freedom of being able to use and draw any type she likes.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dominique about her unique typographic approach of bringing words and images together in a way you can feel.

After illustrating for 20 years, hand-drawing type comes naturally to her: “I don’t think I could ever be bothered scrolling through hundreds of typefaces on my computer anymore. It’s just easier for me to get out the sketch book. I also think typography is a passion that once you develop it, it becomes an obsession. I have that obsession now but when I was a student, I hated type. I just didn’t understand it, but something clicked along the way and now it’s all I want to use in my work.”

She was always a “crafty kid” and as an only child, had to entertain herself. “I remember long hours of sewing, knitting, crochet, and macramé projects as a ten year old. When I hit 15, I started getting more interested in drawing and painting, and let the craft go, but obviously the skills have remained.

"I’ve also renovated two houses with my husband so I’m pretty bloody handy with a hammer as well now."

This taps into a resurgence of interest in hand-crafted skills among designers and illustrators of my generation, which has prompted an evolution of manual image making using media like letterpress, screen printing and darkroom photography. These relegate the use of computers to simply draft, composite and publish.

“The tactile thing came about because I’m just hankering for a lost age where design was felt as well as seen. Now everyone just looks at computer screens and I enjoy it when people get so excited about touching my work.”

As part of her current doctorate studies on the subject of Tactile Typography her research is exploring why people respond so positively to type that you can touch, play with and sit on etc. yet completely ignore a piece of vernacular typography, such as a road sign. It asks the question “At what point does the typography stop communicating language and instruction and start becoming “art”?

This inevitably opens up a world of different mediums for Dominique’s style of work:

"I get bored very easily, and I also think if there’s a concept behind what the piece is saying, the way it says it should also reinforce the concept. My thought process usually goes "what am I trying to say?" and then once I devise a quote or statement, I try and work out if anything in the statement suggests a medium or technique. So far thankfully, it has.”

Trying new things each time however doesn’t come without risk of failure: “Oh yes, I’ve had many false starts, pieces that didn’t quite work, pieces that needed fixing and so on. Sometimes they’re so bad that I’m forced to change my concept mid-project. I read somewhere it’s called ‘confusion endurance’. You don’t always know what you’re doing but you need to cultivate the energy to just keep going anyway.”

I had read elsewhere about Dominique’s grit and determination to create her work despite uncomfortable conditions requiring protective equipment such as knee-pads and goggles:

"The gaffer tape typography on the concrete floor of the ‘Goodbye Helvetica’ installation was definitely the most painful. I couldn’t walk properly for a couple of days. The 4.5m x 2.4m Goodbye Helvetica string and pin piece completed three metres up in the air on a scissor-lift was the scariest [Dominique doesn’t like heights] and I recently made a portrait of a man’s face out of 8100 squares of paper and that was the longest. I don’t think I will be doing another large-scale paper mosaic any time soon. I have a lot of patience for tedium, much more than anyone I know, but boy did that test it.

So what’s next? Dominique has been invited to attend a Masters workshop on Typography in Rome later this year and one of her heroes, Louise Fili, is one of the teachers. To fund the trip she’s planning a large-scale public typography project. Stay tuned!

Follow Doinique on Tumblr and see more of her work here.