Craig Ward Subverts Typography with NASA Technology
Ferrofluids were invented in 1963 as a new technology for NASA to solve the problem of fuel fluid dynamics in zero gravity. The fluids have magnetic properties that would have allowed them to flow against typical fluid dynamics, but like so many technological advances, it didn’t end up being suited very well for its intended purposes. The properties that make it so unique are also what make it so enticing. The molecules stack into impossible shapes when unleashed against magnets that are as compelling as they are viscerally revolting, and ripe for creative exploration.
Illustrator and renowned typographer Craig Ward came together with Linden Gledhill, a biochemist and experimental photographer friend, to play with the behavior of ferrofluid and translate its functions into a series of glyphs. The project, that they’re calling “Fe2O3 Glyphs,” stimulated ferrofluid to eke out its unique properties and then turn the resulting shapes into forms that are treated like letters. There is a collection of them, like a series of letterforms, but these are communicating something else entirely.
The typography that we’re used to seeing from Craig has always experimenting with form, but these glyphs that comes from the behavior of Ferrofluid is different for one significant reason: they don’t make sense compared to our traditional 26 character alphabet. This is by design because of their unique meaning that is, as Craig explains it: “Essentially nothing, which is kind of the joy of it. In terms of what it’s actually communicating, really nothing. It’s a very conceptual, abstract piece.” Instead, the audience is invited to react to the resulting collection of shapes and regard them for what they are: abstractions. Reading anything more would sort of miss the point. “The whole project is a complete inversion of typography overall,” says Craig. “We didn’t fuss over it, we didn’t have a grid, we didn’t go through very long protracted design processes for each of the glyphs to try to make this coherent alphabet. It was this kind of chaotic thing that was born out of a process.” Although they didn’t create the typography using the traditional grid of lettering builds, they have ended up with a series of grids: the resulting prints of the project are a generated series of square grids composed of the glyphs. The creation process completes itself when the glyphs are printed onto paper using ferrofluid as the ink.
Ferrofluid was not necessary to ink the resulting pieces, but: “It brought the project full circle and again was a further inversion of the process,” explains Craig. “With traditional letter press printing the shape of the ink is dictated by the form of the letter. In this case the shape of the ink is also dictated by the shape of the ink itself. The medium creates the shape and then becomes the printing medium later on.” Like the ferrofluid, each of these shapes were made and printed in the process of self creation. In many ways, Craig and Linden merely stood back and allowed this NASA creation to dictate its own creation and we're merely watching it paint itself into existence.