Science meets typography in fascinating Fe2O3 Glyphs project

Craig Ward and Linden Gledhill use a ferrofluid and magnets to create completely unique hieroglyphics, and they're amazing.

Designer Craig Ward and experimental photographer Linden Gledhill have teamed up for an intriguing project called Fe2O3 Glyphs, which combines science with traditional printing processes to create a fascinating series of symbols that have now become a typeface.    

The process of creating these symbols is a tricky one. Small amounts of ferrofluid are placed between glass plates and subjected to vertically and horizontally spinning magnetic fields, which results in a completely unique hieroglyphic. Each and every one is different, and that's what makes them so intriguing.

The duo have already created a complete .otf typeface using this process, designed to question what a typeface is, and what it can be. The typeface consists of 138 markings and symbols that were first made using the scientific process as described above, then traced as vectors to become a set that you'll be able to make use of.

Additionally, Craig and Linden have created a moveable type printing system that will be used to create a series of one-off prints. "To bring the project full circle, the prints will be created using a mixture of actual ferrofluid and Pantone Pure Black printers ink, so crucially, the printing medium dictates the form of the glyphs, as opposed to the other way around," they explain.

Read on to see more of the project and find out what inspired it.

The project has just launched on Kickstarter with a campaign that's set to run until the end of September. Backers will get the .oft typeface in addition to signed prints, some of which will be completely unique if you pledge $50 or more.

When chatting with Craig about the project, he revealed that he and Linden are both nervous and excited. "You never know with these kinds of naval-gazing personal projects how people will react!"

But the Kickstarter campaign is already off to a great start, with $1,840 of their $10,000 goal pledged with 34 days to go.

One of the reasons Craig and Linden decided to launch the project through Kickstarter is to give them something to aim for in terms of numbers, as the way they've created the printing system means that they could create an infinite array of combinations and arrangements and the project would never end. "This way at least we'll have a number to hit," Craig says. "End even then we'll probably keep going…"

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This isn't the first time that Craig and Linden have worked together, and Craig tells us that between projects (which include album artwork, moving image pieces and award-winning music videos), they're often bouncing ideas between them until once sticks. "Sometimes it'll be me suggesting something to Linden and sometimes, as with this project, it's a case of Linden coming to me with a couple of crazy images and we kind of went from there. It was only supposed to be a small project but it ended up consuming half my summer."

"Linden has been experimenting with imaging ferrofluid for some time, but a couple of shots he sent over last year really stayed with me," Craig explains. "They had the look of science-fiction hieroglyphics, Mayan carvings or indigenous Aboriginal finger markings. There was something contagious about them and I wanted to make more and more, and it was then I hit on the idea of creating a full type system from them."

"The project grew from there really; the more we thought about it, the more we wanted to do with it."

Image: A microscopic image showing the faintly iridescent printed ink and ferrofluid mixture adhering to the paper fibres. 

"Everything about the project was backwards in a sense," he adds. "Typefaces exist to provide a consistent, coherent platform for communication. This typeface exists to celebrate random processes. Typefaces are designed, this was generated. Moveable type was invented to provide consistent printed texts, this project only generates one of a kind pieces."

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The process of creating them certainly hasn't been easy, but Craig says that it is the experimentation and discovery that has made this project so compelling for the pair.

"That's the beauty of collaborating with people from different fields," he says. "If you give a scientist, a mathematician, a designer and, say, a builder a problem, they'll all come at it in a different way because they think about things differently. Linden is a tinkerer, much like myself, and was studying the effect of conflicting magnetic fields out of curiosity, because those are the things that keep him awake."

"The early symbols were a by-product of that," Craig continues. "He was able to fine tune the process, and again, it could have gone forever. We stopped at 138 glyphs because the typeface file itself was starting to creak at 140 as the glyphs are so detailed."

"I think the whole project exists to unify very disparate elements – the scientific process, the design process and the printing process – there's a lost past, present and future element to it in that sense. Movable type has been around for centuries, digital type is relatively recent, and the scientific side of it feels cutting edge."

"I spent my first few years out of college working almost exclusively with letterpress and one of the reasons I left it behind was because it felt backwards facing, where my other work has always been about pushing forward. This felt like a great way to revisit a classic medium in a contemporary way."

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