The artist and graphic designer reveals the inspirations behind his experimental typography, from the micro world to Nikola Tesla.
Pixel Distortion typeface
Rus Khasanov is a prolific typeface and graphic designer who consistently cranks out work that's like crack for the Tumblr and Behance set. His design work is stylishly animate, outwardly bold, and, like the experimental ethos behind the wheel of his creative methodology, often a product of spontaneous inspiration.
The innovative typefaces of his contemporary portfolio have garnered attention from all the usual suspects in the world of design coverage, which he seemed modestly stoked about during our email conversations across the past few days. Stoked, in that you could tell he was eager to talk holistically about his work, but modest in that, really, sometimes he just thinks of these things while making dinner.
Still from macro film "Pacific Light"
It's not all play for him, however. Most of what has pervaded throughout the internet recently is the sum of his after-hour musings. In a work day he spends his time designing on behalf of clients like Bloomberg Markets magazine, which last year used his Superbugs typeface for a double-spread story title. Still, he prefers the twilight hours of creativity—evinced when I asked him what time it was in his corner of Russia, and he responded with the clarifier "but usually I stay awake until the morning."
Here is our discussion about soy sauce, what project all visual designers should pursue, and electroshock therapy devices.
The Creators Project: You graduated university in 2008 and started getting attention a couple of years later, around 2010. How had your style changed in that time period?
Ruslan Khasanov: That time I tried my luck as an illustrator. I experimented with a number of techniques and styles. My main passion was vector graphics, and I was particularly fascinated by realistic gradient mesh portraits. I mastered this technique to perfection and, afterwards, didn't see the point in continuing to make such portraits. For me, 2010 was a year of frustration, of finding new ways to realize my creative potential. I was tired of sitting at the computer, so I began to pay more attention to photo experiments such as Biomorphs, which was inspired by HR Giger. This project was also my first step towards typography experiments.
Gradient mesh portraits and other examples of Khasanov's early work.
Magnification has taken a dominant role in your work, especially with the typeface series. What spurred your interest in working with design on a micro level?
It's all about my love to play, to find magic in the things that surround us in everyday life. I enjoy playing with different tools and materials. And magnifying glasses are my favorite. For me, the micro world is like a cosmos: images of connections between neurons in the brain look the same as a universe with billions of galaxies. It's something I admire.
What other basic tools have inspired your projects?
I like the idea of using the power of something simple like a magnifying glass (in that it only really depends on glass and light) to capture a feeling of complex, infinite indivisibility. Common ones include glass, mirrors, and laptop screens for Pixel Distortion. I used a freezer to create letters for the project Dexter, and once, inspired by Nikola Tesla, I tried to create an electric font by experimenting with an elektroshocker. For the project Bruisography I needed a vacuum to make bruises, and for this I used a syringe.
From the Dexter typography set
Many of the typefaces are presented like patterns emerging from generally chaotic and formless elements: dust, light, liquid, colonies of bacteria. How is it different to use control as a medium of creation, as compared to starting from scratch, like with a blank canvas or screen?
Of course, in my commercial projects I have to do a lot of sketches and make permanent changes to perfect a certain look. I am a perfectionist so this becomes tedious and boring. But in personal projects, I am subject to chaos and improvisation. I create a project as quickly as possible, in one go—many of them are done in one night. And here I do not think about a perfect final result, because my mind is entirely immersed in the process.
When you're only focused on the process like that, how do you know when a piece is finished?
Any such project I start after I've been hooked by a preconceived visual idea, so I can imagine how the final result will look like, and my instincts move me in the right direction.
Pacific Light and Sauce Type seem to share similar mediums. Did those two come about at the same time or did one inspire the other?
Pacific Light is the continuation of my project Sauce Type. The idea for [Sauce Type] came to my mind when I was making a sauce. If you pour soy sauce and oil into a glass, you will see tiny black beads form at the bottom, like a cluster of small planets tightly pressed against each other. After I made Sauce Type I got an idea to make a video, since I was fascinated by how flowing mixtures of paint can form stunning color combinations. (Coincidentally, it so happened that just at this time I received a letter from my friend Ian who invited me to make a video for one of Boris Blank's new tracks.)
One of my favorites, the Vetka font, seems to be a departure from your other experiments, in that it relies less on the elements and styles mentioned in the previous questions. What inspired this one?
I believe that creating a typeface is a necessary project for any visual creator, because it sharpens the skills associated with composition, style and shape. Vetka font is my first experiment with typeface design. I wanted to make an open, smooth grotesque with an unusual shape, something not so familiar. Many things inspired me to choose a plastic of Vetka font, like the Burmese alphabet with its open circular letters, as well as natural forms, such as waves, horns and branches of trees. These are reflected in the font as small sprouts and tails. (In Russian the word "vetka" means "branch.")
By "necessary project for any visual creator," do you also mean it helps the artist establish their niche of identity within something inherently global, like the components of a widely shared language?
What happens if you replace the font of Coca-Cola with any other? Coca-Cola loses its identity, and vice-versa: regardless if any other word is typed in that font, its first association is with the soft drink. Font design is fraught with huge opportunities. The traditional task of font design is a message transfer based on legibility. However, when a designer is not shy about being an artist, they can use tone and style as the primary vectors to deliver a desired message. The alphabet is one of the most important foundations of communication, and a font is a living thing, so working on a typeface, whether calligraphy or digital type, requires an understanding of how it exists and interacts with other elements of visual language.
Why did you choose English instead of the Russian alphabet?
Firstly, the Russian alphabet has more letters than English—33 compared to 26. It's about saving time, as I do these projects in my free time. Secondly, form is important to me, and objectively the Russian alphabet is more difficult in this context than the English. It has many complex letters (Ш, Щ, Ы, Ж, Д, Ц, Ф), and when I tried to draw them with a liquid type, the form was lost and the letters turned out like spots.
Are you currently working on any new typefaces? If not, what's your next big project?
Currently no new typefaces in my future plans. But... I don't know, I often start something spontaneously. Now I'm more focused on video experiments, and I want to make a couple of video clips. I actually have a great desire to try my hand at directing in the future, because film is my main passion. I have a script and visual ideas for a short film, and I think it would be a great platform for experiments.