“Hot” Typography Trends

3 June, 2009

The newest type craze:

The hot new trend in typography is not embedding – no, it’s not @font-face or even Typekit. It is printed neither offset nor digitally. Best of all, it is possibly the greenest form of design! Forget about the silly, over-hyped Eco Font, this typography needs no paper or toner whatsoever; it doesn’t even use fonts. It only requires a pen (or some paint) and a volunteer! This hot typographic trend simply uses the human body as the canvas. Not exactly a new concept, but some recent developments are still worth sharing (i.e. not innovative, but nice to look at).

A brief history:

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years and they are now a relatively mainstream form of expression. Typography is quite commonly, at least for the most interesting ones, a significant element of tattoos. Less permanently than this bodily decoration, at some point everyone has utilized their hand or arm as a makeshift notepad for a phone number or quick idea (at least b.c.p. (before cell phones)). Stephan Sagmeister gained international fame when he scratched a whole poster’s worth of info into himself (then he used a photograph of his mutilated skin for the actual poster). Skin has been used as a canvas forever. Classic illuminated manuscripts were written on skin (vellum most commonly made from calf, sheep, goat, or deer skin). Now-a-days you can visit almost any major sporting event (especially football (soccer) or football (football)) and find a group of fans spelling things out with large painted letters on their chests. One final specimen, last year we saw the indirectly related “fake-body-typography” implemented on the latest James Bond book covers. Those illustrations follow the same concept, but are a fundamentally different execution. Aside from these few instances, there are countless other great type-on-the-body examples.

“Hot” trend case study #1:

Recently at TYPO Berlin, Mrs. Eaves / Gemma O’Brien (whatever she prefers to be called) (from the blog for the love of type) engaged in a rousing performance piece where she used herself as a typographic canvas. She covered a fair amount of her epidermis with conference related words (mainly TYPO, Berlin, Spaces, & 2009).

Gemma O'Brien in Berlin - drawing on herself
image via for the love of type

Mrs Eaves in Berlin - type on the body
image via for the love of type

hot typography trend - sexy lettering
image via for the love of type

She did something similar earlier as part of a campaign to promote designated graffiti spaces as opposed to vandalizing other’s property. This nice idea was documented it in a video:


“Hot” trend case study #2:

For more hot typography -hot off the presses- Esquire magazine has applied a similar concept to their current cover. Attentive viewers will notice a model (Bar Refaeli) with some of the contents scrawled on her. Look carefully though, as to not her or that great lettering. The cover is dominated by some beautiful grey text (Mercury by Hoefler and Frere-Jones) that jumps out – loudly.

July 2009 Esquire cover - Bar Refaeli covered in type
Photograph by James White via Esquire Magazine

One can more easily appreciate the fine hand lettering in the photos from the inside pages – which aren’t surrounded by other sensuously-distracting fonts.

Esquire July 2009 - Bar Refaeli with hot typography
Photograph by James White via Esquire Magazine

Esquire July 2009 - Bar Refaeli sexy type trends
Photograph by James White via Esquire Magazine

Stephen King has never looked better thanks to the lettering of James Victore. More great work at his site.

A Few Related Posts

7 Responses to ““Hot” Typography Trends”

  • What about Stephen Sagmeister? Surely he is the originator of hand-cut type. He also happened to go the farthest. The idea is spent.

  • Rob

    Hi Mike.

    Yeah, I mentioned Sagmeister: “Stephan Sagmeister gained international fame when he scratched a whole poster’s worth of info into himself (then he used a photograph of his mutilated skin for the actual poster).”

    I also agree that has has been the most extreme from a design standpoint. I am just waiting for someone to do the same concept, but with permanent tattoos. Permanently embedding a temporary “ad” into oneself would be about as crazy as I could imagine. At least Sagmeisters cuts have healed.


  • Michael

    I wouldn’t say this is a hot new trend at all. Back in 2001-2002 Sagmeister also did that poster of Lou Reed with the copy written all over his face. Following that a lot of students started doing imitations. That said, it’s still a great aesthetic.

  • Kat S

    There definitely has been a lot of it going around recently. I can think of two other examples off the top of my head…

    Amanda Palmer adorned her body with text recently, as part of #LOFNOTC (Losers on Friday Night On Their Computers), a bit of creative self-promotion she started doing on Twitter.
    Beginning: http://twitpic.com/79ayh
    and end: http://twitpic.com/79nkt

    And then there was the creator of Tare Lugnt, who got the entirety of the third issue tattooed on his leg. http://www.tarelugnt.se/ http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/magazines/tare_lugnt_delivers_third_issue_through_tattoos_112267.asp

  • Those of us involved with calligraphy had been seeing this catch on for over a decade. Peter Greenaway hired Brody Neuenschwander to write on bodies throughout the film The Pillow Book. Since then I’ve seen more and more samples. I suppose when Esquire does it the trend is near its peak, but its nice still in that it gets more people interested in lettering.

  • I saw James Victore a couple of weeks ago at a lecture he did here in Denver. He is an inspiring designer with a lot of knowledge to share. “Perfection keeps you finishing. Perfection keeps you from starting.”

Trackbacks & Pings

  • New form of Graffiti - Hallmark Creative Studio UK Blog says:

    […] Just found this interesting article about a new form of graffiti in Berlin where the performance piece has the artist used as a human typographic canvas. She covered herself in an array of messages relating to the campaign to promote designated graffiti spaces as opposed to vandalising other’s property. Check out more HERE. […]