The Designer in the Woods | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Designer in the Woods

They ramble on about em dashes and ligatures and kerning. Their anatomically twisted ideas of arms, legs, spines and shoulders could tempt you to throw your own body off a glyph. They are typography freaks (aka graphic designers) and I’ve had the great pleasure – and equal frustration – of knowing a few in my working years.

Kim Brill "When We Could Touch the Words", 2010, detail.

But until I saw Kim Brill’s recent works in cast glass from her Pilchuck residency last summer, I know I never adequately appreciated the passion at the core of a designer’s relationship to type.

Like geologist Bob Leatherbarrow, Brill is one of the twenty  Act 2: The Next Track artists whose work will be featured in the upcoming Museum of Northwest Art exhibition opening in March 2011.

Brill, who found a love of typography at seventeen and an eventual career in advertising, writes about her path to glass and the impact of the PAiR program at Pilchuck:

“A short, straight line can be drawn from my work as a designer to the glass art I’m now working on. Before I was invited to the Pilchuck Professional Artists’ Residency, I’d been ruminating on combining typography with glass, but without a very clear sense of how I might do that. I went to Pilchuck with a half-baked idea about paying homage to type designers by constructing small sculptures with imagery embedded in them.”

“It was invaluable to get insights and ideas from other artists and I learned something every day at our round table discussions. Several ‘aha!’ moments presented themselves and those led me directly to the work I’ve made since then, which is both similar to and different from the idea I went with.”

“The Residency was a safe, warm home where every artist was invested in helping every other person there. The creative energy crackled every day. People were incredibly generous, sharing their knowledge, ideas, techniques and experience. My work took an enormous leap in the months that followed.”

Brill gives credit to others in the group for her own progress, especially to fellow resident, Steve Immerman “for suggesting that I give thought to ink on paper. That was an idea that sharpened my thinking and brought me to the work I’m doing now”

But the emotion that resonates in the work could only have incubated in the soul of a die-hard type-lover, someone for whom every SMS has got to be a sharp stake in the eye.

“Our culture is losing the tangible in everyday written and printed communications. Email is replacing letters and postcards. Online banking is replacing cash and checkbooks. Expedience is paramount and anyone can publish anything to the world without ever committing a thought to paper.

“The craft of fine typography and thoughtful hand lettering are casualties of this digital shift. And along with the disappearance of the written, printed word has come a cheapening of language (CU@8!), and generations of young people who can’t spell or write.”


For Brill, her fellow residents and the idyllic setting of a kiln studio in the woods of Washington State was clearly the perfect retreat from the unnerving assault of the “the digital shift”-  and a powerful catalyst to take her work to a remarkable new level.

For a glimpse into Brill’s design life, click here. For more on her  glass work, here.

To “…Touch The Words”, don’t miss the MoNA show in March!

11 Responses to The Designer in the Woods

  1. Fabulous! Go, Kim, go!

  2. Raven says:

    I love the idea of marrying typography and glass. It is really sad to think the art of writing is becoming a lost art. I hope seeing your work will inspire young people to think about words and begin writing again.

  3. Almost anyone who frequents Helios with any regularity has had the pleasure of seeing Kim’s passion in action as she lovingly ground and polished each of the type blocks. She has inspired more people than she probably realizes (including me) to make better, more meaningful work. And to take the risk that goes with doing so.

  4. I just want to say that I really love this work.

  5. Susan Cannon says:

    This work is truly fresh, original and just plain cool. Can’t wait to see where else you go, Kim.

  6. Susan says:

    Amen! I could not agree more about the cheapening of language. I have a couple of very old sets of old fashioned rubber stamp like alphabet sets(lower case and capital letters!) that my Grandfather used to make signage in his jewelry store. This work reminds me so much of those sets. They charmed me as a child and still do, as an adult.

  7. Sarah says:

    Gorgeous! I am one who is often inspired by Kim and her work. Her color sense and designs are always intriguing. The use of antique printer’s drawers for diplays reminds me of my mom and her passion for them. Just beautiful, Kim!

  8. Fabulous work! I have watched Kim develop this series from a general idea about type to this amazing homage to both the art of typography and the art of kilnformed glass. Very inspiring.

  9. Beth says:

    I love type. I love glass. Beautiful work.

  10. Oh, I don’t think writing is a lost art, not by any means, but I gotta admit that Kim’s work take me ‘way back. I helped convert an old typesetter’s shop to digital when I was in college and the joy that came just from holding a chunk of lead type in your hand, feeling the weight of the words, and watching the typesetters build a page–marvelous.

    Can’t wait to see this. Actually, can’t wait to see ALL of them…

  11. Kim Brill says:

    My own typesetting experience goes back to the late 70′s and photo type composition. I missed out on hot type. A colleague of mine — he’s a web developer — has set type on a Linotronic, so he’s had an up-close-and-personal look at the type revolution. I envy him that in a way.

Leave a Comment