Neil Summerour is a type designer, lettering artist, calligrapher, and designer based in Athens, Georgia. Even after he opened his own foundry, Positype, in 2000, he still considered type design a hobby. His obsession with type and lettering continued to grow and in 2002, he co-founded TypeTrust with Silas Dilworth. He teaches graphic design at the Governor’s School for the Arts.
Neil designed his first typeface between 2000 and 2001, a few years after graduating from the University of Georgia. It started with an invitation to sit in on a talk from a guest designer who was visiting UGA. “I was so incensed and insulted at the guy’s arrogance and flippancy toward design and type, I walked back to my car mumbling, ‘If this guy can do it, I sure can.’ And with that, I went home, sat down, and started sketching.”
After that, he decided to grow up as a type designer in the public’s eye — a daunting task when you’re trained and educated as a designer, and type-specific programs are few and far between.
“I like the sound of a pencil dragging
on coarse paper and the rustling of a
sumi brush beginning to run dry of ink.
It keeps the words real to me.”
Neil has done custom work for clients like Victoria’s Secret, Discovery Channel, ABC, Sony/Tristar, and the American Music Awards. But he doesn’t play favorites: “All custom projects become faves, or I wouldn’t have accepted doing them.”
His passion for lettering and type hasn’t dimmed over the years. “It really would be difficult to work in one style in perpetuity. Type and lettering is everywhere … to not be able to explore all of those and grow from them would be tantamount to torture. I enjoy the process of succeeding, failing, discovering, and creating.”
Lettering provides a different kind of creative reward for Neil. It’s about “a visceral connection with the brush, pen, marker, and substrate I’m working on that’s real and unforgiving. It means everything to pick up a sketchbook or sheet of paper, experiment with a new marker or pen, and put those expressions down. To solve those design issues in the real world before moving on to digital is always very fulfilling. I like the sound of a pencil dragging on coarse paper and the rustling of a sumi brush beginning to run dry of ink. I try to keep that present as I begin a project. It keeps the words real to me.”
On the drive to create
When asked what compels him to create, Neil responds, “Waking up. Many of us feel that urge every day. We see something, hear something, interact with something and think ‘I would’ve done it this way’ or ‘Why hasn’t someone thought of this?’ We’re all creators to some degree — deciding what clothes to wear and how we style (or not style) our hair each day. It’s furthered by almost every choice we make. I create with the set of tools and gifts I was born with and continue to nurture them every day. To not do that, I’ve come to believe, would be an insult to everyone who came before me and contributed to my education — including my three-year-old, Isobel, who tells me I need to use more yellow crayons because yellow is her favorite color and it makes her smile.”