The Tim Gunn of type

Arts school alumnus makes a living designing lettering and creating fonts

The Tim Gunn of type

Neil Summerour

Photo by: SPECIAL

If you need to know which lipstick works best for writing Neil Summerour can tell you. It’s Revlon’s “Super Lustrous.”

A type designer, lettering artist and calligrapher in Athens, Ga., Summerour (BFA ’97) tried out several brands while working on a lingerie ad.

“Victoria’s Secret asked for some custom lettering for a code-named ‘bra book’ they were making for their top-tier customers,” he says. “All of the lettering was done by hand, and predominately was made using lipstick.”

In addition to Victoria’s Secret, Summerour has created fonts and lettering for such companies as id Software, Panera Bread, ABC, MTV and Sony.

In both 2010 and 2011, the Type Director’s Club (which Summerour calls the “Oscar of type design”) awarded him the Certificate of Excellence for two of his fonts, “Fugu” and “Nori.”

“I like to get that critical feedback,” Summerour says. “It influences what I do in the future.”

Summerour has been lettering and designing type since 2000. Lettering, Summerour explains, creates a special design for a word or a collection of words, whereas type design is the development of a reproducible font, which can be anywhere from 400 letters to more than 1,000 and can accommodate multiple languages and alternate characters. One font in particular that Summerour created for a design magazine in Poland has about 930 characters, and another font he released called “Lush” has 1,673 characters.

“The hobby became the obsession,” he says. “I live in a dichotomy with what I do. My happy place is doing both: designing letters and creating fonts.”

His interest in typeface began even before he got into the graphic design program at UGA. His first experience with fonts was one he did for the 1996 Olympics. It was a modified form of a font called “Souvenir.”

He has yet to design a favorite.

“I have it in my head. I just haven’t designed it yet,” he says. “I’ve had this idea for five years, and eventually I’ll take a year off to pay attention to it, but for now I want to keep it in my mind.”

He also uses his talents to give back. The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 hit close to home for Summerour, who has friends and family living there. He partnered with Athens Area Community Foundation to release a font and limited edition hand-lettered poster to raise money and awareness. The poster, limited to 100, depicts the Japanese flag lettered in Japanese with the names of each city affected in the disaster. All proceeds are going to Donor Advised Fund and the victims in Japan. Summerour says this project was gratifying.

“Using my talents to give back in an impactful way is overwhelmingly motivating.”