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July 01, 2016

'Every single letter was hand placed'

Airport unveils CIA student illustrations done with letters

'Every single letter was hand placed'

Photo by Robert Muller/CIA. Scroll below to see slideshow of landmark images.

By Betsy O’Connell

Waiting to check in at the ticket counters at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is challenging when lines are long. But look up the next time you are there. Yes, that is a T-Rex. Made out of letters. P22 Underground Pro typeface, to be exact. The dinosaur represents one of the city’s great cultural features, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Or maybe you’re standing below the Cleveland Skyline rendered in Cocktail Shaker letters. Or the Cleveland Museum of Art in Monotype Italian Old Style.

Twenty-nine large canvases (about 6 feet by 8 feet) represent a Cleveland-area landmark, including the Free Stamp, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Squires Castle at North Chagrin Reservation. But all of the works also represent the Cleveland Institute of Art. That’s where these images were conceived before they became Type City Cleveland.

Former CIA adjunct instructor Chris Ramsay came up with the idea for Type City when he was teaching graphic design. He had seen a piece distributed by a font reseller that highlighted some of that company’s typefaces. Starting in 2007, Ramsay challenged his students to come up with Cleveland-area landmarks to create using those typefaces.

“At first the students thought it was going to be easy,’’ recalls Ramsay. “We’d definitely spend at least a week researching typefaces and different venues, and what typefaces really worked with which venue. Then they would negotiate with each other about who got which venue. And then they would have to pitch to the class about why certain typefaces fit each venue.’’

For four years, design classes worked on these projects. “Once production started, each one took them anywhere from 40 to 200 hours,’’ says Ramsay. “Every single letter was hand placed.’’

Most of the students used Adobe Illustrator because the program makes it easy to move characters around. Ramsay says it was always a challenge to figure out how characters fit, to use different sizes and not just lines of the same characters.

Once printed, the images were mounted on foam core. The project caught the attention of Jacqueline Muhammad, community relations manager at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, who put them on view in a walkway between the airport’s parking lots and terminal.

The images ended up in the airport’s art inventory area during renovations, which were recently completed. A contractor working on the renovation was captivated by the illustrations, and Muhammad didn’t need convincing that something more could be done with them.

“It’s very unique and very unique to Cleveland,” Muhammad said. “It’s a wonderful exhibit.’’

This year, Muhammad asked CIA to create larger versions of the images. A few new images needed to be added because some landmarks had changed or gone away. CIA commissioned 2012 graduate Kelsey Cretcher to illustrate the CIA’s new Gund building, MOCA Cleveland and the Free Stamp.

“It was far more difficult than I was expecting it to be,’’ Cretcher says. “It seems easy, but to make something as iconic as these landmarks you have to play a lot to give it depth and to make shadows work. I had to edit a lot of what I thought I was going to do. It’s going to be really interesting to see how they translate to that large canvas size.’’

Muhammad believes the images will be on display for a very long time. Her favorites?

“If I had to pick one, it’s probably the skyline. And I love the natural history museum with the big T-Rex and the way it is positioned,” she says. “I really like them all.’’

The Cleveland Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to support the installation at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. According to Ronn Richard, President and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, the project represents an opportunity to showcase the incredible architectural assets for travelers exploring Greater Cleveland for the first time or returning to experience the renaissance currently underway in the community.

“We are proud to promote the outstanding young talent that is coming out of the Cleveland Institute of Art,” Richard said. “We are always looking for opportunities to engage students in the remaking of our city and highlight Greater Cleveland as the destination for world-class design and architecture.”

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