Sawad: On the outlines of grief

London. March 30, 2020

We lost my mother in 1998, and I have struggled with grief my entire adult life. To lose both parents is such horror. Someone told me that when both parents pass away we finally stop being children and there is something truly heartbreaking in the hollowness that follows. 

On Saturday March 30, 2019, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I had seen him just that Wednesday and when I said my goodbyes I had the feeling that I will not see him again. I cried so much during the flight back to London and was so shaken by that premonition that I wanted to wait a few days before I called him. I never got to speak to him again, and the news of his passing hit me really hard. 

The weeks after my dad's passing were dark, like there is no more light left in the world. I was so broken with grief, so dejected, and so unbelievably alone. And in that bleak time I decided to draw, to trace the outlines of my sorrow. I didn't know what I would want to do with that design, or what it would look like. And so I drew the Alef, sharp like a knife. The rest of the letterforms followed and the only 2 conscious design decisions that I had made were how bold the typeface needs to be, and how tiny the counters are. I wanted to draw letterforms that fill my whole screen with black. Counters so small that they are barely there.

I'm not sure why the outside shapes are so round and the inner ones so sharp. I don't know where the shape of the tooth comes from. I drew without much thought and it often felt like the typeface was drawing itself. It just materialised. I don't know why the shapes turned out to be so beautiful when it felt like I was dying on the inside. But then someone later told me that the opposite of grief is love. That the pain we feel shows the strength of that affection, and so it is only natural that grief is also beautiful. Therein lies the paradox, and another lesson to learn. 

There is a beautiful song called Asfour by Marcel Khalife and sung by Umeima Al-Khalil. It talks about a bird who came in through the window asking her to hide him. The words are haunting and I kept coming back to this song. I used the lyrics in my test document and it guided me when I as drawing. There are typefaces that we draw based on a design brief, for a brand, for a particular function. Sawad which is Arabic for 'blackness' is a typeface drawn by emotion, an exploration of grief and the darkness it brings. 

I drew the first version of Sawad in a matter of a few days, and used the design for the 40 day memorial notice. I then left it untouched for almost a year. Last week I came back to the outlines and did all the things type designers do to finish a typeface. I spent most of the last 3 days kerning. A design this tightly spaced creates all sorts of spacing challenges. And now the design is ready to share with you, in memory of my dad's passing one year ago. His name was Emile. 

About the font:

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