Do you regret not buying one at the time?
When I lost my business, I did regret it, but I already had a big machine from Berthold in Germany, which took ten typists to work on it … but it wasn’t as good as the Apple Mac. Although I had that big machine that took ten typists, I still lost my business.
Did you ever learn how to use a computer?
No, I turned against it then.
Well, it hasn’t stopped you designing almost 666 typefaces!
I design with the hand and my brain. I’m still doing it by hand.
Did you enjoy running a business and being a business man, or did that take you away from being an artist and ‘talking rubbish all day’?
Yes, yes, but I was still flat out, making name plates and all sorts of different things, eh. All hand drawn. I had a lot of typesetters, including some of my daughters.
You named one of your fonts after one of your daughters didn’t you?
Yes, after one of my daughters. Marianna [Churchward Marianna and Churchward Marianna Shadow fonts]. She works at the University.
So, after you lost the business and went back to Samoa, what did you do during those years away?
I did artwork in Samoa too. I did very well there as well. When I came back [to New Zealand], I was too old to start a business again, so I started making typefaces. You know, people say I’ve done more than any other person in the history of typesetting, and I’m quite proud of that. Actually, I’m absolutely thrilled I’ve completed them. When I die, it’s up to me to leave them for human beings to use. It’s my gift to the human beings.
How many typefaces have you created?
Well, right now I’ve completed 654.
And I’m working on 12 more, so that will give me 666.
When you came back and started creating typefaces, was it just you pretty much working on your own?
Yes, I even lived on my own. My wife and I separated in 1987 and then I lost everything in 1988.
What kept you going during that time? That must have been extraordinarily hard. You lost your wife, you lost your business … What made you want to keep going?
I think my interest in the typefaces was too strong for me to lose my mind. Today, when I see two or three or four letters I like, I make up what’s missing. I’ve got to that stage.
How long does it take you to design a typeface?
Well, one typeface takes me 150 to 300 hours, so it’s taken three-quarters of my life … Mind you, there are some typefaces where I can see a short-cut, and it takes a lot less hours.
What takes the time? For those of us who don’t know how to go about designing a typeface, where do you start?
Well, I start by scribbling with pencil, and once I start liking a few letters, I start thinking of what’s missing …
Are your typefaces recognisable? Is there a style there?
Yeah. I‘ve done eight Maori typefaces. The Maoris tell me I shouldn’t fiddle around with their typefaces, but they haven’t got one. I’m doing them a favour, eh. When I’m dead, it becomes theirs. I called one of them Churchward Maori, one Churchward Te Papa and one Churchward Ta Tiki. They’re all in the museum [The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, in Wellington] and they’re very, very proud of them. I’ve also got some Samoan ones.
Any Chinese-inspired ones?
I’ve done 48 Chinese typefaces, 48 different weights … like italic.
How do you come up with an idea for a new typeface?
Like I said, if I like some letters, I start making up what’s missing.
But how do you keep coming up with new shapes for the letters?
Well, I don’t know … It happens in my head: from my head to my hand, and my hand to my paper. A lot of people are designing their typefaces with a computer and I keep telling them it’s better to design it from your head. Slowly they are telling me that I am right and they’re not so keen on using the computer for doing typefaces any more.
What is it about doing it by hand that makes it that much better?
I don’t know, I really don’t know. Well,