“You Look Like the Right Type"

A Typographic Exhibition by Mark Smith in the McMaster Gallery

by Sashi Vyas / Garnet & Black

Alongside a doodle of someone smoking a cigarette, this quote accompanies one of artist Mark Smith's pieces in his "You Look Like the Right Type" collection. These drawings can be thematic or random, happy or sad and capture things people have said daily within his vicinity. 

Sashi Vyas / Garnet & Black

Smith is an associate professor in the School of Design at DePaul University in Chicago, where his focus is graphic design, illustration and, specifically, typography, an art form interested in text and typefaces. He believes that in his typographic work, graphic design and illustration can have a beautiful yet messy overlap, and the visionary materialization of spoken language on a page can be left up to a viewer's personal interpretation. 

When running late to the train after teaching a class, Smith was stopped by a woman asking for a cigarette. When he replied no, the woman claimed he looked like the right type before leaving. This phrase sparked Smith's project, “You Look Like the Right Type,” which is a project he has been working on for 15 years. In a drawing archive of over 6,000, Smith has captured verbatim snippets of strangers in an artistic way every day since Nov. 23, 2008. He illustrates the voices of people day to day, and he is interested in creating portraits of people through language only. Based on the delivery of lines, Smith will bold, italicize or write in fonts in order to adhere to the way strangers talk and to capture their tone or volume. He believes this project is a love letter to the way people speak and how it shapes their identity. 

Since his undergraduate study at Georgia State University, Smith has returned to the Southeast to have his work exhibited by the McMaster Gallery. The gallery displays about 365 drawings and notebooks of Smith’s in-progress and finished work, which are illustrated in Indian ink pen and on paper sized 7 inches by 11 inches. The collection includes conversation fragments and quotes, with some displayed to form larger conversations between people who have never met. Each drawing is an example of Smith’s typographic style, an interactive practice and visual wordplay interested in how language is represented and how language itself represents the speaker. 

Sashi Vyas / Garnet & Black

For those who come to see his exhibition, Smith hopes that viewers find engagement and enjoy themselves, but also try to envision the context in which the quote is taken from.

“Part of the fun of it is that the viewer is challenged to think about the moment before or the moment after the quote that they’re reading to piece together a larger narrative so their imaginations can run wild," Smith said.

If you would like to find more of his work, be sure to check out and purchase his book, "The Streets Are Very Quiet," which he wrote during the COVID-19 quarantine when organic conversation was hard to come by. Inside, his drawings detail accounts made by creatives struggling during the lockdown and the way people were able to connect during such a dark and lonely time. 

The 15th anniversary of Smith’s project is November 23, and be sure to stop by the McMaster Gallery before Nov. 30 if you want to catch the exhibition.