Living languages: Can you read in Tree?

Published:  September 28, 2015
Eloise Mahoney

Two visual communicators have caught our eye with their gobbledygook typefaces that will leave you compelled and confused. While most people create type on a computer these strange formations of letters in the alphabet were designed with no Illustrator required.

Katie Holten has hand-drawn an entirely new typeface out of trees, while Ori Elisar created his Living Language in a lab from bacteria-based ink. It’s bizarre, but when you take a second look you begin to notice the beautiful intersecting of nature and letters.


The idea for the Trees typeface stems back to 2004, when Holten first began drawing tiny images of trees around New York City. She drew all different shapes, sizes and species and began to notice that placing each tree next to another gave the impression of a strange Tree language. Together it looked like a written letter, like it was communicating a message.


Holten recently revisited her tree drawings and decided to create the Trees font for a book titled About Trees with the help of designer Katie Brown. Each tree is a symbol for each of the 26 letters of The Alphabet.

The texts in About Trees are taken from writers and poets such as Jorge Luis Borges and Ursula K. Le Guin and even contemporary writers such as the likes of Robert McFarlane. On one page, the texts are in English and in the Walbaum font because baum is German for “tree”. And on the facing page, the texts are translated into the Tree typeface. The entire book is visually pleasing and surprisingly fun when trying to decipher the tree code.


Essay-translated-into-trees-jpg-704x1024On the other end of the letter spectrum, Jerusalem designer Ori Elisar has used a bacteria-based ink to grow a Hebrew alphabet in the lab for his Living Language type experiment.

The unique project combing science with typography has been created as part of Elisar’s final thesis at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel. The Living Language forms part of the designer’s ongoing explorations into type and the way language can be expressed visually.






Images courtesy of Trees and Bacteria

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