Swash & Serif launched in 2014.
Since our inception, we've showcased over 200 artists and over 400 artworks, celebrating typography with people from all over Toronto and abroad. After a break due to COVID, S&S came back to spread the well designed word in 2023.
The front window at Swash & Serif 1 in 2014.
A chalk street sign beckons people into the gallery on Dundas West in 2014.
When it was first conceived, Swash & Serif was a joint project between the Toronto Design Directory (a resource for professional graphic designers and others in Toronto, run by Margot Trudell) and Ligatures (a typography club also based in Toronto, run by Chris Rouleau, Kyle Gallant, and Leslie Harrod) - both scrappy projects themselves run by passionate creatives with a desire to bring people together around things we loved: design and type. These two teams organized Swash & Serif together from 2014 until 2016, after which the show was run exclusively by the Toronto Design Directory.
At first, the show was just an exciting premise. We knew there was a lot of talent amongst the designers of the city, but we weren't sure how much interest there was in an art show, especially about the particular niche of lettering and type. Art shows aren't something graphic designers typically participate in - wasn't that the domain of fine artists with thousand dollar canvases? But the concept was enticing - surrounding ourselves a few other people, if we were lucky, with walls full of beautiful and inspiring typography - so we booked a small gallery on Dundas West, the Black Cat, and hoped we'd have enough work to spread across three walls.
We would have more than enough.
That first opening night was a roaring success: the tiny gallery, originally a small cigar shop and no more than 150 square feet, was filled shoulder to shoulder with particpating creatives and curious friends. Of the submissions we received, we selected and hung the work of 40 artists across the white gallery walls. Despite the late November freeze, hundreds of people bundeled into the tiny space to circle around, point out their favourite pieces, and wonder aloud how they were made. A mix of veteran designers and recent graduates graced the walls, the latter soaking up the delight their work brought to onlookers, a new experience that felt like proof of a promising creative future, the former just as pleased with the mid-career validation. This was awesome. We had to do it again.
We ran the show a second time the next year, then for the third year, we rented a larger gallery - we needed the extra wall space. We asked the community if they wanted to participate beyond the art they submitted: in year two we had guests design our promotional posters, year three we had attendees colouring in letters on the wall and designing glyphs that hung in the window displays, and in year six we started running workshops, inviting talented letterers - by now, also friends - to share their knowledge and skills with people eager to learn.
In 2020, Swash & Serif paused, our planned summer show cancelled by the necessity of COVID lockdown. With the future in question, nothing was set for the next installment. The galleries we'd built relationships with closed, empty of visitors and ways to pay the rent. Virtual options were considered, but an online art show lacks the electricity our opening night parties and week-long show runs had. Bringing people together, introducing each other to talented neighbours, turning strangers into collaborators into friends - that wasn't the same when we were all squares on a video call, or worse, names in a chat thread. This had to be an in-person event. So we waited.
Opening night at Swash & Serif 7.
Finally, in summer 2023, Swash & Serif returned. The world had changed in the last three years: people moved away, built families, shifted careers, changed interests. But there are those whose love of lettering never faded, and there's new, fresh talent, ready to share ideas with the world, or at least Toronto.
On a hot August evening, Swash & Serif 7 opened once again. Not just a celebration of type this time, but a celebration of resiliency, fortitude, and resistance to giving up the art we love in the face of world changing events. The seventh iteration of the show featured 80 artists and nearly 120 artworks, one of the biggest shows yet. With an opening night turnout in the hundreds, to say this was an epic comeback would be an understatement. Swash & Serif is back and here to stay - this type, as it turns out, is immovable.
Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to hear about new shows, calls for submission, and other updates from Swash & Serfi and the Toronto Design Directory.