What Matters to Tré Seals

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Tré Seals is the founder of the diversity-driven font foundry known as Vocal Type and an independent design practice under his name.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

I’m a two-time brain tumor survivor. And there’s a very good chance that every answer I give will stem from these experiences. For example, the thing I like doing most in the world is the thing that got me through those experiences. I enjoy making.

Whether I’m designing a typeface, logo, or book, or writing a poem, song, story, or [graffiti] tag, or even making ideas for new creative ventures, I can’t not make something. By the time I graduated high school, I had already dabbled in designing jewelry, tattoos, comic strips, clothing, and typeface design. I find the most joy in projects that require the most varied avenues of creativity.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

While this isn’t my first memory, it is my clearest. On the last day of second grade, we were allowed to do whatever we wanted: go on the playground, play basketball, soccer, whatever. I wanted to paint. So I found this book of old paintings, and I came across Claude Monet’s Bridge Over A Pond of Water Lillies. And with this dollar store watercolor set I found on the shelves, I decided to copy it. Naturally, it turned out very differently from Monet’s, but I was proud of it. When my teacher, Ms. Hunter, saw it, she went to my parents’ car after school and said, “You need to put him in art classes immediately.” That was the first time my parents took my love for making seriously.

What is your biggest regret?

I regret not being myself growing up. I sometimes wonder what I would be like if I didn’t force myself to fit into spaces that, in hindsight, I never really wanted to be in. Pretending to know things I didn’t, to care about things that weren’t important, and the list goes on. I spent so much time fitting in that I had no clue who I was by the time I graduated college. So, my biggest regret is that I wasn’t true to myself sooner.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I believe that everything happens for a reason. So, if my heart is broken, it means I’m being prepared for something greater. So, while my heart may break, I know it is not for long.

What makes you cry?

Loss. The loss of family. The thought of dying before 80. The idea of losing my sight. Memories of lost material possessions.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

In terms of work, it’s not long, unfortunately. By the time I’m supposed to feel that pride and joy, I’m already knee-deep in two other projects I’m also supposed to be proud of. I don’t have time to be proud or reflect as much as I’d like.

However, as of last summer, I’ve learned that my joy can be found in much more minor things, usually nature-related. Whether that’s cloud watching or rock hunting, I find the most joy in taking the time for myself, possibly because it’s the hardest thing to do.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I believe in an afterlife, but I must find out what it looks like. However, if I had a choice in what my afterlife looked like, I’d like to stay where I am. I am on the land established by my great-great-grandparents back in 1908, with fall weather and leaves as brightly colored as they were when I was a kid.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I don’t hate anything about myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am my biggest project, and there’s a lot I’d like to work on, but I don’t hate anything about myself. If I had to point out something, I’d like the confidence I have in my work and my talent to also apply to other aspects of myself. But that’s about it.

What do you love most about yourself?

I’ve loved my passion for art and design for a long time. Whether that’s type design, poetry, fashion, or jewelry, it doesn’t matter. If I could make it, I was passionate about it. And I don’t use the word “passion” lightly. It’s one of the few things I took away from my middle school Latin classes. “Passion” doesn’t just mean you really like or love something. It means you’re willing to suffer for it. And with all, I went through as a kid and the fact that art and design got me through every low point in my life, I never realized that I was suffering for my work. But as I got older, I realized I was passionate about life because I’ve lived with this fear that I would die with creativity left in me. With works left to make and words left unsaid. So now, I love my passion for living.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

My absolute favorite meal is my mom’s gumbo. This may sound over the top, but it’s a spiritual thing. My mom is from Louisiana, and that’s where just about all of my family is. She always tells this story of how when she married my dad and moved to Maryland, she had never cooked in 36 years. And when she got here, the first thing she made was gumbo. She called every aunt in Louisiana to find out how they make theirs. While those aunts are all gone now, I feel all of them when I taste that gumbo. I feel at home.

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