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Local artist shaped look of new sign atop M&T Bank Stadium

As new signs are installed atop the Baltimore Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium, Tal Leming hopes nobody scrutinizes the shape of the "a" in bank or the curve of the "m" in stadium .

Leming said it's his job as a typeface designer to pay obsessive attention to that kind of detail. Bigger, brighter signs containing Leming's customized typefaces began going up Thursday on the stadium that helps define downtown's skyline.

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The new ones will replace signs that went up in 2003 when the Buffalo, N.Y.-based bank agreed to a stadium naming rights partnership with the team.

Leming, who runs Type Supply from a home office in Towson's Rodgers Forge, worked with M&T for several years through 2015 to design the custom fonts it uses on websites, signs and other printed materials at bank branches, ATMs and elsewhere. He knew the bank eventually would use the design in a new stadium sign.

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"I try to come up with new ways to render the alphabet to reflect the current world that we live in," said Leming, a 42-year-old father of two. "Typefaces represent our time, much like music does. I make typefaces that are now."

The Ravens and the stadium authority unveiled new 4K ultra-high definition video displays, which are double the width of M&T Bank Stadium's former boards.

Leming creates custom typefaces and offers licensed use of the fonts he's designed, often for corporate clients that have included Adidas, Bon Appetit, Dick's Sporting Goods, Paramount Pictures, Target Corp., Tiffany & Co., and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which uses a Leming font for the numbers on the backs of team jerseys.

"If anyone knows my work, I've done something wrong," Leming said of his craft. "My job is to enhance a message and to make a message more clear. If you stop and look at a typeface while reading, the typeface has gotten in the way. My job is to be invisible."

That contrasts with the prominence of the latest and largest display of his work, at the Ravens stadium. The bank hired Leming to modify one of his existing typefaces, Balto, which he named after the city where he moved from Delaware in 2006.

He painstakingly developed the style on and off over six years. It was inspired by his favorite font, Franklin Gothic, which he says is particularly American and had been used in newspaper headlines and elsewhere since early in the last century.

"That particular typeface has a feeling I really, really love," Leming said. "The underlying structure is beautiful, hardworking but simple. It doesn't call attention to itself, but it has a lot of personality without being flamboyant. It just gets in there and gets the job done."

The new exterior stadium signs will replace signs on four sides of the facility. Two sets of 130-foot-long signs with 12-foot tall letters are being mounted on the stadium's north and south sides. Smaller signs will rise on the east and west at the end zones.

The installation, managed by the Maryland Stadium Authority on behalf of the Ravens and the bank, began Thursday afternoon, when the first panel was hoisted into place on the south side. Three more panels will go up over the next few days.

M&T is covering the cost of the new signs, which include the bank's new logo, as part of a rebranding campaign that happens to coincide with the Raven's $120 million stadium renovations.

Leming's typeface will be used in the words "bank" and "stadium," but not in the M&T logo. The bank began rolling out its new logo and the new look of its signage, website and printed materials in 2015, said Augie Chiasera, a regional president at M&T Bank.

"It was a cleaner, more modern look that matches well with our brand," Chiasera said. "Our [stadium] sign is certainly one of the largest and most recognizable signs on the skyline. ... It will look a lot bigger and fresher."

Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens' senior vice president of stadium operations, said the signs' new look will complement the stadium renovations, which include new scoreboards, new ribbon boards and a new scoreboard control room.

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Though the signs are being handled by the bank, the Ravens have had input on design and worked with the bank on structural and engineering issues.

"Our goal was to give them the opportunity to put forth a design. They shared that, and we agreed with them as to what the design would look like," Sommerhof said. "M&T has done a really good job on the design aspect and incorporating their new font. I think it will look great."

Leming said he's been fascinated by the shapes of letters since his days as a graphic design student at Louisiana State University School of Art, where he made his first font after objecting to those that came with computer programs. He worked as a graphic designer in Louisiana, focusing on corporate identity, then at typeface design company House Industries. He started his own business in 2005.

Leming offers about a half dozen font styles for sale, including Queue, "at once mechanical and human," according to the sales pitch on his website; Torque, inspired by space exploration, video game and sci-fi movie lettering; and Ohm, a neon family of lettering.

"The thing that's amazing about the M&T project is watching things go up in my hometown," Leming said. "I see my typeface all over the place when I'm driving around, and now there's a really, really big version of it. It's a surreal feeling. I get nervous that maybe I drew the 'a' wrong."

It's something he said he can't help worrying about even though any errors would likely be apparent only to him.

"Nobody who draws letters that are tiny for a living is not an obsessive perfectionist," he said.

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