It started in the late 1960s when I was hand lettering psychedelic posters for my acid-rock group on the West Bank of Minneapolis. I started getting my fine art degree in printmaking in the Fall of 1969 after flailing about for a few years as a flower child (those people who were later called hippies).
When I graduated with my BFA degree in Printmaking & Drawing with an undeclared minor in Far Eastern Art History, I almost immediately became involved with publishing—doing illustrations for a few publishers in the Twin Cities.
I remained sidetracked by the thought that I was a fine artist until the late 1970s, when I was hired (in west Virginia) as a graphic artist under Pik, an art director from the last class at the University of Michigan to still be required to learn hand lettering. Many of the projects I did for him required hand-lettered headlines. If they weren’t hand lettered, they were heavily modified photostats begun as presstype. During the 1980s, my main skill was modified type built off presstype from Letraset. They were the only company selling designs that impressed me.
In starting the research for my new booklet series on Type Design I have discovered that a major influence on my design taste is Colin Brignall, who was the Type Director of Letraset—the major supplier of presstype and new font designs in the 1980s. I started putting in alphabets from fonts I love and the first three I thought of were designed by Colin.
What really opened things up for me was FreeHand during the 1990s. Being able to tear type apart and play with the paths became my main source of creative fun. The direct control of paths that FreeHand had was amazing. The thing that finally moved me over the edge was the inclusion of Fontographer with the Graphic Studio Suite and FreeHand 7. Fontographer was the original program put out by Altsys, the developers of FreeHand. It fit my working style like a glove.
I was forced into FontLab in the early years of the new millennium. At first I hated it. But I have come to rely on its path editing tools. They are far superior to FreeHand which in turn was far better than Illustrator
As mentioned above, it started in the late 1960s with hand lettering, and moved through the 1970s with hand lettered headlines. The earliest full font I have found was one I called Agressor, hand drawn with T-square and triangle in 1983. I’ve never released it, though I might some day.
The first fonts I designed with Fontographer were used for my first book, Printing in a Digital World, which was released in 1996 but written from 1994 through the spring of 1996. Those first fonts were Diaconia & NuevoLitho.
It was fun—simply entertainment. I was driven by the need for fonts that had characteristics that were not being sold for text fonts. Caslon had the expert sets and that was it. For example, I wanted true small caps and oldstyle figures in all my fonts and that was not possible or readily available in text fonts limited to 256 characters. I needed display fonts that had caps, lowercase, and small caps. I wanted ligatures. I needed the open ballot box. So I added them to all my fonts. I often had to make several version of each style to simply hold the various characters I used all the time in my designs.
Then in the late 1990s I was contacted by a company called Makambo who was interested in selling my fonts online. I had tried to sell them shareware, but that was a disaster. I remember that one font was downloaded several thousand times but I never received a penny.
In 2000, Bitstream started MyFonts and took over Makambo (at least I think that’s how it worked). They have been great to me and a wonderful site to find fonts. By the middle of that first decade of the millennium I was making a third to half of my income form font sales through MyFonts. Monotype’s sales have also been growing exponentially.
Reading and practice. There was very little that I found in the beginning. It was all from reading the Fontographer User Manual and from playing around with the fonts I had. My early work was very derivative because I simply did not know much. I was used to tearing apart presstype to build what I needed. I started by doing that with existing fonts also. I’d trace existing fonts, adding characteristics form other fonts to build what I needed. It’s an immensely complicated craft. I was also handicapped because I had no capital or coding skills (which is still the case).
Only recently have I started serious study. It has been amazing to me that the fonts sold. Now as I am going full time in July 2009, I am really ramping up the study. Now, after over a decade of font production, I have a large library of character shapes I have drawn to play with. I usually begin with one of them.
Also, as the result of several requests I am beginning work on a practical book of font design. It looks like I have picked up an apprentice, but that is still being worked out. Both of these events will require a lot of research and development that will seriously affect my designs in the coming years.
The latest one! Like all designers, I am never happy with past work. All I can see are the flaws. In the full flush of new release I always love my most recent work best. Within weeks, I have run into things I don’t like and start looking for ways to solve those problems.
My goal is to have a set of fonts that I can use as an extension of my publishing skills, natural extensions of my typography in page layout. The assumption is that if I can do that well enough others will find my fonts useful also. I find it strange that I am a better font designer than writer. That has been a total surprise to me.