James Edmondson
Ohno Type Co

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Thanks again for taking the time in your day to talk to us, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and the work that you do? 

I work independently in the Richmond District of San Francisco as a lettering artist and type designer. I received my undergrad from California College of the Arts here in SF, and my masters at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague, Netherlands.

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How did you find yourself in the world of type specifically? Has it always been a subject/discipline that interested you? Who were the teachers that really helped guide you to do what you do now?

It definitely always interested me, and I was very surprised to learn I was alone in this, at least at my school. Many classmates during my undergrad were into motion, web, and print. I am also interested in those areas, but I seemed to have patience for type design that exceeded my patience for everything else. I think that’s all passion and/or talent is—just patience and desire to practice.

Somewhere along the line, a teacher whom I respected tremendously gave me the advice to just focus on type for five years. I was shocked to hear him give such concrete advice, as teachers are more likely to say, “try everything,” or, “don’t put yourself in a corner.” I totally did put myself in a corner, but I have quite enjoyed it!

 

Alongside lettering you are also known for your fonts, there are times where I saw Wisdom script or Lavanderia absolutely everywhere. How do you feel about seeing them out in the world and how people react to it?

I guess it helps that it was fairly accessible for most people seeing that it was available through the Lost Type Co-Op. Usually, I feel absolutely nothing when I see my fonts used. That’s probably because most graphic design is not mind-blowingly good, and because you can get my early fonts fonts for zero dollars, they often end up in the hands of amateurs and hobbyists. I have no problem with this, and in fact I really enjoy catering to that crowd. On the occasion that I see the fonts really well used, that does make me happy, and I do a Fonts in Use post about it.

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I remember there was a time where people pointing out the faults in some of your fonts (looking at you Wisdom Script) and you mentioned somewhere that you were learning as you go when you designed these. Looking back do you have any regrets in releasing those to the public? 

Not really. Of course there are going to be errors in your early work, and you should probably not put it out. The internet is full of half-assed efforts in type design, and needs no more. With that said, I might still be working my day job if I never put out those shitty first efforts. Everyone has their own unique path, so I try to not be too preachy about it.

 

Not too long ago you finished your studies at Type Media in the Netherlands, what was that experience like? I was following your instagram at the time and it seems like there’s a lot of humour (the lazy peace sign among other things) with your colleagues, how much of that is to boost tired morales and how much is that just letting loose? 

In a group setting with such a small class, you figure out your role, and you see how your interests are unique. This is a huge opportunity to align yourself more with your own interests and personality. That gets put into the work, which makes it a strong and authentic expression. I figured out that my role in class was to keep the mood pretty light, and enjoy it as much as possible, but I wasn’t the only one. My buddy Mark Frömberg especially cracked me up daily, while inspiring me to work harder than I’ve ever worked on anything. Our group became quite close, and it just feels natural to let your guard down and be as silly as possible. There were tons of inside jokes and other nonsense that made the final dash to the finish line much more bearable. It’s easy to get stressed out, but that makes my work and mood so much worse. I did my best, and had as much fun as I could doing it.

 

What was the inspiration for you to work on Hobeaux during your study there? I read there was a talking penis involved…

Yeah, the story is I needed a typeface to work well alongside a stupid drawing of a penis. I could also say I wanted something I wanted to use casually. A standard sans or serif seems like such a vanilla choice in display typography, and they both fail to align with my voice. Hobo is such a bizarre and original thing, so I naturally wanted to explore the possibilities of what might have happened if people accepted it as a new genre when it came out one hundred years ago. There are many more reasons I’m interested in Hobo, but I’ll spare you.

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Humor seems to be apparent with your work, we had a glimpse of this when your graduate year exhibit came to our town thanks to AGDA (our local design association) your poster for Hobeaux had a set of icons that cracked me up in public. It was two hands, one was making the shape of a ring and another with an index finger ready to penetrate it. Do you feel it’s important to convey your personality in your work in a field where the maker’s personality is sometime very much invisible?

For me it is. It helps me enjoy the work quite a bit more. If I’m not doing the work in a personal way, then someone else might as well do it, and I might as well not be doing anything! It’s a way for me to feel needed, which is a lie to begin with. If I was not around, everything would be totally fine, but hopefully there is something I add to the typographic landscape, whether it’s a sense of humor or lively typefaces. Even if I just encourage one person to be a true expression of themselves, that’s chill.

Making a tiny sex joke on a poster means almost nothing, but if one person were to see that, and make them reconsider how much of their own voice they’re putting into their work, then it’s useful. Designers are very happy to do what’s expected of them, but if they’re willing to reach just a bit farther, the way artists do constantly, things always get more interesting.

 

You used to intern for Erik Marinovich in the past, what was that experience like? I mentioned this because Erik also has a lot of personality imbued in his lettering and I’m wondering whether that was something that was encouraged or just a coincidence.

I only ever really interned for Erik like two or three days, but he’s great! I always loved his work for exactly the reasons you mentioned. He’s totally daring, but even more inspiring than that is the fact that he’s always pushing himself to get better, try new styles, and absolutely nail the final product. In addition to his skill, he’s totally humble.

 

You guys also collaborated to create a great font in Viktor Script, how did that collaboration work?

Basically Erik posted a sketch of an alphabet, and I had been looking to collaborate with him on a typeface for Ohno. He would sketch things, usually with a brushpen, and I would hammer it into the font. There was a lot of editing, but it was so fun to see how Erik would approach glyphs. Usually I’d do my version, get bummed out about how generic it looked, then ask Erik to do his version, and it always blew my mind! We never settled for the first version of something, and we copied and pasted very little. We mostly just used iMessage, but would occasionally meet up IRL because Erik’s studio is just a few blocks away from mine. It was fun! I hope to do more collaborations in the future with Erik and others.

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So what are you working on now? 

Over the past year I’ve gotten obsessed with the band Vulfpeck. So much so, that the bandleader, Jack Stratton, figured out who I was, and contacted me to do a custom font for the band. Obviously, I was elated. I knew Jack was responsible for the band’s design work, and I love when a band has DIY ethics. It makes the whole thing feel very real and honest. The aesthetic and the music become one cohesive experience, and everything makes a million times more sense when you see them live, or watch their youtube channel. Anyhow, they were looking for a monospace italic based on the Light Italic that came with IBM Selectric typewriters. I was amazed that a musician had such a deep interest in typography! I have never worked on any monospace stuff seriously, so it’s a fun challenge to get out of my comfort zone, and bring some life to a typically sterile genre. Eventually, Vulf Mono will be up for sale on Ohno and the Vulf site.

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Thanks for talking with us. Is there any parting advice you want to give to us concerning the work or the industry that you want to mention before we say our goodbyes?

All the advice I could ever give has already been written here. Besides that, I would advise people to communicate openly and honestly in their relationships. Thanks for the questions!

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Melbourne Lettering Club