How did you get into lettering?
It was mainly because I was a designer working at ad agencies, and I could never find the font that I wanted to use for any projects. This was in the late 1990s, early 2000s. The font menus that you had available then weren’t the same as they are now. They might have had 20 or 30 fonts to choose from. And they’re all the common ones, like Garamond and Goudy. I found myself producing stuff that just looked the same all the time. But to try and get around that, I’d just make something up. Sometimes, that would get accepted by the client and then as the whole Internet age started to come around, clients would start to say, “That’s great. Can we have the font that you used in the logo so that we can use it on all of our stuff?” And I go, “It isn’t a font.” And they go, “What do you mean?” I say, “Well, I drew them.” And they go, “But I told them there was a font.” I said, “Why’d you tell them there was a font?” It just started happening over and over and over again. So I started thinking, “Okay, well I’ll try to make some of those fonts.” I started to look into how to make fonts and I looked into the software that had been made and then it occurred to me that I could do a website. I guess because there seemed to be a need, so I just started making them.
Did you have other jobs before getting into graphic design?
In my early days after Uni, I was a professional photographer for a short time and I was a professional sign writer for a while. And I was a journalist for a very short time. I did all sorts of other stuff. One of my first jobs was taking pictures of cars in car yards, so they could put them in the weekend paper car ads. That was one of my Sydney jobs. I used to have to go to all the car yards along Parramatta Road or Victoria Road, I can’t remember. And these salesmen would all just sigh because they had to move thousands of cars around so I could photograph them and it was just an inconvenience for them. So my whole day was spent dealing with these salesmen who just didn’t want me there.
How did you decide to do your own thing?
It turns out that I wasn’t particularly good as a designer. As a general designer, we did all sorts of stuff that was somewhat formulaic. You know what it’s like working in an agency. You get assigned to just one or two clients. One of ours was a government land agency, they sold blocks of land. I found that the formats were pre- set and I was just repurposing stuff all the time. Through the years, I got quite frustrated because I didn’t have the creative control that I wanted. I’m just not the personality type where I’m particularly good at being an employee. I question everything, ‘why do I have to do it like that?’ So as the years went by, I slowly reaised that I wanted more control and that was the intent of becoming self-employed as a type designer.
Is it working out the way you imagined?
It is very much so, yeah. But it wasn’t a big plan, it just worked out. Someone asked me just recently if I had always been into typography and I was, even as a kid. I just didn’t really know it at the time. When I was about 10 or 12 years old, I had an uncle who was a graphic artist. This is pre computer, pre Internet, pre everything. My uncle developed lung cancer and died. And my dad, as part of the family, had to go into his art studio and clean it all out. So he just came home one day with a whole bunch of art stuff. There were boxes of pens and pencils and books and art studio related material. And he said to me and my brothers, “Rather than throw this stuff out, do you boys want any of it?” And one of the items was a Letraset catalog (pictured below). So I was like, “Oh my god, this is the most fantastic thing I’ve ever seen.” And so I started to try and draw them and copy them. I didn’t know at that time that it was possible to be even a graphic designer or have a career. I just knew that I really liked fonts. And it wasn’t until all these years later that I started to think back and go, “Actually, I always was into letters.”
So, having decided I wanted to be self-employed, I started to learn how to make digital fonts. I bought my first font making software, it was on floppy disks and I paid about 30 bucks for it. It wasn’t all that good, but it got me started. I used that software to make my first two or three fonts. And I started to send them overseas to foreign companies. An American one called ITC Fonts did (it’s now under the banner of Monotype at fonts.com). They contracted one or two of my fonts. And I earned a dribble of royalties, maybe a few hundred bucks a year. But I thought to myself, “If I had a hundred fonts, there might be some income there.” So I started to make all these fonts outside of my normal working hours, in my spare time, with the view to trying to open up a website at some point in the future, and that eventually happened. I worked with a guy who knew how to make websites and he helped me make a basic website with a shopping cart he built himself. I designed the first website myself and it was a hideous looking thing that I would never, ever show to anyone nowadays. There’s probably an image of it out there in Internet land somewhere, it’s awful. But I sold a few fonts, so that was the starting point of Australian Type Foundry.