Alex Savakis interviews AG’s Lettering Design Group, Part 3

This post introduces you to Mike Gold. He talks about his history and movitation. Enjoy!

Your name and title? Mike Gold, Senior Lettering Designer

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What’s your educational background, i.e., college, professional school, high school, apprenticeship, etc.? UC Santa Barbara (BA); California State University, Chico (MA, Visual Communications); individualized study in calligraphic arts with Gaynor Goffe & Jenny Groat; numerous calligraphy workshops

Who or what inspired you to pursue calligraphy or hand lettering? A show of Thomas Ingmire’s calligraphic art (c. 1980); the commercial lettering work of Carl Rohrs I saw in Signs of the Times magazine (c. 1980); my first art director at the sign company Ad Art, Ken Young, who nurtured and supported my interest in hand lettering.

Was lettering for a greeting card company a pursuit? No, but that industry is about the only place a lettering designer can findfull-time work with benefits. Plus, when I was looking, American Greetings was willing to pay my relocation expenses and had some great talent that I wanted to be around (chief among them Charles Pearce). Also, my friend Derick Pao was also considering a move there. Then there was R Crumb, who worked at AG and had a storied career in Cleveland. I was a huge fan and collector of his comix and didn’t mind following in his footsteps.

What was your job or career before you became a lettering artist for American Greetings? Graphic designer: I worked for a large sign company (best art director ever); Pepperdine University (most Republican art director ever); a retail chain’s in-house art department (drunkest art director ever); as the first full-time designer at Sacramento’s public library system (best printer ever); freelance designer in New Mexico (worst paying gig ever).

What’s your approach/process to creating a lettering design for a greeting card? Depends on whether it’s production lettering or concept art. I write out the lettering usually two or three times, scan in the result and clean it up on the computer. Concept work starts with thumbnails and proceeds usually to near-finish mockups that get submitted to various card planning staffs.

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Productivity: how many finished designs do you create per day/week/month/year? I don’t keep track, really, but the production demands have grown every one of the 18 years I’ve been at AG. As a lettering designer here, you’re expected to concept, create new art, design new typefaces, logo designs and do lots of hand lettered captions and tags. You’ve gotta have a sense of humor about one’s work to have written “happy birthday” and “today, tomorrow and always” as many times as I have.

Every member of the team has a signature style, how would you describe your style? How much latitude and range do you have? I like to do it all, which is probably a good thing if you’re trying to make a living in a field as obscure as lettering design. I’d say my strong suit is contemporary brush and pen scripts. Regarding the second part of the question, our work is so trend-driven and that dictates what we do more than anything. If you want to do traditional calligraphic styles, you probably would have to find a different job than here.

Preferred tool(s) and medium? I love the brush (especially the Pentel Color Brush), my #5 Speedball pen, and pointed pens, both firm and flexible.

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AG creates proprietary typefaces for use on its products. How many typefaces have you designed? Talk about the development of your favorite typeface(s). What’s your part during the typeface design process? What’s the timeframe to create a typeface? I’ve done four typefaces. Mostly they develop from styles you’re doing all the time on jobs, the idea being that if the typeface exists you wouldn’t have to letter that style all the time. That works to some degree, but no typeface (even with Open Type) can replace something that is hand lettered. The time consuming part of development is not the creation of the letters, but the digitizing process and then testing to make sure the font works with all pc and Mac systems throughout the company is the real time suck.

What other lettering and design opportunities are presented to you at American Greetings, i.e., signs, annual report, logos, etc.? In my career here I’ve worked on annual reports, signs, logos, wall murals. Most recently, another lettering designer and I painted lettering all over the walls of a downtown gallery for the company’s annual fine arts show. That was fun.

What keeps you going throughout the day, i.e. music, video, books on tape, silence, etc.? NPR, progressive talk radio (love Thom Hartmann), iTunes (music).

Where or how do you “recharge your creative battery,” i.e., books, blogs, music, art, exercise, mediation, prayer, hobbies, interests, etc.? I try to make personal art away from work, which AG supports by having an on-campus art gallery and by purchasing their artists’ work. I also meditate, play golf, do lots of trend lettering research, subscribe to Letter Arts Review (which is always inspiring), and am involved with some really amazing artists as part of a collaborative art-making group. Finally, I’ve got two young boys who create things I’ve never imagined or forgotten about and a creative artist wife.

Do you create art outside of AG? If so what types of work? Have you exhibited, if so, where? My art outside of AG is an outgrowth of my lettering/calligraphic interests, but has little relation to my commercial work where legibility is a key component. My personal work tends to be more abstract and inspired by my Buddhist practice.

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Who or what are your influences or muses? Main muses: my wife and two boys. Influences: Collaborators Judy Melvin, Le Buu, Terri Long, and Scribes 8. Teachers Gaynor Goffe, Jenny Groat, Carl Rohrs, Brody Neuenschwander, Alice, among others. Artists Friedrich Poppl, Eva Aschoff, Thomas Ingmire, Chu Ko, Jose Parla, Paul Klee, Ben Shahn, Wassily Kandinsky, Abstract Expressionists. Books by John Daido Loori (Zen of Creativity), Ben Shahn (The Shape of Content). I also have always turned to sources outside the visual arts for inspiration: poetry (Rilke, cummings, Merwin), fiction, travel, and family/friends.

How has the computer impacted your approach to calligraphy and hand lettering? Another tool in the design arsenal, albeit a very important and powerful one. I love layering and the computer is a great tool to do that in the digital environment, but it still doesn’t produce the tactile and dimensional results that work by hand gives you. Same with lettering. I still start with a drawing tool, ink or paint, and paper 99% of the time.

Any advice to young designs and illustrators coming into the job market who have an interest in lettering/calligraphy? Design always come first. Become a good designer and then work on the specialty. If you want to specialize in lettering, it helps to be as proficient in as many styles as possible, both traditional and contemporary. Besides, there’s so much to appreciate and learn about calligraphy and drawing that it will easily take you the rest of your life. That’s a good thing.

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To preview work of AG lettering designers for upcoming posts please visit my photo album at http://picasaweb.google.com/handletteringcite/AGLetteringDesignTeam.

Thanks Mike!

To see more work by Mike and his wife and business partner, Sharron, please visit their website, www[dot]abbeygolddesign[dot]com.

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