Regular readers will remember the work of Roel Wouters who was nominated for our Creative Futures young talent award last year. It turns out that talent runs in the Wouters family as Roel’s brother Job has just been nominated for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Show. Job, who goes under the pen name Letman, is a lettering artist based in Amsterdam. cr asked him about his work while, over, designer Quentin Newark explains why he chose Letman for the Design Museum show.
Creative Review: When did you initially become interested in drawing letters?
Letman: At a very early age – I still have some letter drawings from when I was 13 or 14, graffiti drawings, obviously. Later on I studied typographic and graphic design at the Royal Academy (KABK) in the Hague, where I discovered the more classical side of typography. After two years I switched to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam where I studied graphic design and finished in 2004.
CR: We featured your brother Roel in our Creative Futures issue last year: do the two of you collaborate on projects?
LM: Yes, we work on two ongoing flyer assignments: Disco Exota and Jungstar. And last year we made the movie abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxy [in which Roel’s young son Gradus and Job draw letters side-by-side] which turned out to be an unexpected YouTube hit [the film was commissioned by CR and Sony as part of our Creative Futures scheme]. Furthermore, he is a great source of inspiration. Our design approaches are totally different, which makes it both difficult and at the same time very refreshing to work with him.
CR: In nominating you for the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year Awards, Quentin Newark described your work as “graffiti combined with calligraphy crossed with printing mixed with typography”. Is that an accurate summary?
LM: Well, first of all, it is a great honour for me to be nominated for this award. I find it very hard to describe ‘my work’ since I have the feeling that I just started out, and am still defining it and questioning it a lot. What I can say about it is that working by hand feels very natural and helps me to be accurate in my decisions. Mastering that method, and gaining more control over the content of my projects, are my personal goals.
CR: What do you mean when you say that you see letters as “free entities”?
LM: My good friend Yvo Sprey wrote that in his piece on my work for my website. He probably means my skill to take a letterform, turn it upside down, tear it to pieces, reconstruct it and what not, in order to let it speak the language I want it to speak. I think he talks about drawing the face of type. The ability to let it laugh, cry, or scream.
CR: What are the historical influences that inform your work?
LM: Although I am obviously influenced by both classical and modern writing and lettering methods, I try not to make pastiches. That is simply not what I’m looking for. I find it, for example, more interesting to mix them up: using an ancient lettering method with modern tools, or the other way around.
CR: What would be your ideal project?
LM: Most things that I make are physically small: I would love to make something enormous one time. Like a commission for a huge permanent mural in the city of Amsterdam. ‘Ideal’, of course, would mean that I would get total artistic freedom. That would be quite something. Wow.