Journal Assignment #3: John Downer

11 02 2011

John Downer (1951-Present)

John Downer is a type designer currently living in Iowa. He was born in Tacoma, Washington and has a fondness for letterforms at a very young age. Throughout high school, Downer was a sign painting apprentice. His first college experience was at Washington State University where he studied some calligraphy as well as graphic design. He finished his apprenticeship after his graduation from college and went on to attend graduate school in 1973 at the University of Iowa where he studied painting and earned both an MA as well as an MFA.

Professionally, in the art and design world, his activities include lettering, silkscreen printing, glass gliding, logo design, type design, and typography. First and foremost, he is a sign painter with a specialty in gold leaf lettering. In the 1980s he started primarily working in type design. He later moved to San Francisco in 1987 where he began to freelance on-and-off for about five years. During this time, he experimented with traditional type design and its hybridization with fonts created digitally.

His published type designs began with Iowan Old Style BT in 1991. This first typeface is classified as a Venetian old style typeface and is easily related to “early 20th-century American interpretations of Italian Renaissance types cut by Nicolas Jenson and Francesco Griffo.” His other typefaces include Triplex Italic, Brothers, Council, and Vendetta (Emigré, Sacramento); Ironmonger, Roxy, and SamSans (The font Bureau, Boston); and Simona (Design Lab, Milan). He’s also designed custom fonts for specific corporations.

Downer has spend more than thirty years in the world of typography. He is said to be one of the most revered as well as influential type designers. He has a very “rare expertise of understanding letterforms from a mastery of brush manipulation.” Not only does he design type, he also writes about type and its history for Emigre magazine and travels across the United States and Europe to give lectures.







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