Focus On FontStructors – John Skelton (afrojet)

On April 1st FontStructFontShop’s award winning free online platform for creating and sharing modular, grid-based fonts – quietly slipped into its second year. More than just a font building tool, it is also a thriving community of type and design enthusiasts which number at almost 150,000 confirmed registered users. As its creator Rob Meek recently commented on Brick By Brick: News about FontStruct

Thank you! FontStruct is just an empty shell without your work and that of all FontStructors.


Indeed, the numbers speak volumes – as I am writing this there are 27,684 active FontStruct sessions, and this already impressive number is only a portion of the grand total of 166,341 FontStructions, 7334 of which are public. But who are these FontStructors, these talented, dedicated tinkerers who patiently construct fonts, literally brick by brick? Well, what better way to find out than simply ask them? The coming weeks The FontFeed will be running a series of mini-interviews with FontStructors to introduce this bustling community to you. And hopefully to entice those of you who aren’t familiar with FontStruct yet to give it a go yourselves and dive into the wonderful world of brick-based modular type design.

John Skelton (afrojet)

John Skelton is better known as Afrojet on FontStruct. Originally from Saint Paul, Minnesota, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. After going to Lewis & Clark College in Portland he did post-graduate work for two years in Mexico and Guatemala studying Mayan hieroglyphics. The image below shows a series of Mayan hieroglyph sketches he made that tell the story of his ancestry. Translated it says:

On July 7, 1942 A.D. When the Seventh Lord of the Night ruled, it was seven days after the moon was born. On that day Lady Skelton (John’s mother), touched the earth and then she crowned herself The Divine Lady of The Lineages.
 
31 Years, 5 Month and 5 Days after she was born, on May 13, 1973 A.D. One Katun had passed, and the Seventh Lord of the Night ruled, where the moon was 24 days old. On that day Lord John Skelton materialized through divinity.


Mayan hieroglyph sketches by John Skelton
John Skelton has been a freelance graphic designer/web designer for the last eight years. His only formal type education consists of exactly one class he took from – in John’s words – the incredibly talented Bill Moran. John blogged steadily for years, but after his son was born two and a half years ago he found it much easier to communicate in short bursts of 140 characters or less. Recently he’s taken to posting larger typeface samples on the Behance Network (although he admits it feels a bit like cheating on FontStruct when he does that ;). And for those who like eye candy John has a very nice Typography set on his Flickr account.

John first discovered FontStruct shortly after its public release in April 2008, “from either the FontShop e-newsletter or the old FontShop blog.”

Do you have any prior experience with type design?

Prior to working in FontStruct, I had never released a font for public consumption. I’ve done projects for clients that involved customized type or hand-lettering but nothing to the point of fleshing out an entire font. I think one of the reasons that I gravitated to FontStruct was that it provided a fast and fun outlet for non-client driven work. I’ve always been a fan of modular typefaces, and with FontStruct I was able to quickly build out some ideas that had long floated around in my head but were never executed upon.


Playtime by Afrojet

When looking at your FontStructions it’s easy to see you perfectly grasp the modular concept of the tool. Where does your love for modular typefaces come from? And what unique advantages does grid-based type design offer you as a designer?

Good question. I think my appreciation for modular type is a fairly natural extension of a childhood spent playing Atari, an adolescence spent listening to too many synthesizer bands, and establishing my footing in graphic design at the same time pixel fonts were so popular. I think it was inevitable that by the time I started looking more closely at type I would be easily seduced by things like Wim Crouwel’s ‘New Alphabet’.

For me the advantage of grid-based type design is that it becomes fairly easy to visualize an entire alphabet once you’ve established the grid parameters and designed a couple key characters. I work better with a set of limitations. Within Fontstruct, that’s meant smaller grids and fewer bricks.


Hydroplane by Afrojet

You always Share your Fontstructions for others to Clone. How does it feel to relinquish control over your creations?

Incredible. There are far too many things over the course of a day that I attempt to control. It’s much more fun to free the font and see where it will go. Another reason I like working with fewer bricks on a smaller grid is that it makes it easier for others to remix the shapes or swap bricks.


Sessions by Afrojet

Screen print on canvas of the Sessions Gropius image.

Your Josef Albers inspired FontStruction Sessions was recently picked up by Grain Edit, and many of your designs seem quite popular. Ever thought of branching out into “true” type design, or trying to make some money licensing your designs?

I have. I think FontStruct is a gateway drug to “true” type design. It can be an amazing educational tool. I feel like I’ve learned so much about all facets of type design from both the software and the community in the past year alone. In order to take things to the next level though, I need to become more fluent with “true” font software in addition to learning how to license my designs. Recently, I’ve used FontLab to flush out the Sessions font to include an uppercase, accented characters, and full Latin support. I’d like to add some stylistic sets to it as well. My goal would be to release it as a commercial OpenType font.


Screen print of a new Fontstruction in the works called Gaga.

Gig poster for the band Juniper Tar, designed by Brian Kriederman from Milwaukee, a friend of John Skelton’s, using his font Jettison Stencil.

Logo design on Tshirt for Crossville Home School Chess Team, designed by Drawing on the Promises (dotp – graphic designer Frank McClung and artist Miriam McClung) using Afrojet’s Sawhorse for the text and Sawhorse Braumarks for the illustrative parts.
This wraps up the first one of our mini-interviews. Stay tuned for more Focus on FontStructors.
Header image: Men of Complex Mystery and Smart Hand Gestures © John Skelton, edited & manipulated by Yves Peters

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3 Comments:

  1. Two years studying Mayan hieroglyphics – this must have been awesome.

    For questions related to professional font production and commercial licensing I recommend the always helpful Typophile Forums.

    I look forward to your next FontStructions. Gaga is looking very promising!

    PS: The “In Grid We Trust” T-Shirt is in the making… ;-)

    Posted by Gustavo Ferreira on Jun. 22, 2009
  2. thanks for the interview! i really need to get back into FontStruct!

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Jun. 22, 2009
  3. @Yves: Thanks for the fun interview. I like the juxtaposition you’ve created with the image of the mayan sketches over the Thunderball sample image. Two projects divided by enough years that I’m surprised to see so many similarities between them.

    @Gustavo: The mayan hieroglyph study was indeed incredible. My home base was San Cristobal De Las Casas, Mexico – a wonderful city. I spent the better part of my time studying the glyphs and iconography at Palenque.

    I’m first in line for the t-shirt.

    @Simon: Come back into the fold Simon! You won’t regret it.

    Posted by John Skelton on Jun. 23, 2009

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