If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you no doubt know that brush lettering and cool typography is all over everything these days from reusable coffee cups to tote bags. But who are the artists who quietly work behind the scenes to innovate and create these trends that make it to the wide market? Today I wanted to share an interview with one such artist- Portland-based graphic designer, illustrator, and hand-lettering artist, Robin Casey, and ask them about how they became an artist, the best (and worst) fonts out there, and more!
Meander: Just to get started, and for anyone who isn’t familiar with you as an artist, how would you describe your work?
Robin: Most of my branding and design work leans toward the unconventional, and is very illustrative generally, so I find myself in that weird liminal space between artist and designer.
M: And when you’re working for others as a graphic designer, what sorts of clients are you usually working with or interested in taking on?
R: I love working with freelancers, nonprofits, small and/or local businesses. I love doing logos that are expressive, sometimes decorative, or just generally have a little more character to them.
M: I know I personally became an artist later in life and didn’t do very many creative things as a younger person, so that makes me curious how others found their way into art. Did you always think you’d be an artist from the get-go?
R: Well, I was originally going to be a librarian. While I was finishing my BA in English, I had considered going to school for my Masters in Library Science. It was a very different choice, but even though I enjoyed it when I did it in college, it didn’t leave me feeling satisfied. After I graduated, I was having major second thoughts about it.
M: Well, clearly you ended up going a different direction. What ended up leading you to art?
R: I knew I wanted to do something creative or crafty, but I didn’t know what. My ex suggested possibly going in for Graphic Design because she thought I was good at the basics of art stuff and thought I could do really well at it with an education.
M: Do you feel like doing art for a living was what you thought it would be like?
R: I didn’t really have any expectations going into it, honestly. I don’t think there’s any way to anticipate what it could be like, since that trajectory is different for everyone. I didn’t necessarily think I’d stick to freelance going into it, but that’s how it’s panned out. Not only did I change, but my life trajectory changed dramatically from when I started making art professionally and where I am now.
M: What sorts of life changes would you say committing to working as a professional freelance artist brought about?
R: My first round at art school, where I was currently living in Las Vegas, didn’t end well and I dropped out for financial reasons, but that brought about some better turns in the long run. If I hadn’t dropped out, I wouldn’t have ended up unhappy enough with working a non-art job to quit, which wouldn’t have led me to drop everything, move to Portland on a moment’s notice, eventually re-enroll in school, and continue going on into a field in professional design. I don’t know if I would be the person I am or the kind of artist I am if I hadn’t made the choice to do this with my life. I’ve met a lot of people who I’ve shared really different experiences with, and done things I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t left Vegas, and learned to become someone very different than the person who wanted to be a librarian.
M: Well, what was your original motivation for considering going into library science? And would you say it’s anything that has any impacts or influences on your artistic topics or style now?
R: I wanted to become a librarian mostly because I loved books. I loved books, but I didn’t like people enough to be a teacher (hahaha!) I also liked the idea of being around that many books, and cataloging them and not having to talk to anyone. I was kind of pretentious about it at the time, and thought being bookish was the epitome of intelligence. But also, the kinds of works I was really into at the time do absolutely still influence my work. I did a lot of studying of Shakespeare, Arthurian Legends, Regency literature, Romantic Poetry, world literature, etc. All of those things come accompanied by styles within art history (illuminated manuscripts, illustrative borders, calligraphy, etc.) And I always thought those were really beautiful. I am still really inspired by a lot of that when I think about my influences (but I like to think I’m a little less high strung and holier-than-thou about my interests now.)
M: Do you have any particular favorite typeface or font from history then?
R: This is gonna sound ridiculous, but I love the font they use in American Horror Story. It’s called Hill House and it’s based on lettering done by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the Glasgow School artists. He’s associated with Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century.
M: That’s pretty interesting, I had no idea that font was based on work from an artist from the Art Nouveau period! I think fonts are something people don’t always necessarily think about the history behind or how they developed and evolved, but are usually pretty fascinating if you look into them. Care to share what your least favorite font is? (In good humor, of course!)
Pictured: the various steps Robin’s artwork goes through from sketch to final digital version. This piece is a line from the Stone Temple Pilots’ 1996 song, “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart”
M: So you mentioned before about pretension and how some people consider books or book-ishness the “epitome of intelligence”, but I took from context that you don’t feel that way anymore? You also mentioned that you love the font used in American Horror Story and I notice that a lot of your art has pop culture references, actually (such as your recent typography piece based on lyrics from the Stone Temple Pilots.) It does seem that there’s sometimes an attitude that pop culture is a ‘lower form’ of art or entertainment, or that there’s a certain prestige to reading over other forms of storytelling, which is something I’m interested in and have personally explored thematically in some of my work before, so your evolution of attitudes over your life really struck me as interesting. How would you say you relate to pop culture and books now?
R: I used to think that being into things that other people weren’t or not liking popular media made someone “cooler”, I guess. It’s honestly ridiculous because things are popular for a reason. I don’t always like what’s popular, but avoiding things BECAUSE they’re popular is kind of ridiculous. Sometimes it’s FUN to be part of the hype. Sometimes it’s fun to be part of a shared experience of something that’s going on with thousands of other people. Also, just like what you like. There shouldn’t be any guilt or shame for liking things that are popular, or campy, or just plain silly. We live in a world where some horrible shit is happening CONSTANTLY and these popular things that people are getting into are sometimes are only little respite from that weird, black veil of terror.
Even if they weren’t though, I still hold to it that people should just like what they like, and if something gets passed around enough, more people are going to like it. It doesn’t make something special to anyone but you if you’re not sharing it. I like to put things from different kinds of media in my work because I’m influenced by them, and I like sharing them. Sometimes they’re from popular stuff, sometimes they’re things that only me and 3 other people I know are talking about, but maybe I can get more people into it if I share it. Or even if I can’t, it still means something to me and I wanted to make a thing about it. Or it doesn’t even really have to mean anything. Sometimes it’s just fun to make things because of no reason. I had to really dig deep and unload a lot of social baggage I had around popular media and really just stop caring about whether or not people liked that I liked something and just do my own thing.
M: So, in other words, don’t be ashamed of liking pumpkin spice lattes and fairy lights in your bedroom? (For the record, I have fairy lights in my bedroom and I’m into it.)
R: Exactly! Be inspired by Pinterest and My Little Pony if that’s what motivates you do make stuff!
To wrap this up, I wanted to say thanks to Robin Casey for taking the time to answer a few questions and encourage everyone to check out Robin’s really rad Instagram which is a fun blend of graphic design, art for art’s sake, and a sprinkling of goat selfies for good measure! And if you’re a Tumblr user, Robin’s got that too.
You can inquire/request quotes for professional work at Robin’s website, www.rozdraws.com and if you’d like to own some of Robin’s work, you can find or some high quality enamel pins on Robin’s Etsy as well as a kindle version of Robin’s zine, “Out of Habit” on Amazon. Hard copies of the zine are 6$ (free shipping to US*) and can be ordered through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Worldwide shipping available, e-mail to inquire for rates