Renegade School

May 10 2008

Streetcar Graffiti
Warm Water Cove bus yard, January 2003

I remember a time when I can’t recall seeing graffiti. It may have something to do with where I grew up - in a suburb of San Francisco, or because in the early 80’s modern graffiti was still fairly new. Still, I’m surprised it wasn’t something I noticed since I frequented the very places I would later associate with graffiti.

What I can remember are fragments of the old form of graffiti; the carved bench, painted rocks or scrapings in wet cement. These were markings I appreciated for their evidence of an older generation of rebellion. I vividly remember carving my name into a tree when I was seven, then returning many years later to find the worn marking still visible. Despite my interest I was never a prolific vandal; I left a few marks here and there, but the interest never stuck.

My freshman year in high school I met Buck, a San Francisco city-kid with an unusually large portfolio of street cred for such a young kid. He had a way of making everyone around him feel clueless; something I initially despised, but learned to appreciate. He introduced a group of us to underground club music, standup comedy, fashion and graffiti. He was part of a respected graffiti crew and taught us about the street etiquette of tagging and the artistic beauty and thoughtfulness of creating a “piece” (a graffiti mural around the artist’s tag).

Cappuccino font
Guilty satisfaction of being profiled in the newspaper, 1987.

What followed was about a year of serious fascination with the art form, from navigating the complex politics of crews to mastering my tag with the spectrum of drawing and painting tools. During that time I raided bus yards, climbed overpasses, and left my mark wherever I went. Even though my interest quickly moved towards the artistic side of graffiti, I became disillusioned with the scene and dropped out.

Looking back on that small window of time I now realize how much of my understanding and recognition of art and design was born from the experience. My obsession with letterforms in tags led to my work creating fonts and working with typography. The creation of a tag is not unlike the development of a brand; from the unique word or phrase to the consistent presentation to ensure its recognition. The world of graffiti taught me to open my eyes and recognize beauty and mastery in unusual places, which reminds me of a phrase from the poem Desiderata: “The dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”

Double Cap font
My first font design called Double Cap, 1995.