15 Questions for ...

Dirk Uhlenbrock of Eyesaw Fonts
Dirk Uhlenbrock, creator of Eyesaw Fonts, settles in for a nice long chat.

Can you briefly describe your design background?
I studied for four years communication design in Wuppertal with the focus on illustration and typography. But I left the university without making any degree after a well known German prof told me that maybe I'm not able to become a good designer but I should better try to get into politics. That was the point I said to myself "Ok, f*** school!" and started to earn money with the things I do.

What (or who) inspired you to begin creating typefaces?
Well the first time I get really excited about digital type was when the first wave of handmake-looking fonts arrived on the scene; Erikrighthand, Confidential, Kosmik, Trixie etc.
        I was really impressed by something that came out of the printer which looks handcrafted and perfect at the same time.
        The first font I ever bought was IDENTIFICATION, by Rian Hughes; in fact I never used it (like many others I purchased), but it's always very satisfying to look at it.

How did you decide to create Eyesaw Fonts, rather than leasing your fonts to Emigre or Thirstype or some of the other online font stores?
When I started creating my first typefaces in late 1997 there was only the wish to make some illustrations which would fit in a font set, and to create a product. It was only fun and a good way to play around with forms and shapes. Fontmaking for me is a good way to relax and experiment.

Why did you decide to give them away for free?
After I had around 10 fonts, they lay on my hard drive and I had no use for them. At this time I was also a bit frustrated with my "normal" work, producing lots of stuff for the web but receiving only "filtered" feedback. The two points mixed together made eyesaw; I thought it was a good way to get some response and maybe get a bit famous - I always wanted to be a pop star [winks].

Eyesaw Fonts is an extremely entertaining site. Visitors would enjoy it even if they were not in the market for a typeface. What inspired the first generation of your site?
The first volume was inspired by some pictures of the 40s/50s and I decided to give the site a "laboratory look", a bit misterious, a bit retro-techno.
        I was bored by all the sites which display fonts on long lists with rough navigation tools. So I decided to create something around the fonts and showed them on little pictures, just to entertain and let the eye wonder around.
        I'm very interested in story-telling and it was a goal to tell the "story" in a good way. And surprise, surprise most of the people understood or felt what I wanted to achieve - I received tons of emails with "thank yous" for having such a nice trip.

The childlike quality of your work - which is also extremely sophisticated - reminds me of Paul Klee. Not visually, but spiritually. Do your own children inspire you?
Thank you. You got me - Paul Klee is one of my favourite artists, also most of the Dada guys and Max Ernst of course.
        I'm inspired by everything I see, O'm ruled by high impact visuals, a sign can take my breath or make my heart jump around.
        I don't really make concepts when I start working on an idea. I directly jump into the paper or into Photoshop to play around and see what happens. In fact I'm surprised by most of the things that I create, I jam a lot with Photoshop to warm up or to avoid to work on stupid things I have to do.
        I try to work like a child, I always take the detours, not the direct way – and watching my children drawing, I try to learn some new/old "tricks" to achieve that.

You are very free with colors, and use them boldly. How do you go about it? Do you simply "please your eye," or is there a method to your work?
As I described the process before, there is no "method", the use and combination of colours comes out of my stomach - if it feels good, it is good.

If I were asked to describe your work, I would call it "cartoon industrial." It is surreal, mechanical, and playful, all at the same time. I imagine your own childhood was full of picture books, drawing, and time spent in your own imagination.
Hahaha, the sweaty nerd with big glasses sitting in his corner drawing on tons of paper.
        No, not really - it was very easy for me to impress the guys in the kindergarten and school, so I was lazy, the real work, doing my art, started later when I was 21.
        But yes, there were many comic books, and yes, there were many visits at the museums and exhibitions, and yes, I read a lot of books, and yes, I saw many movies, and yes, I watched a lot TV - my head is full of images, pictures, moods, colours, expressions etc., I only have to scratch a bit and it all comes out to get recycled and reused.

You are something of a world traveler. Do these trips influence your design work?
No I'm not really a world traveler, I just went to some countries in Europe, France, Spain, Italy, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, CSSR etc.
        But yes, I always try to buy some gadgets, books, newspapers, stamps aso. in tese countries which caught my eye because they were designed in a different way. I collect many things – packages, flyer, ads etc.– and the shelves of our office are full.

Were you nervous when you decided to update the Eyesaw Fonts site? Did you worry that the new version would lose something precious from the original?
NO, I wasn't nervous. I had done lots of new stuff and I wanted to create something new and different.

Is the musical loop at the entrance to the new site (Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalking") intended as a statement? Are you cueing the visitor that they are entering a "dreamworld?"
Sleepwalk is one of my all time favourites, it's a great song, I'll never be fed up listening to it. I've got a huge collection of American music from the 40s and 50s, I love the simplicity and naivity of the songs. All these kinda kitschy r&b, doo-wop and instrumental things - they've got their own beauty.

What inspires you to create new fonts? What makes a good font, in your estimation? What other typographers do you like?
As I mentioned, I get inspired by all the things I see. It can be sign on the street, an old apckage of chewing-gum or a TV-trailer.
        I don't know what makes a good font, but I think it is good when you can create a good illustration with its letters. Yeah I guess that's the point, for me the alphabet is just another kind of illustration, I see letters as signs and pictures and not as words.
        My heroes:
        Rian Hughes, Zuzana Licko, Letterror, Type-o-tones, Joshua Distler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Just van Russum, Luc(as) de Groot, etc., etc., too many to mention.....

Your fonts are used all over the web, in magazines, billboards, and on CD covers. Does that make you happy?
Yes, indeed. That makes me happy. As I mentioned before, I have no use for my own fonts. When they are done they doesn't interest me anymore - strange but true. So it's always great to see what others do with the fonts and how they were inspired by my work.
        Yesterday, for example, I received a paperback featuring the new testament; the designer used Rubbermaid to create a grungy but powerful look on the cover and on some of the pages - this is really cool.
        I've seen some of my faces on very well known products and webpages like Nike, Kellogs, Lycos etc. It's always a great gift to be "chosen."

Where else can we see your work? What other projects can we look forward to?
Most of my work is realized through my work as art director for wysiwyg.de, for example, there's a website for a German film production (www.embassy.de), which just received a Prize of Honour for good design from the German Design Centre.
        Another cool project which is still in progress is a submission for http://www.mycity.com.br, a Brazilian exhibition which starts in late '99, where 50 designers from around the world were invited to produce a special featuring their hometown.
        Hey, and there's the coming FontAid thing. Claes from Fuelfonts invited 26 designers to create one of the alphabet's specimen.
        The font will be distributed for around $10US, and the money will be sent to UNICEF; that is a simple but great idea.
        I've moved the eyesaw stuff and the other "arty" projects to a new url called antidot.de and hope to update eysaw with some new fonts from me and two other designers in the next two months.
        And I really hope that I find the time to realise  72dpi, a pdf-magazine which will also be downloadable from antidot.

What other sites do you like?
I like the whole San Francisco bunch: futurefarmers, posttool, tree-axis.
        And I'm really envious that I was not the one to have the idea for a magazine site like k10k.net or bornmag.com.

Dirk's Work:


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