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Jim Parkinson

While browsing in a used bookshop in northern California, Jim Parkinson asked the clerk if he had any old books on lettering or typography; specifically, the hand-lettering sketchbooks that were once staples of the sign painter and lettering artist’s trade. The clerk pointed to a shelf in the back of the shop, labeled with a sign that read: “Archaic Skills.”

Showcard lettering may be archaic, but designer Jim Parkinson knows how to breathe new life into this style of alphabet design. Parkinson has worked as a typeface designer and lettering artist for over three decades. His work has appeared in print advertising and on book jackets, packaging, album covers, posters, billboards, movie titles and signage. He has also designed logos for clients as diverse as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Specialized Bicycles. His publication logos include Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Sierra, and Parenting magazines, and The Atlanta Journal and San Francisco Examiner newspapers.

Parkinson begins a typeface design by creating rough pencil sketches on tissue. He then scans these into the computer and converts the scans into Fontographer files. After continuing to render and fine-tune the individual letters on screen, he prints them out for a final on-paper examination. Parkinson designs typefaces primarily for print, rather than electronic display, so how they look on paper is the key factor in determining a successful effort. “Display type is my forte,” he says. “That’s what I do best. It’s type with tons of personality.”

Jim Parkinson: creator of new, old letters for digital technology.

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