|I was born in Oakland, California in 1941 and raised in the nearby community of Richmond. One of our Richmond neighbors was a lettering artist. His name was Abraham Lincoln Paulsen. He lived across the alley from us, and somedays I would spend hours watching him work in his studio. Lettering showcards for stores, designing and lettering awards and proclamations, and lettering names on high school and college degrees. He had a lettering act where he would entertain at parties with demonstrations of upside-down and backwards number lettering and other lettering tricks. Mr. Paulsen called himself The Wizard Penman and Paulsen the Pencilmaniac. He had a booth at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island where he would amaze spectators with his lettering gymnastics. Sometimes, in his studio, he would take a break from work and amaze me with those same tricks. I was thoroughly charmed. My life-long love of lettering had begun before I even knew how to read.
I studied advertising design and painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. There was one lettering class and I took it. I graduated in 1963. In 1964 I moved to Kansas City, Missouri to work as a greeting card artist at Hallmark Cards. I drew a few greeting cards, but it was clear to all of us that I was not going to be a greeting card artist. They offered me a chance to work in their lettering department, as if it was the last stop on the Road to Purgatory. I jumped at the chance and after a little card lettering, Myron McVay, the departments best lettering artist and resident genius, invited me to work for him on a project to design informal typefaces for greeting cards. It was heaven for me. Myron knew a lot about how to design fonts, and he was very generous in mentoring me. He taught me more about lettering and type design than anyone. Ever. Not that there weren’t others to learn from. Myron had somehow arranged to have Hermann Zapf, the world renowned type designer from Germany, come to Hallmark and consult with our tiny type department. So I had the rare opportunity to listen and learn from him for several months over a Kansas City summer. Hermann also designed a Hallmark font or two. Rob Roy Kelly was also in Kansas City at that time. He was teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute and writing his book American Wood Type. He let me spend afternoons in his office pouring over his collection of Wood Type Catalogs. That was the begining of my personal Wood Type Craze. It persists.
I came back to California in 1969. As a free-lance lettering artist in Oakland, I did everything from sign painting to lettering for advertising. Strictly small-time. I lettered for food and furniture and even for an old car. Eventually jobs started getting better. I did a lot of lettering for packaging and book covers. Levi’s posters were high-visability jobs here in the Bay Area, and I managed to get involved in a couple of those. I did some work for rock bands. Not much. Just what showed up. I did lettering for Creedence Clearwater, Taj Mahal, The Doobie Brothers, Kansas, and a few others. By 1971, I was doing lettering and some cartoonish drawings for Rolling Stone magazine, then headquartered in San Francisco. Working for the first Art Director, Robert Kingsbury and then Tony Lane.
I met Roger Black shortly after he became the Art Director at Rolling Stone. Dan Solo, an Oakland typographer, introduced us. Roger hired me to design a series of Rolling Stone typefaces and, also, to redesign the magazine’s logo. I found that working for a publication, designing a custom typeface or a logo, was much more fulfilling than all the other lettering work I’d been doing and, after that, I tried to make it a point to work for publications as much as possible.
In 1990 I put away my pen and ink and went totally digital. I honed my computer skills working part-time at the San Francisco Chronicle, designing fonts. I was also one of the designers of ITC Bodoni. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great designers, font companies and publications.
The work on this web site represents what I do.
Jim Parkinson, 2011.