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Where Do You Find Inspiration?

A BKB Interview with Font Man, Jordan Bell

The holiday season is upon us, which means everything has just a little bit more sparkle. The open-air markets, the decked-out trees, the storefront displays on Fifth Avenue and the Magnificent Mile… it’s all a magical spectacle of merriment and beauty. But for designers, every day is like Christmas. Creative minds are always in awe of their surroundings; finding inspiration everywhere, from neon signs, to graveyards (more on that later), to nature. There’s always a curve, a color, or a movement that sparks an idea.

We wanted to understand and share more behind this inspiration. So we hooked up with Jordan Bell, BKB member and type designer at NYC’s legendary Hoefler & Co., to learn about where his creative influences stem from. (Wondering why you know the name, Hoefler & Co.? They’re the masterminds behind Gotham, one of the most widely used and loved fonts of our generation. NBD.)

Oh, and because it’s the season of giving, the result of this meetup is a fab new item in our artist collab series. Check it out on the BKB retail site. Happy holidays to you!

Jordan, thank you for taking the time to chat! First up: How did you get started with your art, and how long have you been at it?

I’ve been interested in type design ever since college. I started following a few type-focused designers on Twitter and they pointed me to a few good books and other resources that introduced me to the craft. I also learned about a school that I would eventually attend that formally taught me type design (Reading University; Reading, England). After my masters, I moved to NYC and started at Hoefler & Co., which is where I’ve been now for 5 years. Time seriously flies, y’all!

What influences your work and inspires you to get creative?

Lettering anywhere and everywhere: hand-painted storefronts, old playbills, historic markers, peeling vinyl signage, beer labels, street signs, watch dials, fading murals, store cards, record covers, neon adverts, protest signs, you name it! There’s an endless supply of great vernacular lettering in NYC.

I am also inspired by type specimens from foundries past and present. So many interesting decisions that I might not have made, but definitely enjoy.

I can’t work without music either!

If you are interested in a specific art/design subject, pursue it recreationally! …practicing and experimenting helps you grow exponentially — like climbing, I reckon.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve found inspiration?

I think most people would agree that going to a cemetery to find inspiration is quite mad, but for a designer looking for interesting lettering and numerals, it’s perfect. I live close to Green-Wood Cemetery and it’s a spectacular place to walk around, check out some typographic oddities, and believe it or not, relax!

If you had to pick a typeface that represents your personality, what would it be?

Love this question. I developed a typeface at the MATD that I really tried to put my soul into called “Odelay” and at H&Co., we created a family of types called “Inkwell” that I feel captured a lot of my personality as well. But maybe it’s a cop-out to answer with only fonts I’ve made.

I’ve always thought Eames Century Modern by Erik van Blockland has a quirky, yet serious quality that has always been attractive to me. “Obviously“ by James Edmonson is a serious contender as well. Too many to choose from!

How did you get started climbing, and what brought you to BKB?

My first climbing experience probably came when I was very young and on vacation in Colorado with my family. We went to an outdoor sports store in Estes Park, and one of the employees asked if I’d like to climb the indoor rock wall. I think my mother had to peel me from the wall eventually.

Many years passed, but last Thanksgiving, some friends who were BKB members asked if I’d like to go [climb] with them to burn off the turkey and stuffing. I happily obliged and my interest in climbing was reignited.

Outside the gym, where is your favorite adventure spot?

My wife Emily and I recently got back from Acadia National Park and had a blast. The very exposed cliff-side hikes and climbing were amazing and something that neither of us had experienced before. We already want to go back! We also really enjoy long weekends in Vermont or basically anywhere we can escape this crazy city, breathe some fresh air, and go on a hike with our pup.

Your type design is featured on BKB retail, and we’re so stoked. Can you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind this idea?

Being a massive fan of lettering and calligraphy, I am constantly (and subconsciously) pushing my type design in that direction. However, I get really excited when there is some unforeseen twist too. So, in this piece, I’ve drawn contrasted condensed forms, but slanted and then backslanted them as well. Who knows, maybe there’s a future font there. I’ve placed that over some abstracted geometric volumes and holds. I hope you guys dig it!

Do you have any upcoming goals / plans for your artwork?

No specific goals besides developing more fun typefaces and releasing them. But I do enjoy extra lettering/graphic design projects and leading workshops outside the office. Especially when they are for companies that my wife and I support – like Brooklyn Boulders. That being said, I’d love to design an album cover for a favorite musician or beer labels for a brewery if the opportunity ever presented itself!

Do you have any advice / insight for other artists out there working on their craft?

If you are interested in a specific art/design subject, pursue it recreationally! Even if it’s as weird and arcane as type design, practicing and experimenting helps you grow exponentially — like climbing, I reckon. Also, surround yourself with like-minded individuals that will push and inspire you. However, I am not going to advocate for the workaholic lifestyle. Time for rest, contemplation, and review are massively underrated and we should all try to find a nice balance in our lives. Take care of yourself!

And lastly… a BKB classic: What’s one weird fact about you?

As if being super into fonts isn’t weird enough!? I collect beer labels and post them on an alternate Instagram account called @Label_Craft. I have over 200 unique labels and they’re really starting to pile up!

Jordan loves to connect with fellow climbers and font fans online and (gasp!) in person! Reach out to him on Twitter (@JordanTBell) or Instagram (@jordanbelafonte).

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