Pablo Medina is a East Village-based graphic and type designer with a keen interest in the culture and environments that surround us. Over the past 20 years, he’s explored the many contexts that define us. In this month’s interview, he tells us about his creative and personal process, vernacular lettering, what influences he used as inspiration for his latest typeface, meditation, and growing up in the D.C. punk scene.
Your newest typeface, Dekalb, is inspired by vernacular lettering in North Brooklyn. How different was that process of designing for you? Or do you typically look to your surroundings for project ideas?
I’ve been fascinated with vernacular letterforms for the better part of two decades. The first three fonts I ever designed in 1996, Vitrina, Cuba, and North Bergen, were inspired by letterforms that I photographed in a Latin American neighborhood in New Jersey called Union City.
Dekalb had a similar process. I photographed a ton of signage and murals in Bushwick and let those photographs inform the design. This time around, it was a bit different since I was also designing Sneaker News magazine. We were designing and typesetting Dekalb into the magazine as it was being created, on the fly.
Dekalb is available through PSY/OPS Type Foundry.
I noticed on your site that you feature the cap and lowercase X in your previews for your typefaces… which are notoriously difficult letters to draw! Does your choice in using them align to some preference for the tricky buggers?
I grew up in the Washington DC punk scene. The symbol of the DC scene was three Xs with two lines underneath. Ever since I was a bratty punk kid, I’ve had an affinity for the X.
The D.C. punk scene?! Tell us everything. Did you ever make flyers or anything? Have a favorite band logo from that era?
At the ripe age of 16, I dove headfirst (literally!) into the DC scene. For me, that scene was this punk rock utopia of music, creativity, ethics, and activism. There was a record store on M street called Smash! where I bought the Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks F#%K Off EP, which came in this great clear sleeve packaging and included an arm band with a crossed-out nazi symbol.
When you bought a punk rock album you immediately became a participant in the scene, since they almost always came with tons of extra goodies, like stickers, posters, and flyers. Because the DC scene was founded on the DIY principle, (insert history of Dischord Records here), publishing my own fanzine felt totally accessible. In high school, we printed four issues of ‘Read This Zine,’ which was my gateway into graphic design.
At Pratt, I joined the band The Deviators and we printed tons of flyers to promote our shows. We would stay in the screen-printing lab until the wee hours printing t-shirts for our tour. The smell of emulsion will forever be etched into my memory.
AWESOME. So tell us a bit about your day-to-day now. How much of it is developing your own typefaces versus doing client work?
Depends on how much money I have in the bank. If my savings account is looking healthy, I’ll stay indie. If I’m broke, I go back to client work. Usually, I like the independent stuff better, but I designed a brand typeface for ESPN called Playoff Pro which I’m really proud of.
A little birdie told me you have embraced meditation. How does that inform your creative practice?
Most of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. As remedies, I tried so many things like weed, which just increased my introverted-ness, martinis (those were fun), and casual sex, which never felt very casual. It only took 40 years for me to discover that meditation could help me get to the root of my struggles. I practice a type of meditation called Vipassana every morning and it feels like I’m giving a deep tissue massage to my brain. The meditation creates a clarity that allows for creative portals to open. It helps me dance in the space between thoughts, which is where creativity flourishes.
A mural that I designed and painted with Nolan Jones in San Francisco’s Mission District. See the timelapse video here.