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Highlights of a lifelong obsession with letterforms with Jim Parkinson

Ralf Herrmann

This talk took place in the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library on February 15, 2017 as part of Type@Cooper West's Letterform Lecture Series. This recording is made possible by Adobe Typekit.

My name is Jim Parkinson. I’m a lettering artist, logo designer, font designer and painter. In 1945, when I was a child in Richmond, California, I met my first lettering artist. His name was Abraham Lincoln Paulsen, and he lived across the alley from us. His studio was an extra room in his house and, on many afternoons, I would sit and watch him work. I was enchanted and wanted to be a lettering artist before I even started learning the alphabet. That was seventy years ago.
I have been a professional lettering artist, puzzling over the alphabet for over fifty years, I had no real life plan, I just lurched from job to job. Whoever wanted some lettering. I have had some disappointments and successes. I have also had some very good luck, and, quite by accident, bumped into just the right lettering people at exactly the right times in my life. Today l spend most of my time designing fonts and logos and making paintings. 
After all these years, it would be crazy if I didn't have a few stories to tell … wouldn’t it?

Jim Parkinson has been lettering and designing typefaces all his life. At least it seems that way. In the 1960s, he did greeting card lettering for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. Later, back in Oakland, as a freelancer, he did lettering for just about everything including sign painting, lettering for packaging, book covers, editorial lettering, drum heads for bands, posters, movie titles, etc. In the 1970s, he designed the logo for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. 

Today, he specializes in designing typefaces and typographic logos. He was one of the designers of ITC Bodoni and he drew Parkinson Electra for Linotype. Jim has designed custom fonts for newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The National Post. He has also designed dozens of retail fonts. Many of them are released by his one-person company, Parkinson Type Design. Other font designs have been published by Adobe, Monotype, FontShop, Linotype, The Font Bureau, and ITC. His typographic logos appear on the covers of many magazines and newspapers, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Esquire, InStyle, El Grafico, Men's Journal, Texas Monthly, Variety, The Detroit Free Press, Excelsior, The Los Angeles Times, and The National Post.

Jim loves lettering. It keeps him out of trouble.

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