WORDS BY CAMERON BAIRD – PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK BOWERS
An After Hours interview with Dave Foster.
DAVE FOSTER IS A QUIET, HUMBLE, mysterious kind of guy, keener for the work to do the talking than to answer questions in our After Hours interview. This makes the task all the more interesting — shining a light on a talented cat who isn’t fussed with the attention, and would happily be doing other things, or polishing one of his many current projects just one more time.
I first got to know Dave Foster’s work via proximity; working together in the same office gives you the bonus of eavesdropping with your eyes. The man is a brilliant typographer, illustrator and graphic designer. More recently, he’s been a hired gun for big brands such as OPTUS, NAB, Coopers, Toyota, Guzman & Gomez and Wolf Blass.
CAMERON BAIRD: In an age of digital products that most people believe should be free, how do you educate people on the value of your work and how it should be treated?
DAVE FOSTER: I think there are people who do appreciate the value of things, even if they are digital. When Napster and the like first started, that was the beginning of when digital products almost became a commodity. But since then, I feel, with how easy it is, and the complete trust there is in throwing a credit card on the internet, more people are willing to pay for stuff. Those people who aren’t willing to pay will always be there. That’s just a reality. But as far as typefaces go, as someone who is going to be selling their fonts, I need to work out a way to show people the process, and how much work goes into it. How I do that?… I don’t know yet, but I have seven years of experience as a graphic designer, which is essentially being a communicator, so if I can’t communicate to people what it is I’m doing, and why, then no-one can. I think there is an increased attraction to watching people explain process, which we see in the popularity of videos where people are doing that.
“…I FEEL, WITH HOW EASY IT IS, AND THE COMPLETE TRUST THERE IS IN THROWING A CREDIT CARD ON THE INTERNET, MORE PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR STUFF.”
How do you treat a type project, and typically how long does one take to complete?
The amount of time it takes is completely dependent on the scope of the project. The typeface that I will be releasing first, Blanco, I started when I was a student and I probably put 1,000 to 1,200 hours into it over the course of a few months. Since then I have completely redrawn it and increased the scope of it. Blanco is now a text typeface with around 1,000 characters. That includes everything you would need for rigorous typesetting, including most languages written in the Latin alphabet.
The other end of that spectrum, for example, might be a custom typeface for a company in Australia, where they don’t need accents or multiple number sets; they might just need a few bits of punctuation, maybe just uppercase. I did a typeface for Coopers, essentially a revival of some type sample they found in their archives of old beer labels, and I just created uppercase and numbers. I did a typeface for Queensland Theatre Company, and that was only uppercase. That’s the spectrum, it can take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 hours.
I understand you are preparing to launch a new online platform for selling typefaces. Tell us a little about this and when we can expect to get our hands on new type goodness?
Yesterday I finished the drawing phase of Blanco, which was big monkey off my back. It’s been years since I started it, and now I have to start kerning it and sending it out to people for mastering and hinting. One of the main holdups [to getting it out there] is the website. Although the designs are done, it’s now about finding a developer who can build what we have envisaged. It has to be custom; fonts aren’t like cracking open a Shopify website to sell t-shirts. What I’m selling is more complicated due to the variables, licensing, the need to deliver the files in a neat way and enable people to manage their licensing. I feel that if I’m expecting people to keep their licensing up to date, I need to make it a simple as possible. So I’m hoping the site will be launched in the second half of this year. I’ve got to get it done — when you stop doing client work, stop taking income from service work, and are working towards a product, you’ve got to hustle. You have to work really hard to make sure you’re able to get it to market. Because otherwise, you’ll have no money left.
Is this the hardest thing to do, because it is your own?
Yeah, it’s hard to let go. It’s my first project and I want it to be good. Typefaces have a longevity that graphic design and lettering work don’t. And once you’ve done that, it’s hard to update it. I did service work to build up capital so I could live while working on Blanco.
Are you a perfectionist?
I think I have a strong tendency to overwork things. But I feel I have a streak in me which is pragmatic. I have no problem finishing client work on time and on budget. It’s when it’s your own project, and you may not have a deadline, that it gets very easy to push it back another month.
Few people probably know this, but you left school at a young age to pursue your dreams in design. What was the reason for this and do you feel it was the only option for you?
When I was 16 I went to a design college open day and I was completely infatuated with it. I was already using Photoshop and looking at design. I knew that was what I wanted to do, but I still spent a better part of a year wondering if I would get bored, if it was the right lifestyle for me, and whether I would need my HSC. I came to the conclusion I could get by without it. So I left school and by the time I was 19 I had my bachelor degree. I then went straight into Design College — thanks to Simon Pemberton [head of Billy Blue College of Design] in 2002, I was able to get in without an HSC. I guess I was very fortunate to know what I wanted to do and to go after it. It was a bit of luck.
What do you do outside of your work, and do you have an After Hours in your own life? Do you have any interests or hobbies that make their way into your work life?
Yeah sure. Recently I have been dividing my work life and personal time [more consciously], because I work from home. So to relax, I play a lot of computer games, which I’ve been getting back into. It’s a really great way to me to unwind.
I also love watching cycling, and getting out to go cycling when I can. It’s good to get into a nice rhythm. You get a nice flow when you don’t get interrupted by cars. I think that cycling has influenced a lot of personal projects, not necessarily a commissioned project. I have worked with Stuart O’Grady, a bit of hero of mine, a stellar cyclist who has won an Olympic gold medal. And so I got the opportunity to work with SO and produce a new identity for his new cycling brand. The company does travelling and tours, all kinds of stuff.
Is that your ideal scenario, mixing a passion with a design project?
Yeah, it always gives you good results. I love cycling. I did a project where every day of the Tour de France, I drew the stage name as an illustration. They were sketches of potential typefaces. I sat down while they were racing and drew out the letters; now I have 21 ideas for typefaces. I’m not just a one-trick pony! It’s about exploring styles and getting comfortable with having to put something out quickly. END