Carl Rohrs Headshot

Carl Rohrs

When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?


Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?

It’s just fascinating. That every single stroke is an opportunity to get lost in a graceful or powerful expression, but then it combines with subsequent strokes for even more power and grace, and continues to build into a complex composition of visual fascination — and on top of that visual delight is pure communication itself. It really is a magical invention — an unending variety of beauty that can record and carry — throughout time — any thought that words express.

What is your dream job?

Woodcut printmaker in 19th century Japan, sign painter in 1910s & 20s Chicago, book jacket designer in 1940s NY, type designer in Europe in the ‘50s, psychedelic poster artist in late ‘60s SF.

What research do you do when learning or starting something new? i.e. a new style or new project.

As much as I possibly can in the time allowed — it might be the best part of the job, especially if travel or the opportunity to get close to the source is involved. I’ve been so continuously fascinated in being editor for Alphabet at the wonders of the deeper stories behind every subject tackled for the journal. So now, I get to just pick a topic or person whose work is intriguing and KNOW that there is a story waiting that is full of surprises. The job gives me an excuse to spend the time digging for those surprises. It’s a wonderful thing.

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

Buster Keaton, Vincent Van Gogh, and Issac et Nora, artists who seem to be innocents, in very different ways, but committed to their work.

What do you aim to say with your work?

I don’t know that I have that much to say, but I love to try to make it look good.

Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?

Sorta can’t help it. I have Holy-Crap-Look-At-This Syndrome.

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

Reading, music, movies.

What jobs have you done besides being an artist?

I loved working in a record store, it was in Walnut Creek — besides the music, I got to go nuts on the displays. I was an Ice Cream Man in Pleasanton, and built ice skating rinks in Colorado and California. And I know it’s crazy, but I look back fondly on my first job as a dishwasher in a little diner in Illinois.

How has your background as a sign painter influenced your lettering work?

I like bold work, and at this point I don’t know if that trait attracted me to sign painting, or if sign painting made me like bold work, but I do equate the value of both in my loud cartoony calligraphy.

You seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of significant lettering artists through the ages; if you could share a dinner with only three of them, who would you choose?

The head guy on the Trajan Inscription, Hokusai, and Hans Thaddeus Hoyer. I choose these three because there is more mystery in their history and process than in others of equal fascination to me.