Headshot of Grendl Löfkvist

Grendl Löfkvist

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

I remember it well! It was one of those cartridge pens, like a Sheaffer or something similar. I thought that cartridge thingy was so cool. I was in seventh grade, and we had a calligraphy workshop at school. Amazing! We learned italic! I loved it and I still have some of my masterpieces from that time, and, you know, they weren’t half bad, considering I was, what, 12 years old, and had never done calligraphy before. I wrote my Dad a Fathers’ Day card, which he must’ve appreciated, since he didn’t throw it out. I still have it!

What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?

Uff da! It’s when Ward Dunham railed, “Blackletter is a WAR between black and white. White must NEVER be allowed to win, goddamnit!” (This may not be verbatim, but you get the drift.)

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

It’s fun! And challenging. And I love Gothic Textura. It’s so powerful, beautiful, spiky, menacing, dark, and lovely, all at the same time.

I certainly don’t do calligraphy every day. It’s something I enjoy, but I gotta keep up my day job too. I usually do calligraphy when I can dedicate a block of time to it, and when I have a specific project, like my Day of the Dead cards, for instance. 

What is your dream project?

I actually got to do my dream project! In 2014, the SF Center for the Book asked me to make a 3’ x 3’ linocut for their Roadworks steamroller festival. I did a huge version of “Le Génie du Mal” (The Lucifer of Liège), titled “Ni Dieu Ni Maître,” with the bold Emma Goldman quotation emblazoned, “We must break the fetters that have chained us to the gates of heaven and hell”, and it turned out so beautifully. I couldn’t be happier! 

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

I read up! There’s lots of literature out there, plus, I work at Letterform Archive, which has a wealth of historical examples in addition to heaps of excellent reference books. I like to see a variety of hands, learn the ductus, pen angle(s), etc. and learn who typically used the script and why!

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

John Heartfield, Hieronymus Bosch, Sue Coe.

What do you aim to say with your work?

I have two imprints, Cloven Hoof Press and Red Star Agitprop. The first showcases my gothic, Satanic, Metalhead side, and the second, my anticapitalist, atheist, Anarcho-Syndicalist, leftist side.

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

I like meeting people! And sharing skills and projects that I enjoy. I’m very hands on, I think that’s the best way to learn, through muscle memory. But I also share the history of whatever I’m teaching as well, so people learn the sociopolitical and cultural context, which is super important. 

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

I roller skate (quads), ride my bike, and practice my recorder! Oh, also, I listen to Metal, and indulge in SATANIC RITES! Bwa ha ha!

Printed work by Grendl Löfkvist

What jobs have you done besides being an artist?

Some good ones: In college, I worked at the East Bay Vivarium, a reptile store. I got to meet all kinds of serpents, lizards, tarantulas, toads, you name it. And the reptiles were cool too (bada boom). And today, I’m Education Director at Letterform Archive! So I get to talk to all kinds of lettering and type practitioners, fans, historians, researchers, etc. It’s a dream. 

Non-letterers often see Blackletter as the style of Fascism, and yet you are using it to fight against fascism. How does your use of Blackletter in your art make your message stronger?

Well, unfortunately, I don’t have any Blackletter wood type, and that’s what I use for my letterpress printed political posters, so that limits what I can do. 

I did use some Blackletter lead type in a pro-choice card I did recently, responding to events in Texas. “ABORT THE PATRIARCHY.” The word “PATRIARCHY” was set in Blackletter, hinting at the antiquity and obsolescence of that mode of thinking. 

And I have used Blackletter type in some antifascist designs, for instance, I used the typeface “Element” which has its origins in Hitler’s Germany, in a poster, hinting at similarities to Trump’s presidency. 

Beyond the obvious words, how doesn’t your social activism influence your art?

I guess my gothic imprint, Cloven Hoof Press, isn’t particularly political. Instead, it’s super spooky, featuring skulls, bats, black cats, pentagrams, inverted crosses, candles, Luciferian incantations… all the trappings of a lifelong Metalhead!