Q&A Ivan Castro

On 1 June 2024, the Now24 conference will take place in Paris. On that day, more than a dozen graphic design lecturers, art directors and type designers are expected. Join to attend talks by international speakers around graphic design, web design, motion design, publishing, visual identity, communication and type design. If not already done, register now to take advantage of the best rates.

It seemed interesting to us to make you discover the profiles of our guests. Discover Ivan Castro’s interview and register his Workshop Nº 20 Lettering in graphic design with your Now24 ticket!

Biography Ivan Castro is a graphic designer based in Barcelona, Spain, who specializes in calligraphy, lettering, and typography. His work involves everything from advertising to editorial, and from packaging to logo design and gig posters. He has been working in the field for 20 years, and has been teaching calligraphy and lettering for about 20 years in the main design schools in Barcelona, such as Elisava, BAU or Barcelona Caligrafia, a school that co-directs with Oriol Miró. He’s the author of The ABC of Custom Lettering, Lettering to the Max, and two lettering online courses in the Spanish platform Domestika.


What is your favorite way to start a day?

Ivan Castro I start my day by walking my daughter to school, which makes me get to the street quite early in the morning. After that, I brew some nice coffee and check email and social media. Pretty standard. And when I have procrastinated enough, I get ready to start with the work scheduled for that day. 

Do you prefer a permanent/dedicated workspace, separate from home or at home?

Ivan Castro Definitely at home. I can’t work in any other place. My home inspires me; it’s where I have my stuff, my library, my kitchen, or my guitar for a quick break. When I have had to work in other places, I have trouble focusing.

Have your work habits changed notably as a result of the pandemic?

Ivan Castro Definitely yes. Before COVID, I had a quite steady workflow. Since then, it’s been quite unpredictable. I don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic, but in my case, it’s like that. It can be two weeks without a work email, and suddenly everyone gets crazy. At the beginning, it was quite scary, but then I got used to it and try to make the most of the valleys.

“I try not to get attached to any particular style and to try the most appropriate solution for every single project.”
– Ivan Castro

What do you do to evade yourself from work? Do you practice any sports?

Ivan Castro I’m not a sportsman at all. I mean, I wish, but my physical abilities are quite limited to doing some simple workout in the morning (before my morning school walk). But I’m a lot into music. I play in a band and have a personal project called The Cheese Bandit (check Spotify; my first single dropped a few weeks ago!) where I compose, play, record, produce, and everything, and it’s super fun because it’s a creative challenge in a field where I’m a beginner and learn a lot of things very fast!

What is the difference between calligraphy, lettering, and type design?

Ivan Castro We associate calligraphy with the act of writing. We use a writing tool, usually a model that can be historical or contemporary, and execute that style. Our ability with the hands is very important here. When doing lettering, we think about drawing with a tool that can be either a pencil or Adobe Illustrator. Somehow, we’re more free to do the letterforms we have in mind because we’re not limited by the style and/or the writing tool. And most important, our ability with our hands is not as important as our brain/eye connections. Calligraphy relates to the hand, lettering to the brain.
Regarding type design, the focus here is not as much on the letter forms as on the system. What we are doing is designing a system of signs that work well together. We can approach these letter forms from different points of view, but the most important thing here is the whole. You know, I could be talking about this particular topic for three days, but we don’t want anyone to close this window in boredom!

What is your favorite lettering style?

Ivan Castro It is difficult to say. I try not to get attached to any particular style and to try the most appropriate solution for every single project. But personally, I have a thing with mid-century styles such as certain brush scripts, funky modern romans, and sans serifs and interlocks.

How do you see the future of the lettering?

Ivan Castro It is difficult to say. At least in the final forms and formats. Now there’s a lot of tech going on: IA, Apple Vision, you name it. That’s a revolution in all visual things, including typography. But the thing is that the basics of the letters themselves are not changing. The Romans set very specific rules two thousand years ago, and for the most essential things, they haven’t changed. So, there’s going to be new things in how we read and generate letterforms, but the structures are already done.

Do you remember when you decided to pursue your career in design?

Ivan Castro I was a teenager with a lot of interest in the arts in general and comic books in particular. But to be honest, I wasn’t very talented with the pencils, so I was not very confident in being a successful author. I decided to invest my artistic inclination towards something that was a bit more practical and that didn’t require as much drawing skills; that’s how I got into industrial design and later on graphics.

When you started, who were the teachers, mentors or professionals who had the most impact on you?

Ivan Castro When I studied industrial design at EINA in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to have near design gods such as André Ricard and Miguel Milá. I learned from them the importance of simple solutions to complex problems. Also, I studied calligraphy with Keith Adams, who taught me not only how to write letters but also the importance of calligraphy for type design and lettering and how to apply my knowledge of the history of letter forms. And when I studied graphic design, I discovered people who took popular mid-century graphics to a more contemporary language, such as House Industries, Ryan Hughes, or Art Chantry.

During your creative process, do you sketch–draw on paper before moving on to the digital workflow?

Ivan Castro Actually, in my case, the question would be, “Do you use a computer to finish your analogic workflow?”. I ALWAYS start with paper; I don’t even own an iPad. I use, on a daily basis, pencils, brushes, markers, etc. Sometimes I have to vector certain works; sometimes I use a Cintiq, but I always start by scratching a pencil on paper.

“Focus on what you want to achieve and go for it; ask people for help if you need it; try to incorporate lettering into your daily projects as one more design tool.”
– Ivan Castro

Do you have words of wisdom for graphic designer, art director or type designer who would like to improve their lettering skills?

Ivan Castro There are no secrets; it’s all about working your ass off. Focus on what you want to achieve and go for it; ask people for help if you need it; try to incorporate lettering into your daily projects as one more design tool; and suddenly you’ll realize that every day it gets easier to get lettering projects. Just do the thing.

What will be the message you would like to convey at Now24?

Ivan Castro We’ll learn how to build a lettering piece with a script structure. For that, we’ll also do some calligraphy to understand where the script forms come from in terms of structure, stroke modulation, weight, proportions, and how to be creative in controlling these factors.

What other speaker wouldn’t you want to miss at Now24?

Ivan Castro I would say Paul Shaw because of his impressive work on calligraphy history, but to tell you the truth, I’m more eager to see Marta Cerdà because we’re looongtime friends but haven’t met in ages!

Thank you very much, Ivan Castro!

– Interview by Jean-Baptiste Pernette

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