Amsterdam-based print designer and typographer Jan-Pieter Karper was initially bored and frustrated by his higher educational graphic design-oriented studies. It wasn’t until he was approached by a poet asking him to make a flyer with a hand-made aesthetic and Letraset letter transfers that he realised graphic design didn’t have to be confined to the abstract digital realm – he could use his hands to make things too. As he tells it: “That was the very moment that I became very interested in graphic design, in typography, in materiality and in a physical way of designing, making and printing. I think that this physical approach was an eye-opener for me, and it is, in a way, still important.”
Born on the Netherlandic island of Terschelling, Jan-Pieter studied in Utrecht and then moved to Amsterdam, where his practice is now based. Staying true to his proclivities for print as a physical medium, he says: “It’s the printing that excites me most of all. I worked for years in a screen printing studio and also ran a Risograph studio for a while. Just to be immersed in printing and understanding these techniques and possibilities made me very enthusiastic. I like the idea that a blank sheet of paper has a sort of meaninglessness, but simply by printing on it, it changes into an object with a specific value. I still print a lot of the designs I make myself, and if not I try to be as much involved in the process as possible.”
Speaking of his design aesthetic and approach, Jan-Pieter states: “I’m not sure I have a specific style. My work is mostly typographical and colourful. I recently got a new website which is basically an open archive with all my work from 2012 onwards, and seeing all my work together I must admit that colour plays an important role. I don’t have a specific way of working, although I always think in terms of designing print work. If I design exhibitions, animations or websites, I always start in Indesign on a ‘page’, thinking about layers, page-size, materiality and colour mixing. I’m really not good in other programmes, to be honest. I’m also a bit minimal in what I add to a design. I mostly start by rearranging the given content (texts, photographs) and carefully pick a typeface, type size and colour. Preferably, I design as little as possible – if the content is good then most of the times it doesn’t really need a more than a little push.”
When it comes to commercial work, Jan-Pieter adheres to a strict ethos of only collaborating with institutions, figures and initiatives that uphold creative and cultural values. “I only work for cultural clients like for galleries, museums and artists. If I work for a client, we both work together on a design so that it feels more like a collaboration. Recently I’ve been working more for artists, which is already way more collaborative than working for a ‘client’. It’s more one to one, more direct, and that’s something I really like.”
One such project involved designing Dutch conceptual artist Semâ Bekirović’s exhibition Reading by Osmosis, at Glazen Huis. As Jan-Pieter describes it, this was “an exhibition where nature interprets men. For this exhibition, we only knew at the very end which objects we wanted to exhibit. As a response to this last minute way of making an exhibition, I decided to make sticker letters in advance for all the works so we could decide on the last day what and what not to exhibit.”
Another favourite collaboration of his has been with AG, for whom he designed a new visual identity. He says: “The gallery’s announcement of exhibitions is done using little typographical animations. For the new identity, I introduced a rule of using colours, so that every announcement is done in a combination of only two colours, varying according to the corresponding exhibitions.”
Jan-Pieter also tells us a bit about his influences and where he sources inspiration for his design work: “Visually, I’m very often inspired by everyday objects. Like a cup with exactly the right dimensions, a stool in a nice shade of green, certain kinds of cardboard, the texture of mandarin peel. I also get inspired by conceptual artists like Martin Creed, Wim Schippers, Semâ Bekirović, or Dutch conceptual comedian Micha Wertheim. And I’m very inspired by graphic designers Karel Martens and Jan Vermeulen, who made the book-covers for the Dutch writer Jan Wolkers.”
This emphasis on materiality informs every aspect of Jan-Pieter’s work, and it’s clear from his enthusiasm for an immersion in the Netherlands’ print scene that his reason for becoming interested in graphic design in the first place is still very much at the centre of his practice. He has a boundless curiosity for all things print, citing his admiration of art publishers like Fw:books, and referencing the enjoyment he gets out of perusing second-hand bookshops for treasures like his most recent find, a series of books designed by influential Dutch graphic designer Jan van Toorn. He’s also involved with printing studios like Kapitaal in Utrecht which facilitates and promotes young artists. As he says: “places like this, which motivate you to make things, are very important”.