A portfolio including typefaces named after Bill Gates and Elton John is one that’s hard to ignore. Combine this with expertly designed specimens that are both accomplished and humorous and you’re onto a winner. For the Copenhagen-based designer, Paw Poulsen, the combination of popular culture, typography and print design has helped him define a distinctive aesthetic and tone of voice.
Having started in 2017 with an exchange at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, Paw then returned to his hometown of Copenhagen for the summer before undertaking an internship with Spassky Fischer in Paris. “During the past two months I’ve been an intern at Wrong Studio here in Copenhagen,” he explains. During these internships, Paw got to work a variety of projects, mainly for clients in the cultural fields. These interactions allowed him to develop a love for design, no matter the client, cultural or not. “I know some designers, who use this as their reference for their practice. For me, I don’t really care if it’s an artist or a dentist, as long as the client is cool,” he tells It’s Nice That.
This open-minded approach, based on the pure joy of creating is evident across Paw’s portfolio. Like many, Paw began his artistic career by drawing as a child. Obsessed with Dragon Ball Z and Japanese Manga, he would read the comics and replicate any images that caught his eye. “That slowly developed into a fascination for the more technical aspects,” he explains, “I started doing a lot of Photoshop and through that I discovered typography.”
A student at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, typography is now the basis of Paw’s design practice. “I work almost exclusively with type, either type design or typographic-based compositions,” he explains. In order to find inspiration, however, Paw turns to the wider world of celebrity and culture. “Popular culture is, for me, like the overall design of everyday life,” he explains in reference to his typefaces Bill Font and Elton Font. “When making references to popular culture, for example, Bill Gates, everybody has preconceived opinions they bring to the work. I think this makes the perception stronger.”
Bill Font is a neo-grotesque with a number alternate for specific letters. This system was inspired by leet (or 1337speak), which is also known as leetspeak. Leetspeak is an informal language or code used on the internet in which some letters are often replaced by a number. Elton Font,, on the other hand, was inspired by the analogue tradition of Arabic calligraphy and then evolved into an investigation into the rhythm and contrast of the broad pen. “I had this musical relation to this design, to the extent that I would hum the contrast and spacing,” Paw remarks. The final outcome is an elegant typeface, with high contrast and good rhythm. Paw adds, “just like Elton John, the font is informal, performative and musical.”
With a host of other projects that showcase his adeptness for editorial and print design, Paw’s portfolio strikes the perfect balance between skill and character. His dream is that one day, one of his iconic inspirations will actually make use of their namesake typeface. “I also have an Oprah and Paris Hilton font lying around on my computer,” he teases.
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