Joan Quirós is a graphic designer who specializes in custom lettering and calligraphy, and currently lives and works in Valencia, Spain. Over the last three years, I’ve kept a vigilant eye on Joan’s work as he grew into the formidable calligrapher that he is today. Luckily, he agreed to speak with me about his journey so that I may share it with you. You can find Joan and his work on his site, at www.joanquiros.com, or on Instagram at instagram.com/joanquiros.
David: Hey Joan! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. I’m a huge fan of your Roman text blocks and your #sketchbook series. I think we also both love horchata.
Joan Quiros: Hey David! Thanks to you for this opportunity, I’ve been following your work for a while as well, I really love your engrossers script!
I enjoy drinking horchata, especially during the hot summers we have here in Spain. I usually drink the Valencian recipe, made of tigernuts, sugar and water.
You got started by a passion for underground culture and music. Specifically punk, right? Can you explain how and when that began to translate into letters? (Specific bands, styles, songs, festivals, shows, tours, etc.)
JQ: Yes, actually my love for letterforms come from my days as a graffiti writer. Meanwhile, I discovered punk music during my teenage years. Then, graffiti motivated me to study graphic design, and on the first year of my degree, I studied the Dadá movement. Oh, man! It was mind blowing, they were the first punks! I was amazed with the way they were using typography and how expressive their work was.
My favorite American punk band is Rancid. I really love their lyrics and their sound, how they mix powerful punk sounds with reggae, ska and Jamaican sounds. As the years went by I got interested in hardcore music, I especially like the old school bands, like Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Gorilla Biscuits. Their lyrics about self worth, PMA, and strength has helped and inspired me to overcome difficult moments and situations.
I think I first found you on Dribbble back in the day, before I even had an Instagram account. How long had you been sharing your work online, and do you feel like you’ve hit your stride with the community on IG do you still use Dribbble?
JQ: I started sharing my work online the first day I started practicing calligraphy, especially on Instagram and Facebook. Honestly, I’ve always had better engagement on IG. Dribbble is a social platform focused on showing your work in progress and, as long I’m working with clients who want to keep the project hidden until its launch, I can’t publish much content on that platform.
I find IG more suitable for uploading a mix of spontaneous content and serious work, especially now that they’ve implemented IG Stories. I think it’s a great way to show your process and your daily routine at the studio.
Back in the 90’s, when you were first getting started with your calligraphy, where there dreams that you had for yourself that are different than the ones you have today? Who were your lettering heroes? (have any samples of their work?)
JQ: Well, I actually I started in 1998 doing tags on paper, trying to imitate the letterforms and the ligatures I was seeing on the streets of Valencia. I think it’s a kind of writing but it has nothing to do with the vision I have of calligraphy nowadays. On those years my biggest goals were painting on the walls as much as I could during the week, haha! My heroes then were the members of the Barcelonian TSK crew (Vino, Rocky, Blue).
On the other hand, I remember when I discovered Oriol Miro’s work on Flickr back in 2009. I really admired his work to such a degree that I didn’t had the guts to grab a pen and try to imitate those letterforms, I felt totally overwhelmed.
Looking at your work, it seems like there was a point around October of last year that you decided to start pursuing formal calligraphy. Was that a decision made out of passion, curiosity, or commercial interest? How did you decide that Foundational would be a good kicking off point?
JQ: Thanks so much for noticing that! I would say it’s made out of a mixture of both passion and curiosity. I started studying the work and the legacy of Edward Johnston right after attending a Carolingian hand workshop with Ivan Castro here in Valencia. I was very interested in learning that script, up to the point that I came on purpose from London (I still was living there) to attend that course. I moved back to Spain three months after and I was asked to teach a calligraphy workshop to the students of a master in graphic design in November. I decided to teach them Foundational and Humanistic script in order to teach them the basic principles of typography (proportions, structure and spacing) and its origins. Since then, I’ve been practicing calligraphy in a more formal way, especially paying attention to letterspace and text as a whole.
What is your favorite script to practice (I expect Romans?) Why? What opportunity do you see for that specific style and how are you excited about sharing it with the world?
JQ: Wow, this is a tough one! I find it extremely difficult to choose one script as my favourite, but it’s true that I’d stick to Romans since I attended a course with Oriol Miró last March. I find mastering Roman capitals very challenging. In my opinion, it’s the most difficult script in the world due to its simplicity and the execution of its ductus. I’d say that you can judge a calligrapher by the quality of her/his Roman capitals (ok, this is a little bit exaggerated), but I can count with the fingers of my right hand the number of calligraphers who actually master Roman capitals. I’m amazed how much beauty and complexity can be contained in such simple forms.
From a thematic standpoint, what is your favorite thing to write about?
JQ: Basically, I like to write texts which have some meaning for me. I don’t like to take random motivational quotes from a Pinterest boards or anything like that. I usually take fragments from books or movies I like or quotes by calligraphers, type designers, artists or musicians I admire. I don’t have an specific theme to write about but I have to empathise with the content I’m writing at that moment. If I don’t find a proper text or a quote and I need to practice, I usually do alphabets, pangrams or just I fill a page with dummy text.
Even though English isn’t your first language, you still produce a lot of English work. Is that self initiated, or a commercial decision? What are some of the frustrations that come with working in a foreign language?
JQ: I’d say that I started creating content in English by a natural way. I just wanted to have the opportunity to communicate with people from all around the world. English is the official language of the Internet, so if you don’t know how to speak and write it, you’re missing out lots of useful content and the opportunity to create interesting connections with other professionals or colleagues.
Regarding frustrations, I’ve had some difficult moments related to language in my professional life. I lived in London for a year and a half and, during that time, I did calligraphy and lettering for some advertising agencies. Sometimes, the feedback with those agencies was by phone, and there were talking art directors and account managers at the same time with a hands-free device. That was a real challenge for me and, fortunately, I’ve improved my listening since then.
What is the hardest part about being a freelance calligrapher? What’s a challenge you struggle with regularly?
JQ: One of the challenges I struggle with is being as much productive as I can, I’m constantly adjusting my working method and I’m trying to avoid as much distractions as I can, like checking the email, my iPhone, and social media. Also, getting paid from some clients is a struggle, but, as I said, I’m changing the way I work in order to avoid those kind of situations.
If you could have any dream gig, what would it be, and who would it be for? Furthermore, what are you doing to make that dream a reality?
JQ: One of my biggest dreams would be to collaborate with one of my favourite punk bands. For achieving that, I’m trying to work as hard as I can each day in order to improve the quality of my work and to grow as a professional.
What does your writing setup look like? Do you listen to Anti Flag really loud and wear lots of shirts with the sleeves ripped off?
JQ: Actually, most of the shirts I have are from punk and hardcore bands, so it’s quite easy to see me wearing that kind of outfit (no joking), but no punk rock is allowed while I’m doing calligraphy. I need to have all my focus on the work I’m doing on that moment, but everything changes when I’m doing lettering, then is when I need the power of punk music!
I think that my writing setup has nothing special, but I mostly have traditional pens and brushes. I really love the touch of wooden pen holders, the flexibility of a good calligraphy nib and writing with natural inks (in spite of using liquid watercolours and other types of inks). I’m not so much into plastic pens or markers like Pilot Parallel, it feels like writing with a toy to me.
My workspace is quite simple too, I just have three drawers and two table tops from Ikea, one dedicated to my digital work (an iMac and a Wacom Intuos Pro), and the other one dedicated to do calligraphy and sketching lettering.
What interests do you pursue outside of actual calligraphy that you feel inform your work? How do they benefit what you put down on the page?
JQ: While I was studying graphic design, I got into photography, I really was very active and I used to take my camera with me everywhere. Photography taught me patience (waiting for the perfect time to press the shutter button and to respect the time developing the film) and composition, so I think both aspects have been useful for my calligraphy work.
What are your thoughts on diet and exercise as a part of calligraphy (any eating restrictions?)
JQ: Before moving to London, I used to go to the gym four days a week, but then, I stopped doing exercise. I came back to Valencia just a year ago, and thought that would be great to start that routine again, but I haven’t done it yet, haha! I have to make time to get my body active again, it’s my most important tool and I have to take care of it, specially now that I’m working at home, spending the most part of the day sitting in front of my desk.
Regarding the diet, I decided to stop drinking alcohol three years ago, and now I’m trying to reduce the amount of meat and sugar on my diet. Also, I’d like to reduce my daily dose of caffeine (now I’m drinking two coffees a day), but I really love coffee.
How and when did you start to get into teaching calligraphy? Was there any hesitation on your part when considering if you wanted to become a teacher?
JQ: I started teaching calligraphy a couple of years ago. I was asked to teach a short calligraphy course, so decided to do a pointed brush calligraphy workshop. I was hesitant at the beginning, because I see teaching as a serious thing, people are investing their money to receive knowledge, and that knowledge has to have a solid base, so then I stopped to teach during a year and a half (the time I lived in London). During this hiatus, I improved my skills and studied different scripts, so I can say that was last year when I started teaching with confidence. Also, I’m trying to be selective with the kind of workshops I teach, I prefer doing just a few workshops a year but well organised than doing a bunch of messy workshops.
I think it’s really important to consider what legacy we leave behind with our work. If you were to have a chance to say one last thing to the world with your work, what would it be?
JQ: Fight for achieving the way of life you’re pursuing. It takes courage, hard work and sacrifice, but it’s worth it.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to talk with me about all of this, Joan, I really appreciate it! It’s inspiring to see someone like you who has a background in something as informal as graffiti come all the way to writing all of the various hands with the skill that you do. I know that I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on your IG stories for daily updates from your studio, and my fingers crossed that you make it to the Western US sometime soon. I’d definitely love to study with you some day!
Joan Quirós is a graphic designer who specializes in custom lettering and calligraphy, and currently lives and works in Valencia, Spain. Over the last three years, I’ve kept a vigilant eye on Joan’s work as he grew into the formidable calligrapher that he is today. You can find Joan and his work on his site, at www.joanquiros.com, or on Instagram at instagram.com/joanquiros.