Interview - Gary Godby

· By Ilham Herry

Interview - Gary Godby


Proudly introducing you another contributor to our beloved Ephemera Fonts, the one and only Gary Godby.

Living life as a Lettering Artist since 1970 and never stop loving the industry until today. Gary Godby specialized in Glass Gilding and Sign Painting in this creative industry, that took him to the one of everybody's dream job like working with Disney.

We are going deep with this interview with him, how he survive,, and what makes him never stop learning until today.

Sit back, relax, and be prepared for the journey of Gary Godby's interview with Ephemera Fonts.

  • You started to work as a Lettering Artist since the 70’s era, how did it feel back in the day?

In the early 70’s, you didn’t have the luxury of computers, plotters or other electronic devices to do your sign layouts for you. For exam- ple: Imagine laying out a 18” x 24” ‘For sale by owner sign’ by character, (drawn in pencil) at a time! That’s where the study of letter-forms came in handy.

Apprenticeship-wise, I began formal introduction into hand-lettering, layout, patterns, gold-leaf application on glass and surface-gild- ing techniques, tools, etc.

Practice was a heavy part of my day. Constant hand-lettering drills on newspaper. Letter formation studies were assigned through books and testing and was a weekly occurrence. Layouts progressed from full letter shapes to ‘stick’ layouts on my final 4th year. Gild- ing training included practicing on a gilder’s tip (made from Badger hair) with silver-leaf...since it was less expensive to do so. The first two years, I learned how to make block (Egyptian) & Roman (serif) letters. Outlines and shadow drills were also introduced. Once I felt comfortable forming letter shapes with the quill, the script style lettering followed.

  • How did you manage to find the reference and inspiration back in the day? We believe it's multiple times harder than the internet era these days.

Keep in mind, my first five years in the business was kind of mundane, like other sign painters in that era...your daily go-to-toolbox was utilizing a good Serif or Roman Style, an Egyptian or block style and a decent script.

Back then, when you wanted to broaden your repertoire of styles, all inspiration would come from local antique dealers, who dealt with a lot of old paper, whether letterheads, music covers or any kind of ephemera.

I remember running across my first Frank Atkinson sign painting book in the late seventies and haven’t looked back since! (lol). Truly an epiphany moment for me. 

  • And Disney, wow! How was that experience working with such a big company like them?

To be honest, it was pure heaven! In 1981, I started off with the ‘Sign & Pictorial Dept.’ for the Disney EPCOT project. Work included scenic painting, murals, faux-finishes & hand-lettering for most of the exhibit buildings or country pavilions. The EPCOT site back then was nothing more than a mud pit with no trees or wildlife around! Your work shifts were 16 hour days, 7 days a week!

From there I transferred over to the Sign and Pictorial Dept. on Disney property. At one given time, we had between 35-37 employees in the shop. Hand letterers numbered around 16...paired up on eight individual 4’x 8’ easels. This was a work situation where craftsmen were assigned projects according to their skill level.

The Disney Company always insisted on a high quality and workmanship standard and that mind-set still remains with me today.

Signage by Gary Godby

  • What makes you keep doing it till today?

One word comes to mind...Passion!
I will never grow tired of letter-forms or the techniques in applying them. Believing that there is always something to learn remains constant.

  • We believe some of your fellow Lettering Artists from your era, when you started, have failed to survive till today, how do you keep up with the industry?

Back in the late 80’s, I pretty much saw the ‘writing on the wall’ with the onslaught of computer aided sign design and manufacturing, whether it be patterns, vinyl masks, laytouts etc.. The ‘Signmaker 3B’ machine is a good example ( 1983-84?).

There was change coming and I saw it. That’s when I kind of realized that you need to re-invent yourself. Become adaptive to the ever changing sign trade. I took it very seriously to learn Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and CorelDraw at the time. Back then, you never thought that the lettering brush would be replaced or your best casual stroke would be digitized!

Meg Condensed Fonts by Gary Godby

  • How did you learn about crafting your beautiful works into fonts for the first time?

That’s where the computer software came in handy. The real challenge was learning a crash course of ‘Fontographer’ , to place all of my vectorized, scanned characters, into an actual working font. My first creation came back in the early 90’s and I instantly had a respect for anyone creating a script! Most people don’t realize the man-hours involved.

Design by Gary Godby

  • How do you see the Lettering trend nowadays?

Over the past few years, there has a been a huge influx of the ‘Hipster Style’, ‘Hand Drawn Script’ fonts out there... I think to the point of over-saturation. You almost get the feeling that taking a short-cut; design-wise, is not always the best way. But trends shift and change constantly. With that being said, I sense that there is a new, ongoing trend in turning back to that classical, ‘tried and true’ style, that will always remain timeless...almost a new Renaisance!

  • What do you think always stays the same since your first roll to the industry till today?

  1. A strong sense of layout and composition.
  2. Readabilty and visual interest.
  3. Quality
  4.  Fresh , new styles!
  • How is the future of the Lettering industry and Typeface Design from your perspective?

I’m seeing some really fresh, innovative designs coming out on the scene lately. Trends seem to be shifting to more of a hybrid-antique style, coupled with some nice, paired, typeface packages.

I also sense that the young lettering artists today are thirsty to learn from their old predecessors, including the old techniques and styles. ‘Talent’ will not be a shortage for years to come, for sure! From my observations, we are in good hands for generations to come. In the past few years, you get a feeling of a re-birth and new-found interest in the craft.

Design by Gary Godby

  • How do you know Ephemerafonts?

EphemeraFonts caught my eye a few years ago and I was instantly impressed with their business model & style. I am kept up to date on their Instagram pages daily and I’m truly impressed with the quality they offer with their products.

  • What makes you interested in joining us?

EphemeraFonts has captured my interest for months! Once I saw what products they had to offer, I knew I had to be part of it! I’ve always been drawn to this style of typography and appreciate the work that goes into each creation. I think I’ve found a new home!

  • What is your hope for the industry?

The trade flourish and thrive through sharing. Then and only then will it survive. Don‘t be affraid to pass along the knowledge to some- one else who shows the passion and interest to learn. Let there be a true pride in making things by hand!

  • What makes you think that you won't stop and can't stop learning more?

I’ve always been fascinated with letter forms and have gravitated to the more nostalgic, ‘period’ font styles of the early 20th century. I took this on as a personal and software-wise. Here, I’d have full, personal control of shape & form. After hours of labor, the end results are very satisfying indeed. Sometimes I think I was born to late!

Each day is a new day and there will always be new things to learn!

  • Any tips, message, suggestion, for the beginners that want to be like you someday?

With hand-lettering, don’t be afraid to be learn the classical ways of letter forms. Do not take shortcuts. Observe the subtle nuances of each type/letter character. Remember that type sets a mood and each style has its own place in the message. Study as many type books as possible. Learn by repetitive exercises and use self discipline. Demand the best in materials and tools. Do not get discouraged! It personally took me two years to even feel comfortable with a brush in my hand!

Attend as many seminars as you can on gilding techniques/sign-painting. Advice is usually freely exchanged there. If at all possible, find someone locally who is well versed in these techniques and ask for advice, usually they are willing to share.

Practice, practice, practice! Most of all, don’t forget to breathe!


1 comment

  • Hi Gary,

    Do you remember me? Geri Bruehl- Brooks Interior Design? I chose you and your wife out of hundreds who entered to win a kitchen make over on TV channel 9 with Marty Salt. Your wife, a cartoonist, drew a picture of your baby pasted under wallpaper…it was priceless.

    Both of you were such a delight to work with. Obviously, I never forgot you.

    Your work has always impressed me. You are an incredible artist. Loved this article

    Geri Bruehl- Russell

    Geri Bruehl- Russell on

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