John Downer

Speaker and Workshop Leader

John Downer


For 50 years, John Downer has been in the sign painting trade. He teaches brush lettering and pen lettering regularly in the USA and abroad. He is also widely recognized as a type designer and type critic.

In 1983, he received his first commission for a text typeface. His typefaces have been published by Bitstream, Emigre, Font Bureau, and House Industries. Iowan Old Style, his debut typeface family, is on iBooks Reader, and on Apple iOS.

Mr. Downer writes about type history, commercial lettering, and sign painting. His essays and critiques have appeared in various publications. Often cited by academics, his essay, “Call It What It Is” ranks among his best known pieces.

John lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where via multiple channels, he actively promotes professional ethics and designer’s rights.

The Chicago Poster

In the 1920s, a riot of commercial lettering was seen in stores and on printed advertisements. Letterforms were vivacious, playful, and dynamic. They had medium stroke contrast, animated proportions, and elliptical serifs Alphabets made expressly for headlines led the way. Pen and brush construction formed the essence of their appeal.

Grab a spot in class and look back at the Roaring Twenties as you explore principles of letterform construction which now symbolize a memorable era in Chicago’s graphic past.

H.C. Martin and the Chicago Poster

Harold C. Martin was a show card writer and author who lived in the Chicago area in the 1920s and 1930s after learning his trade in Indianapolis. He was originally from Tennessee, and served in the army during WWI at Château-Thierry, France, and at Soissons, where he was badly wounded in 1918 before returning to the U.S. for two additional years of medical treatment in hospitals.

Martin eventually became a prolific painter of card signs and paper signs while operating his own shop on Chicago’s south side, but could not continue in business because of failing health. He tried several times to return to work. At times when he was too frail, he made samples for compilation in his first book, 1000 Practical Show Card Layouts.

Sign painter and show card writer, John Downer, will discuss Martin’s influence on the Chicago Poster Style of the “Roaring Twenties” and on Downer’s own work in the trade. Examples from the book will be shown and explained.

Events with John Downer