Every Time I Sign My Name: The Calligraphy of Theos One

One of the kinda cool bi-products of this massive surge in computer-based creativity is easy participation in the many facets of design. More people than ever are becoming interested in letters, typography and calligraphy, and beginning to practice them in varying levels of professionalism and enthuse. Say you are one of these people, and you want to see videos of someone doing awesome live letters. When your search results for “calligraphy” videos on Youtube pop up, the thumbnails that look the coolest and most inspiring all belong to Theos One, a young calligrapher/designer from Poland whose works are centered, beautiful and involve a wide array of techniques and surfaces.

Theos at work, or play? :) Photo by Drury Brennan

I mention this to make you aware of something: Theos is a phenomenon in the new modern calligraphy movement. Through his online presence and sharing of his interests with the world, people have become as letter-obsessed as he is, becoming self-appointed apprentices to his aesthetics and developing letter styles that have clear roots in his investigations. Theos and his fiancée Anna (who does beautiful cartoon-sacred insect painting in collaboration with him as ATAK Crew) were exhibiting at the request of at the recent Stroke Urban Art Fair in Berlin, where we got to ask one of the calligraphic game-changers some questions!

Artparasites: Theos, you got a lot of fans all over the world, so thank you for being so awesome. (Thank you.) I'm gonna ask the first question: Where does your style come from?

Paper madness at Theos' booth, Stroke Art Fair. Photo by Drury Brennan

Theos One: Well, my style developed throughout the years. I grew up in the far East side of Poland, in Bialystock, and in the 90's, the graffiti scene was evolving. I was really into it, you know? I watched graffiti all over the neighborhoods in my hometown and I knew I wanted to become a graffiti writer. I was in primary school by this time.

APs: How old were you?

TheosI think I was about eight or nine years old. (APs: same age when I started). Poland in the 90's changed a lot because we finally opened the doors to Western culture. We finally could watch MTV, Yo! MTV Raps and everything like this. And back then, I saw this horror movie called Army of Darkness : Evil Dead. They had this book [in the movie] called the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, and it was written with crazy calligraphy in human blood and skull drawings. It had such a huge impact on me that I decided to do my own Necronomicon. I had no idea about the tools used in calligraphy, so I just took a regular notebook and normal pen and I copied letters from bottles of herbs. There was one called Bitner Herbs, and there were only a few letters on it, I didn't have the whole alphabet, so I had to make up the rest of it by myself.

All that is glittering gold. Works by Theos. Photo by Drury Brennan

By this time I was also painting graffiti, and I ended up in an arts High School in the middle of the forest, in an old castle that looks like Hogwarts School—it's a really amazing place. There I studied graphic design and lettering techniques, and got really into it. After that I ended up in Gdansk at the Fine Arts Academy, where I studied industrial and product design, visual communication, art history etc. Through my studies I realized that the history of letters is so vast, and everything we design today comes from these historical roots, so you should really get to know it, to not let it be forgotten, you know?

I became really interested in calligraphy and started to do massive research. I searched every used-book store, every flea market for old letters, and I managed to get a great collection – even from Russia in the Cyrillic alphabet, really impressive. Although I can't read it, I love the letterforms, the strokes, the details. Some books that really influenced me greatly were by Rudolf Koch. Then I began to collect everything that has to do with lettering, from dip pens to old handwritten postcards. I would just sit all day long and practice, even until today. Every time I can hold a pen in my hand, I'm practicing, all the time. It's like an obsession.

The old new, the new old. Photo by Drury Brennan

For a while I was also a professional illustrator and product designer. I designed transportation, like trains, trams, heavy stuff… but I got bored with computer work, although now I have to use that when I'm designing logotypes and stuff like that. I used to have to make a lot of calculations, and also a lot of things you do are… (pause, switch)

[After designing important things for companies] Now when I work alone, I'm promoting only myself, and this encourages me to be better and better, to learn all the time. Also, when I do something for someone, I feel more responsible.

APs: Why?

Theos: Because I'm signing my name, not a company name. So yeah, that makes me go further and pushes me to learn constantly. I also teach calligraphy at a university in Poland, but this is part of a one year course study in typography. Because of this I was able to meet great font designers who are not calligraphers but also people who devote their lives to letterforms.

Fair trade artwork. Photo by Drury Brennan

Through the contact and connection of all these worlds I have friends who are great graffiti writers, tattooists, book designers, even antique letterpress operators. It's had a huge influence on my work and I love it. I never regret stopping industrial design and switching to calligraphic lettering. Also I love to learn new techniques, calligraphy and sign painting. I love the feeling of art, not digital, the smell of the paint, you know? Lettering also has gifted me invitations to festivals like these, where we wouldn't have met if it wasn't for this! I feel really grateful that I can travel and meet new people who are in love with letters. Every single person I meet has an influence on me, and meeting you makes me feel that I am doing the things I should do. I feel great, so thank you!

Thank you, Theos!

Theos One  [Price range of works: €15 – €2,000]

Added bonus: Watch Theos write our name in calligraphy!

Article by Drury Brennan