Chank Diesel Q&A

September 28, 2020
Chank Diesel has created some of the world's most dazzling fonts.

“I really like that Prince anthology album because it references my font work from the ’90s, when Prince used my fonts on a half-dozen album covers. It’s so amazing to be just a little tiny typographic part of Prince’s great legacy.”

I’m sure you’ve answered this many times but how did you get the name Chank?

I was born Charles, but when I was a kid I wanted to be a great soccer player like Pelé, so I asked friends to call me Chelé. But they thought I was more like Spanky from the Little Rascals. So they called me Chanky. And when I got bigger that became Chank. So it’s an old childhood nickname that became my “Internet name,” my screen name when I registered for anything. Then I set up shop at my domain at chank.com and it became a brand I guess. But mostly it’s just fun for people to shout out my name “Chank!” when I show up at parties, ha-ha.

You’re a pioneer in the world of font artistry. How did this interest form for you?

I’ve always been fascinated by how fonts can create a mood for the written word. Different typestyles definitely create a feeling when you read them. One of my most memorable beginnings was when I was a teenager I drew a concert flyer for a punk show with like eight bands and I drew each band name in a different style and was so mesmerized by the process. That’s when I realized drawing letters is just pure fun for me. It’s always calming and rewarding. And turning a few letters into a full font just takes it to another level; it’s like putting together a puzzle making all those letters look good on their own, but also work together well as a finished professional font.

A couple years ago you designed fonts for a Prince anthology album. Is that on your short list of coolest projects? 

I really like that Prince album because it references my font work from the ’90s, when Prince used my fonts on a half-dozen album covers. So when they issued the Anthology album they used the fonts that were on those albums way back then. It’s so amazing to be just a little tiny typographic part of Prince’s great legacy. I’m also proud of my Liquorstore font used on the cover and all the chapter headings in the Hunger Games books. And the 2015 World Series logo. I’m also really proud of some custom fonts I made for Pusheen the cat. Pusheen uses my fonts all the time. And the PBS kids font they use on all their commercials; that’s a custom font I made just for them. Oh, and Chauncy Fatty used for the word “CRAYONS” on all the crayon boxes Crayola has made over the last 20 years. That’s pretty amazing. That’s just the short list the comes off the top of my head.

What has been your most popular font?

I think Liquorstore is my most popular font nowadays. It never really took off all at once; it’s just been picking up steam for years because it’s so clear and strong and pure. It’s never been a trendy font, so I think that’s helped stay relevant for a long time. I think it’s the timelessness of that font that’s helped it emerge as one of my most popular. Mister Frisky used to be my most popular font back in the ’90s, but it got overused to fast and faded from popularity after a while.

Where does the bulk of your work come from? 

Nowadays I think most of my clients come from my good relationship with Adobe. Now that I’ve got about a hundred fonts available as Adobe Fonts, they’re available at no extra charge to millions of Adobe subscribers. Anybody who uses Photoshop or Illustrator now has access to a bunch of my fonts and I think that really helps the fonts get out to the masses. As for my custom font clients, it seems most of those come from people who appreciated my free fonts back when they were student designers. I made a good impression at an early age, so when those design students grew up and got jobs they remembered me and asked me to make fonts for them.

Do you still love designing fonts as much as ever?

Yeah, I think so. I love to see a bunch of letters I’ve created come to gather to form words.

How many fonts do you work on during a typical week, if there is a typical week?

No, I don’t think there’s really a typical week. I’m usually just working on two or three fonts a week. But I also spend a lot of time improving and expanding on my old fonts. Some of my most popular fonts haven’t been updated in like 10 years, so it’s rewarding to me to go back into those fonts and make improvements to my old work, and make them into better fonts for today’s designers.

You’ve mentioned Sesame Street as an influence. 

I really liked how each episode was brought to you by a different letter. And within each episode they portrayed that letter in a variety of styles, and talked about how the letter is used in different words. It’s like each episode turned a specific letter into a superhero.

Do you tend to work on single fonts or font families?

I’d like to work on single fonts, but every time I do that I can’t help but think about how other styles of a font design can make it better and more versatile and functional. A font I’m working on now is based on vintage neon signage. I’ve been drawing the outlines of the letters and it looks pretty good on its own, but I just added another font style for the neon inlines in the middle of the letters, and when you layer the outlines with the inlines in different colors, pow!, it’s just magical.

You also paint. Have you finished any murals lately? Do you find painting informs your font-making and vice versa?

I enjoy painting letters because they have more fuzziness, humanity and texture than vector outlines of fonts, which can be cold and hard and rigid. I like how painted letters have a wobble and vibration that’s different and more organic and natural than computerized fonts. I actually like the process of painting letters more than making fonts, but font making is better for making money, because selling paintings is hard and you can only do it once; but a font design can be sold over and over again. So I spend more time making fonts than painting letters, because that’s my livelihood. I haven’t finished any new murals in a few years because of the political mood in America. Mostly I just enjoy painting colorful, fun, light-hearted murals, and that’s kind of too self-indulgent to do nowadays because so many people are struggling and things are so messed up. If I were to work on a mural, I’d want it to have a more political and socially-conscious message, and I just haven’t been able to find a project that is right for me lately. So lately I’ve been keeping a low profile and doing smaller paintings that I enjoy, but not really showing them to anybody. I really enjoy the process of painting, but I haven’t been able to think of a good message that I’d want to show in public to thousands of people on a daily basis. So I’ve been not doing any murals lately.

— Photo by Azzi Xiong.