You might find Dana Tanamachi-Williams listening to country music or collecting vintage packaging for inspiration while she works on any given number of projects within her newly-formed Brooklyn-based design firm. Tanamachi Studio started modestly, but now Dana is adding clients like Oprah, Time Magazine, Nike, Burton, Target, and even Google to her roster. —Brent Gentile
Brent Gentile: I think I discovered Tanamachi Studio as a result of the chalk-based work, but is that something you’re currently moving away from?
Dana Tanamachi-Williams: The funny thing is that by trade, I’m a graphic designer, letterer, and sometimes illustrator. When my work began to gain traction, it just happened to take the form of chalk. But I’ve never considered myself a “chalk artist.” That’s something totally different. I’m a designer, first and foremost, and that can come in many sizes, shapes, or mediums, so working with new materials was certainly uncharted territory professionally, but personally—not at all. For instance, last year I was approached by a publisher to create a how-to stencil book specifically to be used with chalk. I thought the idea was pretty fun, but felt that chalk was pretty limiting, considering how much I love working and crafting in different mediums. So, I pitched it to the publishers to let me do the book using paint, embroidery, cut paper, bleach pen, etc. I simply showed them all the personal work I had been doing in these mediums, and they immediately gave me the green light. And I’m incredibly excited about releasing a typographic stencil book, DIY Type, this September. So, am I trying to move away from chalk? Not necessarily. It just feels like a natural progression to work in other mediums that I enjoy and feel comfortable in. I’m incredibly thankful my clients trust me enough to do so!
Have you always been interested in typography?
Before my first design classes in college, I had no idea what typography was. But when we started learning about parts of letters, and the differences between serif and sans serif, a whole new world opened up to me. I remember thinking, “Wow, so you’re telling me that the spaces between each letter in a word really matter, and that they should all visually be the same? There are people out there who care about this stuff?” And I decided that I wanted to be one of those people. I love design, and I put those elements to use every single day, but I mainly use letters and simple illustrations to solve most of my design challenges. It just feels right to me. After I graduated and moved to New York, I was able to draw a lot of type by hand while working on Broadway show posters at SpotCo during the day. And I’d find myself doing the same on my subway ride home or on nights and weekends.
With your most recent personal project, Flourish, it seems like you’re moving more toward using ornate patterns. Is that something new for you?
Yes, pattern is definitely something new for me. While traveling to Tokyo a couple years ago, I became obsessed with collecting books of Japanese floral patterns. After I returned, I would visit Kinokuniya Bookstore here in NYC just to stay inspired. I knew there was a way to incorporate these patterns with my typography, I just didn’t know how that would take shape. Finally, last year, I embarked on this large-scale personal installation, Flourish, where I used these Japanese-inspired patterns to create giant letters on a 36’x11’ wall. I didn’t outline the letters, but instead let the pattern just fill up the shape of the letter and stop when it reached the exterior. Flourish was a lot of hard work, but incredibly therapeutic. After quickly mapping out each letter, I spent the next three days drawing these patterns freehand with a gold paint pen. A month later, I was working with Nike on branding the 2013 San Francisco Nike Women’s Marathon, and they loved the Flourish piece so much, they asked for a similar installation of their own. It definitely goes to show that if you continue pushing your limits with personal work that inspires you, clients will see what you’re capable of.
Read the rest of this interview with Brent Gentile and Dana Tanamachi-Williams in our current issue, July 2014, on newsstands now. Or recieve a free copy of the July issue when you subscribe today.
Flourish was directed and filmed by Andrew Ryan Shepherd