With the project we always hoped to find artists and creatives who also lived their lives dealing with IBD. So who better to chat with than sign writing and letter creating wonder,friend and fellow 'Crohnie' Annica Lydenberg aka @dirtybandits We managed to catch up with her during a work holiday to Melbourne and beyond.
Hi Annica, thanks for taking time to speak to us in your busy schedule, could you introduce yourself to the GCASFM readers? What you do for a living?
I’m a lettering artist. From fonts to commercial work to painting my work is predominantly typography based.
You paint by the name Dirty Bandits? Is there a story behind this name?
Originally it was a t-shirt label I started with my flatmate in Australia in 2003. We chose ‘dirty’ because our style was pretty grungy and we chose ‘bandits’ from the Pablo Picasso quote, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” The t-shirt label only lasted a year or two but I kept using the name for my design company when I came back to the States. Then I just kept using it as I started doing art and painting.
You split your life between San Francisco and New York, do both places have a huge impact on your creative flow?
Brooklyn is a great place to be if enjoy a very busy life, which I often do. I always feel productive in Brooklyn. San Francisco is a great place to be if you want to paint walls year round and go for a hike before going to your studio in the morning, which I often do as well. I feel more balanced when I’m there but I have always loved the hectic nature of New York living.
How would you describe your art form? And what was the reason to get into lettering?
Lettering is just something I’ve always been into. At my first real job in high school I was working retail at a bread bakery and all I ever wanted to do was draw signs around the bakery. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that I painted a whole series of proper showcard signs for their windows with baking related puns. What I do now necessitates a fair amount of copy writing. I’ve never been great with words so this has been the biggest challenge for me.
You are an exceptionally gifted creator of some stunning sign writing, typography and letterforms, was this something you meticulously studied at art college or are you self taught? And how have you developed your technique?
I took a couple graphic design classes in college and then went into web design since that’s where the jobs were. About 8 years ago I completely stopped doing any web design and built up a number of personal projects using hand lettering without any real training. My real typographic education came when I was accepted into Cooper Type, a one year program in typeface design at Cooper Union. I learned so much about seeing and building letterforms in this program. But font design made me long to get away from the computer. During that year I also started going out to California to apprentice with the incredibly kind people at New Bohemia Signs for a few months. I have a love for learning and working around other people, so now I both take and teach workshops in lettering.
Your artwork is created with different mediums, what is your go to medium and what would you say your favourite surface is to create upon?
My absolutely favourite way to start my day is with a mechanical pencil and graph paper sketching in a coffee shop. That is the greatest luxury that I could ask for as a freelancer.
"It was only then that I learned that it was ok to take charge of your own medical decisions, doctors only see you for 15 minutes once or twice a year, you have to listen to your body."
There has always been such a need for lettering in advertising, but due to cheaper methods and urgency for jobs to be done quickly, there was a sad demise in the need for skilled craftswomen and craftsmen who created hand painted signs. More recently there seems to be resurgence and almost a trend in the old techniques being used and a dying art having life breathed back into it. Do you think people are following fashion? Or are there an upturn in the craft?
I can only hope this commitment to original craft is genuine. The more people are educated about the history and process the greater the appreciation seems to be. Since artists have taken to showing much more of their process these days with video and Instagram and other types of social media I think awareness has increased substantially. With that awareness comes a willingness to invest in something as special as a hand painted sign or mural.
Last year you painted hundreds of weighing scales for a campaign in Grand Central Station. Was this the biggest job you’ve achieved? It certainly looked a great spectacle.
That job was one of the most meaningful projects I have ever worked on. The premise of the campaign was we shouldn’t be weighed by the number it says on a scale, we should be weighed by our accomplishments. So hundreds of women had shared their greatest achievements through social media using the hashtag #WeighThis. I then painted these on over 250 scales that were displayed together in Grand Central Station. To be in a place where typically you keep your head down and don’t think twice about the people around you and be reading such tremendously personal stories was mind blowing. We all have struggles and we all have triumphs, those scales were an amazing reminder.
Other than a love for art, you like I have Crohn’s disease, how long have you been fighting against the illness? And since being diagnosed have you had to make major alterations to your life?
My Crohn’s disease had never presented with typical symptoms or conclusive test results so it took a number of years and unnecessary surgeries to finally have the info needed to be diagnosed 8 years ago. The drugs they put me on made me incredibly nauseous but doctors said this was just my disease. It’s hard to focus and be present for the people in your life when you feel pukey. I struggled a lot during that time, physically and personally.
It was only then that I learned that it was ok to take charge of your own medical decisions, doctors only see you for 15 minutes once or twice a year, you have to listen to your body. A few years ago I decided I needed try going off meds and the nausea went away. I made a lot of substantial changes to my diet, started trying to get a bit more sleep, and minimising toxic relationships in my life. now, I may be embarrassed about being high maintenance to feed, but I’m not nauseous all the time so I’m way more fun. Small price to pay, I used to be a much more private person. The biggest thing this has taught me is that it’s ok to share with people when things are shitty. My relationships are stronger for it. I like the person I have become, slower and more patient with myself and with others. It’s not ideal having Crohn’s but without it I wouldn’t be me.
How do you manage your daily routine? Do you have a structure to minimise the levels of stress, say for example when you are working to a tight deadline?
When time allows I cook meals at home and bring a lot of my own food to work. I grew up very aware of being careful with money but when it comes to overworking and deadlines I know to treat myself. If I’m super busy and I haven’t had time to cook I will always treat myself to super healthy food and cab rides home late at night. There are only so many ways I can put pressure on my body.
Do you stick to a diet that is tailored to your condition?
Oh for sure… In addition to eating generally healthy and organic I avoid gluten and soy entirely and have minimal sugar and dairy. Once every three months I take a week to eat whatever I like, these cheat days are my favourite. It feels fine to give up something most of the time, but knowing it’s not forever it doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice. I have utterly failed to give up coffee though, I absolutely love coffee.
Would you say is art your therapy? Or are you able to relax when you are creating?
Art and design are good fun, but it isn’t therapy for me. Early morning hikes in Marin County are my therapy… no computers, no people, no buildings, just hills and ocean.
Painting the side of a building or creating some calligraphy on beer bottles. What gives you the best feeling? What is the best part of your job? And where is the best place you’ve been asked to paint?
I love painting on a large wall with friends. I am happiest in life when I am being either social, creative or productive. When I paint a wall with a friend I can be all three at the same time, those days are incredibly memorable. In the last three years I have been lucky to paint with very fun and talented folks like Amanda Lynn, Never Satisfied and Marian Machismo. The craziest experience I’ve had as an artist was live painting at Kaaboo in 2015, a music and art festival in San Diego. I was up a lift working on the biggest mural I had ever painted while Snoop Dogg was playing on a stage right by me. As a teen in the 90s obsessed with hip hop to find myself there was just surreal!
We approached you a while ago, but we’ve never asked your opinion on what we are doing. Do you think that using the power of art is a good way to embrace awareness?
I think it’s a fantastic way to help people talk about things that aren’t necessarily all that comfortable. The more people that talk about difficulties they face, the less alone other people feel. I see the importance of story telling in all it’s forms, it’s how we know how to survive.