Meet the Artist: Sebastian Lester

Apr 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Ambigram Gallery, Artists, Feature caught up with Sebastian Lester to speak with him about his ‘Blazing’ poster, which, in addition to beautiful custom typography also utilizes several ambigrams. Sebastian Lester is a type designer, illustrator and artist. He has created typefaces and type illustrations for many of the world’s biggest companies, publications and events, including the likes of Apple, Nike, Intel, The New York Times, The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and JD Salinger’s final reissue of The Catcher in the Rye. Seeing as his work focuses not just on ambigrams, but custom typography and illustration, we couldn’t resist asking him a few questions about his daily work in addition to the ambigram discussion. Now, on with the interview!


Blazing poster. Used with permission of the artist.
Sebastian, thank you for speaking with us. First, let’s get the expected question out of the way. How long have you known about ambigrams, and when did you first become interested in them?

Sebastian Lester: I first became aware of ambigrams in the early 90′s when I was in the first year of my graphic design degree. For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in optical illusions and clever visual ideas with letterforms though. In 1992 I designed a logo for a proposed art college magazine called ‘Edge’. It wasn’t an ambigram but all the letters were the same shape rotated and flipped to create the word. In 1992 I also designed a somewhat lunatic font called ‘recycle’ made out of five characters that you rotated, scaled and flipped to create an entire lower case alphabet. That was the theory anyway. Making ambigrams was a natural progression from these kind of experiments.


Edge magazine logo. Used with permission of the artist.


Recycle typeface. Used with permission of the artist. Is ‘Blazing’ your first ambigram design? If it’s not your first, what was your first ambigram?

SL: The first decent ambigram I drew was ‘Virtual Reality’ in 1993 whilst at art college. I liked the fact that the ambigram approach worked well conceptually with the idea of virtual reality and that the letterforms have a suitably futuristic style to them.


Virtual Reality ambigram. Used with permission of the artist. When designing your ‘Blazing’ limited edition art print, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome? Was it creating ambigrams out of all the words, maintaining a consistent style, or another difficulty you’d like to mention?



Blazing poster sketches. Used with permission of the artist.

SL: The aim was always to create something that was as attractive as any other limited edition print I’d created before, but also happened to be a successful ambigram. So working with those constraints was difficult and I tried various approaches before settling on this treatment. I’ve written a short article here about the print for anyone who is interested.



Blazing poster close-ups. Used with permission of the artist. Do you think your background as a type designer and illustrator helped when designing the ‘Blazing’ poster?

SL: Definitely. I’m well versed in creating consistency in shapes and working experimentally in a variety of lettering styles. A lot of the qualities you need as a type designer are useful for creating ambigrams. In both disciplines you have to be creative, think laterally, have a forensic approach to detail, and stay focused and persistent for the best results. What do you love the most about typography and letterforms?

SL: I don’t really know. Letterforms just seem to make more sense to me than anything else I know. I find them endlessly stimulating and fascinating. The Latin alphabet is one of our most beautiful and profound creations. I feel incredibly lucky I’ve found something I love as much as I do that I can actually make a living from. And what’s not to love about ambigrams? The best ambigrams aren’t just clever. They have a magical, almost transcendent, quality about them. If someone wants to incorporate custom hand-lettered typography into their work, what is a good starting point?

SL: Just work loosely and freely with your lines to start with. Read about type and lettering history. Be inspired by other artists and designers, but find your own voice. Just have fun. If you persist, and you’re having fun in the process, it will become apparent in your work. What is your personal creative process, and where do you draw your inspiration from?

SL: I always try and research a subject or particular lettering style as much as possible before I start a project. I always start with a pencil and paper, rather than a computer, as it’s the easiest way to get a lot of ideas down fast. I brainstorm words and ideas and shapes, not just letterforms. It’s important to be totally unselfconscious about making marks on paper. I start with loose scribbles. I might take elements I like from six different scribbles and make a more resolved drawing. Then I’ll scan it in and start refining it on a computer.

I draw my inspiration from everywhere. I find beauty, in all its manifestations, inspiring. I have an appreciation of the history of type, calligraphy and lettering that continues to grow. I collect old ephemera. Sometimes totally random things can fuel an idea. Sunshine, trees, medieval armour, a piece of product design or music. I’m always thinking about and absorbing the letterforms I see around me. Who is your favorite ambigram designer?

SL: There are some incredible ambigram artists out there. I guess, to my mind, the best ambigrams combine ingenious legibility problem solving with great aesthetic beauty and I think John Langdon consistently achieves the best balance of those two components. What is your favorite typeface? Why?

SL: Typefaces are tools so it depends what the typeface is to be used for. I have a favorite typeface for on screen legibility. I have a favorite typeface for setting books about the Renaissance in. I have a favorite typeface for setting magazines about monster trucks in. So unfortunately I’ve given the question far too much thought over the last fifteen years to have a simple answer. What is your favorite ambigram?

SL: Sorry to choose one of my own pieces but I have to say ‘Blazing’. I just put so much into it and I’m so happy with it. It’s been quite an undertaking for me. It really pushed me creatively, it looks great in the flesh having been screen printed by hand to the highest standards, and it’s being sold by a gallery that sells the work of some very well known and successful artists. I feel very lucky to have been able to make it work. Sebastian, the Blazing poster is beautiful, so you have the full right to toot your horn! Thank you for the insight into your daily work, life and inspiration.


More of Sebastian Lester’s work can be found here:

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  1. As always, excellent work. I like seeing your sketches…

  2. I am wondering if you take requests? Awesome work by the way!!!

  3. Very good article. It will work as a great font of inspiration for my final project on my degree about ambigrams.

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