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Dima Pantyushin: “I live with three types of brushes and four types of paint”

Talked to the co-founder and designer of the Enthusiast motocafe about how to make design with two typefaces for nine years

March 3, 2011

Dima, have you ever studied art or design?

You could say that I am self-taught. After my military service, I studied at Goznak for three years. That was a bit of a weird option which resembled an internship at an entity that teaches artists to produce various kinds of security products.

Alongside this, around the same time I was attending prep-courses — first at the Textile University, then at the Polygraph (University of Printing Arts — translator’s note), then at the National Design Institute. I spent a year at each institute’s prep courses, but eventually failed to get into any of those. It seemed like I wanted to pursue higher education, but I hated the idea of going into any specific school, having a real internal block about it. That is why I didn’t get any degree. I attended the courses that I was interested in, visited exhibitions, and read a lot. So, it was quite a student time for me, it lasted a bit too long, but without getting enrolled at the university.

What were working and studying at Goznak like?

During our first three years, we passed exams once a term. We drew and painted a lot — including plaster heads, grisailles, watercolour sketches, things like that — eight hours a day, no school breaks. After my studies, I immediately started working, behind the same desk where I had been doing my school projects before — in the same workshop with engravers at the Moscow Printing Factory where money is printed. Then I was transferred to the Head Office, and I was promoted to the assistant to the chief artist of the entire organisation which was rather awesome.

At Goznak, I happened to witness a period of a serious work restructuring process. They changed historical interiors — did ‘western-style’ renovation, fired old engravers and bought new equipment with this money. I was a bit shocked by all this, because you can’t just let go masters, artists like that — a machine is not capable of replacing a creative professional. It is capable of making clearer lines, but it makes all the vitality and the soul of work go away. I witnessed how an old enterprise with old traditions, with moveable metal type, with all those photo composition processes — all this had been translated into digital life. And so I learned my main trade, my profession, by mastering Photoshop and Illustrator on the Mac.

How’s the situation with typefaces at Goznak? Do they get purchased?

When I joined the enterprise, they used to buy type from Paratype foundry. There were two official CDs with fonts, the black one and the red one. There was practically nothing left when it came to handmade type.

What were you doing later, between Goznak and Enthusiast?

While still working at Goznak, I took a great interest in motorcycles — specifically, scooters. I made friends with one guy, and together we conceived a project called Clevermoto. We found a factory in India that used to manufacture, under license, Italian Vespa scooters and we contacted it. I was obviously way more interested in this project than in scooters per se.

I never dreamt of launching my own design studio and then constantly taking commissions on corporateidentities. Even though I am still doing those things today, I had quickly realised that I liked to view design as a certain application-oriented thing. That is, first there is some framework that appears — in case with Clevermoto, that were scooters, — and then you come up with ways to present it in an interesting way. It’s not that you paint scooters, but you tell a visual story: we were organising film screenings, brought musicians, participated in the Afisha Picnic (major outdoor festival in Moscow — translator’s note).


Well, I was completely consumed by all this, and I didn’t have much to work on at Goznak. Plus, I needed to somehow fulfil myself artistically, while at Goznak there wasn’t even a dialogue with customers — everything was executed through paperwork, through a dozen of officials, and I didn’t even understand why any particular work was not being agreed on. While I was up to making a certain small revolution — at least begin producing money of more decent design than those that we had. I had even taken part in developing a new passport design which was simply put in a drawer and nobody ever saw it eventually.

Well, Clevermoto won. Then there was Solyanka Club with which we truly bonded over scooters precisely, and that is how about seven years have passed. And then Enthusiast arrived.

How did it happen?

It was quick: we were approached by our friends from the FOTT store who rented a space before us, and a month later we moved in there with a readymade project, the designed logo and a very low-key interior. And when it was time to inform people that we had beer, soda and sandwiches, I thought that I could simply design a poster to do that. I wouldn’t say that in the age of Solyanka where I was doing design quite a lot, I specifically enjoyed the genre of posters. But it seems like in the early days of Enthusiast I found a key to it. Like something got into me and I realised: I wanna speak that language. And I still can’t get enough of it.




After Enthusiast, we saw two more places appear on Stoleshnikov Lane, ToTo and Krugly Shar. They appear to be a part of a single system, yet you see that those are three separate places.

I call it the genetic code of places. It all began as far back as at the time of Solyanka, where we organised scooter parties. We designed a neon sign in the form of a traffic light and some stickers, just little circles — red, yellow, green. And I’d really fallen in love with those basic colours, and now I delicately embed them into each of my places.

For example, with Krugly Shar it was like this: we discussed what our billiard tables should look like and got very beautiful baize cloth samples — as it turned out, it can be of any colour, not just green. There were violet, blue, red samples — an extremely beautiful palette. And I thought ‘why limit ourselves to just one colour?’ After all, that is a great idea to pursue our concept and make one table red, make another one green, and the third one — blue. And as the tables occupy the most space, we decided to make the rest of our interior neutral, black and grey.





Same with ToTo. There are moderate, discreet accents: a green air vent stack, red-yellow-green faucets in the restroom. It is easily captured and read, especially by attentive people. Which is why I believe that is just the question of a proper prioritising, properly choosing accents in an interior, in design. And it is really not necessary to introduce a whole bunch of posters in each of these three places, like we did with Enthusiast.


Why is it the aesthetics of the Enthusiast place that become so popular, what do you think?

First of all, if you’re up to something and you do it regularly and long enough, this enterprise of yours will eventually have fans. It works like an ad: if on your way from the airport you see a Snickers ad about 60 times, it will get stuck in your head, whether you want it or not. Well, obviously, we are more delicate than that. I wouldn’t even say that we are good salespeople — in the first few years our T-shirts and hoodies were selling rather poorly. But we’ve been working for almost nine years, and we are clearly getting somewhat stronger.

And, secondly, it is perhaps that we are no stranger to aesthetics. If our place was called Bublik (Russian for Bagel — translator’s note), for example, not everyone would be willing to wear a T-shirt with this name. While the word ‘enthusiast’ is so multi-faceted and clear to everyone — both foreigners and Russians, that over time more and more people would want to wear a T-shirt that says Enthusiast in large letters. Some of those people have probably never been to our place, but they saw this ‘Enthusiast. Moscow’ and they liked it. Foreigners buy from us very often. That is why we finally launched a web store that we spent eight years trying to launch. We have lots of requests from the regions, and it would have been very inconvenient to handle those without a website.

While you were designing Enthusiast, have you addressed certain Soviet artists or typographers? Or some foreign artists of the same period, perhaps?

I have no favourites. While I studied design, I was looking at plenty of stuff, and I have already stopped enjoying many of those things. But, for example, the posters by Shigeo Fukuda and Ikko Tanaka have not lost their magic for me at all, I still consider them as powerful as I did back then.

I believe that I am also very well visually experienced, since childhood, and I have a great visual memory. And I have always been attracted to letters, one way or another, even though I wouldn’t want to be a type designer, sometimes I make or remake certain letters.

So, you don’t directly associate what you do with Soviet aesthetics?

No, I wouldn’t exactly say that I don’t relate these two things one to another. For a long time I hadn’t had my own signature style as a designer, and that is, perhaps, only natural. Especially if you exist on your own, without any specific school. I did a lot of thinking and realised that after all, — as a person born in the USSR, living and seemingly planning to live in this country — I am interested in not even being a successor of any specific Soviet or Russian design school, but in keeping certain traditions alive, because the poster school in the USSR was quite good.

I’ve never wanted to look Western, I always understood that for a foreigner who came to Moscow it would be way more interesting to see the word Enthusiast written in Russian than some attempt to reproduce something from New York or LA in Russia. I want to do what I was raised with, and I was born and raised in the USSR and, willingly or not, I’d been absorbing its aesthetics — through TV, street signage, subway, soda machines and bus tickets. The older I get, the more I realise what a powerful influence that had on me.

It is obviously uninteresting to copy Soviet design, you’d want to introduce something new. Yet I often hear ‘Oh, those are like Soviet posters’. Clearly, it is a convenient way to have a conversation — immediately putting a label. I’m not judging, people aren’t meant to have a good understanding of all the poster schools and styles. Which is why I simply do what I like, and be that as it may.


What is your way of working with typography? How do you know where you need to draw lettering for your poster and where it’s OK to take a ready-made typeface?

When I came up with this poster thing for Enthusiast, I knew right away that I would be making lots of posters, and that it was completely wrong, unproductive, to waste my time on finding a typeface for each of those posters. So, I chose two typefaces.

The primary font was called ITC Machine, it is brute, block-lettered, with skew angles in rounded letters. It reminded me of the Enthusiast logo, so I was quick to opt for it. That was the main font which I used to set all the large phrases, slogans. And I picked the second one, additional, to go with it — OrenburgC. It is pretty similar to this brutal, official typeface once used to set something on the back of Soviet postcards. It is a bit ridiculous, but quite nice and reflects me very well: it has both structure, irony, and simplicity in it. It is not pretentious, like Futura, but slightly more awkward, cartoon-ish.

And I still live with those two typefaces. I apply OrenburgC to set dates and addresses. It is a bit more complicated with ITC Machine, though.


About five years after Enthusiast was launched, I visited Belgrad — there was my exhibition on display there. I was looking at posters and thinking: that’s amazing, will I ever get tired of this font? Then two years had passed, and I began slowly, letter by letter, redrawing something in it sometimes. Such as the letter Д which I generally do not really like when it comes to Russian language. And now I have transformed this Machine so much that recently I’ve only been using it in its transformed version. I change the typeface depending on each task, making it bold and square — or the other way around, extremely narrow and slanted.

In other cases, if there’s a need to set a certain large text, I mostly design something myself. And apply some super neutral helvetica to captions.

And your modified Machine is just an Illustrator vector, isn’t it?

I even have no idea how to make font files. One day I will probably create one of those According to the license, a user is not allowed to transform the font’s modified outlines into a new font file, unless there is an exclusive permission granted by the author, but I redesign this font all the time. I am currently making a poster, and its letters are not at all like those you might have seen on certain previous posters. So, it doesn’t yet make sense to release a finalised font version.

Does all this mean that you do not keep an eye on foundries and do not check on new type releases?

I practically don’t. The things I’ve just told you about two typefaces for Enthusiast also goes for my ways to produce posters. At some point I decided that there would be these basic colours — black, white, red, green, blue and yellow, and I am trying to build everything around those colours. My knowledge of Illustrator and Photoshop is rather shallow, and I deliberately try not to make any progress when it comes to those two. Here’s my stance: I live with three types of brushes and four types of paint. And I endlessly need to do something with what I have — something which I’d like myself. Meaning, I’m deliberately limiting myself in terms of tools, and therefore I do not seek to find new fonts.

I do run into things, sometimes, obviously. Yet old design has lots of great things to offer, tons of it! And in general the design field has brought so many great things into the world! Sometimes Pinterest just drives me crazy. You say ‘new typefaces, new design’ — and that is not at all how I perceive design. As I see it, we just have our planet, and there were a lot of things created by people on this planet at different points in time. There are things that I like, there are things that I don’t like, and it is quite often the case that I find more things that I enjoy among older stuff. Just as I like old videos and films, because I like the texture of film recordings — it is warmer, kinder, softer, which is why I even have an old TV at home — new TVs bring so much contrast, make the image so spotless that everything becomes plastic. I like warmth and kindness in everything — this way everything is nicer and more human.

But the technologies used by type designers change and evolve over time, and fonts get better in terms of quality. For example, you took Helios for the posters made for a party at Found. I mean, that’s almost Helvetica, but revised and more advanced technically.

It is clear that Helvetica, Futura and the same OrenburgC are very different fonts, when viewed from the perspective of an expert. But I use these typefaces as an addition, for setting small texts. And in this case I don’t care much about the font, that is just a very neutral and capable font. So, when I speak about fonts like these, I wouldn’t say that it took me a lot of time and effort to choose Helios, I took it just because it happened to be there, on hand.

I like serifs as well, but now is not their time for me. I used to apply more of those back at the time of Solyanka. But I will start using them again, once in a while, I think. I want to find my own ideal serif typeface, where I would like every letter and every figure of it.

In this sense, Woody Allen did the right thing. At some point he chose one typeface for all the titles of all of his movies and has no more worries in this regard. I relate to this approach, because I’d prefer to waste my energy on the general idea, design of the poster itself, but as for additional fonts, I will try to use it as an organic and inelaborate, uncomplicated addition to what is designed.

Woody Allen, film titels. Windsor typeface

And when it comes to today’s graphic designers, do you keep an eye on someone, maybe?

I barely do. I followed a designer some time ago, his name is Aaron. In the past two years he has shifted his focus to a slightly different design style, but when it comes to things he was doing three years ago, I really like literally everything, for some reason. I also follow a poster designer based in Poland, Jakub Kamiński — I relate to him even more.

But I don’t seek to subscribe to all the interesting designers. Yes, that’s what I do for a living, but it’s not that I participate in the design world somehow. I go to art shows less, and I am certainly not a part of any community. It is often the case that in order to end up in a certain community, you either have to dream of studying at some school or to graduate from this school that has professors who organise those shows. But I never wanted to be a part of such a community, which is why I exist in a certain isolation. But I’m quite OK with the way things are.

Do you follow what is happening in the notional commercial design? On the eve of the New Year everyone was criticising the new logo of KinoPoisk, and before that they criticised the new Beeline typeface…

I do not deliberately spend my time monitoring design websites, but I clearly see everything. For example, I am on the subway, and I see the Beeline’s poster set in their new typeface. I am looking at it and I am thoroughly scanning it, because I tend to analyse everything — which is probably the reason why I am not sleeping very well. Well, I saw this KinoPoisk logo, yes, this К is really weird. I mean, it is actually not that bad at all, but it looks a bit weird — so, they made this InoPoisk. But as a matter of fact I don’t care. Beeline and all those huge phone corporations of ours, they’re always redeveloping, redefining themselves. All things round are in trend — they will round the letter angles, all things sharp are trending — they will introduce serifs. Speaking of which, for that matter, I liked what MTS have done.

But other than that, I live my life and don’t really care about all that. If I was approached and asked for my opinion, I would probably give an answer, I guess. But we have lots of clumsy design in our country, awfully clumsy. But you can’t always reflect on that, otherwise you won’t have any energy left on other things. Which is why I simply got used to living with that. I analyse, I observe, I think. Just because those things interest me. I looked at KinoPoisk, it took me one second to think ‘So, what would I have done to keep it just like that, but still make it clear and so that the letter К is easier to read?’ I gave it some thought, and then I live further my life, done with it.

Could you imagine what design we will have in our country in 10-15 years?

I am not very good at those things. By and large, it is clear that design is developing, and things have changed for the better over the last 20 years. When I was a student, all we had was the [KaK) Magazine (Russian for Why? — translator’s note) and a few shops where I used to buy expensive books, as there was not really much Internet, and at Goznak it was even prohibited to use the Internet, and the only thing you could do in your spare time was reading and exploring the books.

The visual world has actually changed a lot — all you need to do is walk into a grocery store and look at the packaging. Or take a subway — the Ministry of Transport has carried out an exhibition recently. The idea was good — they placed sustainability-themed posters along the Green line. But they put them in such small and ugly frames — and in such weird places, that it rather looked like visual garbage. You just need to apply a different, integrated approach to that, not just make ‘a designer design a nice poster for putting it on the subway’, but to make sure to put the poster into a frame of a proper size and colour. And when this happens, everything will look better, and this probably will happen in the next ten years exactly.

You have a music project. Do music and design somehow relate to one another in your life?

They do. Therefore I don’t play my suggestions on music for each new track to Sasha Lipsky, but I tell it and describe. And that is how the first track of the album — about my books with posters — was born. I issued a book and got an idea to write a certain soundtrack to go with it. I told Sasha ‘We need a simple rhythm, extremely bizarre gurgling sounds of all sorts. We deploy a very concise palette of musical instruments and we have to convey the mood of my book with its help’.

DPEnthusiast Poster book

Technically, there are layers in music, too, there’s dramaturgy. The language of images and all sorts of associations is equally important, fantasy is important. As in any kind of creative process, it is very important to trust your gut, to understand what you wanna do.

PEDima Pantyushin and Sasha Lipsky album cover

And what about you personally, can you imagine what you’ll be up to, in design and music, in ten years?

I don’t have a clue. I don’t set those kinds of bars for myself. Those sorts of things can be very restricting, I think, while we are changing and growing. If you exist in a certain visually saturated environment, your eye is transforming. Same with music: if you don’t listen to the very same song your whole life, but somehow try to expand your audio horizon, you might very well suddenly like something weird — something that you might have not been able to understand ten years ago.

Therefore I am not even interested in making plans and forecasts, yet I know for sure that design and music will most likely be in my life forever, I can’t live without them. My texts, probably, will get more serious over the years — or maybe the other way around: at the age of 40 I recorded songs about crucial life issues, while at the age of 50 I will start writing about frogs and kittens — or even voice cartoons.

Dima Pantyushin