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Gridfolk: Interview with Jiri Novak

Focus on FontStructors | | March 15th, 2022

Jirinvk Avatar

Jiri after a shot of pure homegrown blackcurrant juice, alongside bulbambulAN3630 and floriitutaBN50

Dear FontStructors,

Picking up the baton from Ata, who is taking a well-earned rest after an epic and insightful series of interviews, I thought I would try and find out more about one of FontStruct’s most enigmatic characters: Jiri Novak AKA jirinvk – the creator of multiple extensive series of highly idiosyncratic FontStructions.

Avowedly modular, graphically powerful, decorative and always playing at the fringes of the legible, Jiri’s designs are worked and re-worked through systematic variations determined by some elusive, cryptic logic. Is it possible to divine the nature of this logic? Can we discover its origins? Who is this Jiri Novak? We sent letters East, to Bohemia, in an effort to find out …

The following interview was conducted via email.

Where do you come from?

I was born in 1973 in Litomysl (Eastern Bohemia). Litomysl is a UNESCO heritage site due to the presence of a renaissance castle. The castle is extensively decorated with sgraffito — mostly in the form of envelope-like “letters” consisting of a uniform frame and unique central areas. There are approximately 8000 such sgraffito-letters covering the façade. Perhaps being exposed to this at an early age contributed to my mania for iterations with slight variations.


Litomysl Castle Sgraffitos

Sgraffitos from Litomyšl Castle façade

Where are you now?
I live in Prague now, but I inherited a small house where my grandparents used to live, in a village near my hometown, and so I regularly go there in my spare time.
In the countryside I have no internet. I can enjoy being disconnected and doing some gardening. I expect to spend my retirement there one day. So, basically I am split between (online, busy) Prague and (offline, lazy) East Bohemian countryside (I like contradictions).
jirinvk hazelnuts

Samples from Jiri’s hazelnut harvest, with mocholataAJ55

Your designs have architectural qualities. Where do they come from?
I studied architecture at the Technical University in Prague. I left after 3 years, without graduating.
There I was tutored by Alena Šrámková who died on the 10th March 2022 (link to forum discussion and documentaries). She was the person who had the greatest impact on me in those years).
I am still very interested in architecture but I have zero interest in making a living as an architect (and thus I don’t regret not graduating). Finding FontStruct and designing alphabets was a kind of substitute for abandoning designing houses.
What do you do for a living?
After I terminated the phase of my education I had no permanent job for nearly a decade.
I embraced the life of an aimless drifter and was preoccupied with useless activities (e.g. making ornaments, which I am recreating on FontStruct at the moment).
After this irresponsible phase I settled in a menial job in the polygraphic industry (I was operating a folding machine — A machine that folds sheets of paper).
I did this for quite a long time.
At the moment I make my living by selling paints (Selling “colors” — i am quite a chromophiliac, so in a way i enjoy this dull commercial activity).
Chromophilia? You work with colour perhaps more than any other FS Patron

If exposed to a complex combination of colors (be it a piece of colorist art, a colorful ornament, or colorful natural phenomena), it (usually) has a strong impact on me. For example, when I attended an exhibition of Raquib Shaw and saw his big format paintings, abundant with colors (nearly kitschy excess of color) I was completely out of my mind, was probably never closer to Stendhal Syndrom then, was almost mildly “tripping”.
Most of the people respond positively to colors (nothing unusual) — I can be (at times) jinxed/mesmerized.

Btw, while doing colorful ornaments on FontStruct I don’t really strive for a mesmerizing combination of colors.
In those ornaments, i use colors rather arbitrarily (color No.1, color No. 2., color No. 3, color No.4) — i.e. an ornament consisting of 4 colors, or of 3 colors, or of 5 colors, etc, etc.
I am doing just a template and expect that everyone will re-colorize those ornaments according to his/her likings.

Do you enjoy your work?
I try to strictly separate my passions and my occupation. I prefer to do as an occupation something that is not mentally engaging (Something I can do on autopilot — with not much mental endeavor) and spare my mental/creative powers for hobbies (I have plenty of hobbies).
I have zero interest in designing something for a client. I have zero interest in aiming at a larger target group and thus making the fruits of my creative efforts sellable — Thus I am absolutely avoiding “creative jobs” within the framework of capitalism.
Please tell us about your hobbies and interests, how they feed into your font design and FontStruct.
Besides making fonts on FontStruct, I am a passionate cinephile. I edit a film database “Kinometer” (conceived and started by my cinephile friend) and I’m a regular on the SCFZ cinephile forum. Occasionally I do English subtitles for Czech films. I guess watching a lot of experimental films has an impact on the way I create fonts (multiple-exposure techniques, the insertion of blank frames in structuralist films, etc.)
I am also a fervent visitor of art exhibitions (I am fond of art brut) and the collages of Jiří Kolář have had a substantial influence on some of my fonts (and the way I am cutting them into stripes, tearing them up, reassembling them, etc.) Kolář invented or helped to develop multiple new collage techniques – of confrontage, froissage, rollage, chiasmage etc.
jiri kolar

Jiří Kolář, Lady in love (1967), rollage-cubomania (wikipedia) with jaubolAW42

I am interested in literature. I actually even compiled a book (it is in Czech but I translated the contents into English). In cinema terms, it is a “found footage” (I found the scribbles of a certain lady — viz the noteworthy handwriting — arranged everything into chapters, writing some fragments myself to make the whole story smooth). I also have a great interest in asemic writing. I would love to make more fonts on the margin between readable and asemic. I wish my fonts to be readable but not with ease.
Crucial books related to my aesthetic views (and thus even making fonts) are The Philosophical Foundations Of Early German Romanticism (by Manfred Frank) and Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel (by Rebecca Goldstein) … or anything about Kurt Godel.
– I guess all of this is me in nutshell :))
Tell us about your gardening practice.
I try to approach gardening (and also my other activities) with a great deal of irony, I would even say “romantic irony” (which is a part of “romantic aesthetics” which appeal to me).
I have written about blackcurrant and hazelnut harvests in my garden on the cinephile forum I mentioned before – these accounts are allusions to “Ogawa Productions” such as the Red Persimmons documentary.
Black Currant Juice

Jiri’s frothing blackcurrant juice and duotwinAJ2416

Are you involved in broader creative discourse outwith FontStruct?
I am not really a social animal. I would even say I have certain misanthropic leanings.
However, despite my mild misanthropy, there are of course some people whom I do take pleasure to communicate with.
In such a cases, I tend to chat a lot about films (among my dear ones, cinephiles prevail.)
I am also not completely out of architectural discourse (my nephew is an architect).
But I don’t know any type-designer in real-life, and know only one person who is working as a graphic designer (he occasionally uses some of my fonts in his projects).
My attitude to graphic design is highly ambivalent (almost dismissive) because I perceive it as closely related to marketing (which I despise).
My fonts are thus not rooted in the discourse (or needs) of the graphic designers’ community.
I make font families as if making herbarium, or as if filling frames of a film strip (and I am unconcerned whether any graphic designer will find my fonts useful).
This relates to another outcome of my mild misanthropy: I am strongly self-motivated.
Of course it’s pleasing when somebody likes what i do, but I don’t need positive feedback as a stimulus for further work.

Generally speaking, is your mind at peace or hyperactive?

Whenever I am supposed to choose “either A, or B” I feel that both A and B are valid/relevant.
My mind is very often very busy, but I am also able to switch off (turn on, tune in, drop out) and be at peace.
I am a man of contradictions (I cherish contradictions).
I also have to say that due to my mind being very often very busy I am hardly ever bored.
Even when I am within a situation that could be easily described as boring, being busy in my mind, I don’t feel bored.
On the other hand, in an overly stimulating situation, I can easily get irritated — because those excessive external stimuli might interfere with my bursting inner thoughts.
Thus I tend to avoid situations that might be generally perceived as exciting, and I tend to delight in situations that might be generally perceived as boring (from an external point of view).
Thank you Jiri!


  1. elmoyenique

    Unexpected but super fascinating addition to this fantastic series of interviews. I wish more to come! It has been very refreshing to get closer to the creative and complex world of jirinvk, which many appreciate here. Thanks Jiri and thanks Rob for it!

    elmoyenique — March 15, 2022 #

  2. Goatmeal

    Congratulations to both Jiri Novak (jirinvk) and Rob Meek, and thank you for continuing this important series.  Looking forward to the next interview of a fellow FontStructor!

    Goatmeal — March 15, 2022 #

  3. zephram

    Great interview! Jiri also has a long and storied career as a composer, musician, and DJ, by which I mean he made one song, but it is awesome. I’m tempted to feed some of his Persian rug designs (mentioning that for the third time to complete a ritual) to AudioPaint and see what kind of sound comes out. 

    zephram — March 15, 2022 #

  4. jirinvk

    yes, besides all stated in the interview, i am also a one-hit wonder or a composer of a song called Ooo Yu Yu Yu
    this song is a residue of my subtitling practice that demands (from a subtitler) to play scenes of a film over and over and over before finding the right subtitle/phrase.

    despite i said i am highly self-motivated and don’t need positive feedback as a stimulus for further work, i am sure if i could “hear my ornaments” (or experience them synesthetically) it would highly stimulate my ornament-making! so, looking forward to my/your AudioPaint tunes, zephram!

    jirinvk — March 16, 2022 #

  5. jirinvk

    btw. it seems like, zephram, that if you will be able to squeeze out of those ornaments some decent tune then we are not far away from the moment Fontstruct becomes also a tool to write music scores (besides making fonts)!

    jirinvk — March 16, 2022 #

  6. elmoyenique

    The font gods will be kind, trust them!

    elmoyenique — March 16, 2022 #

  7. zephram

    @jirinvk: Well plenty of people have made music notation fonts… so this would be making FS a sound design/synthesis tool! Also check SoundCloud for the tunes :D

    zephram — March 17, 2022 #

  8. bepga

     that if you will be able to squeeze out of those ornaments some decent tune then we are not far away from the moment Fontstruct becomes also a tool to write music scores (besides making fonts)!

    bepga — March 17, 2022 #

  9. four

    Thank you for another really interesting interview Jiri and Rob!

    four — March 29, 2022 #