Watch Pete Miser Create Paper Script Album Art
The Kinfolk artist crafts his own 'Depression Era Thinking' cover
Typography is usually a flat affair, an art form limited to the printed page or screen. But for Pete Miser, there’s no need to settle for two-dimensional limitations. Instead, his art is made out of paper strips raised in the shape of letters and filigrees, allowing the words more depth. Part of the beauty of Miser’s work is the process of making it—the fine paper strips float on the surface delicately as he cuts and winds the pieces with care.
It’s a frequently overlooked craft, one Miser captures with care in this new behind the scenes process video for the piece “Depression Era Thinking.” The work was commissioned as cover art for an album he just released of the same name, a hip hop solo project that deals with the sudden death of his mother.
Below, the Brooklyn-based author talks to us about the route he took to making these pieces, the mindset they put him in, his show at Kinfolk (where he’s an owner) and his thoughts on Instagram calligraphy.
So how did you start using paper for letters?
I started doing paper typography a few years ago. I make Christmas cards for my friends and family every year. I wanted to do something three-dimensional that I could photograph and use for the cards. That’s how I started with this specific type of work.
The back story is that when I was a kid (like 10–12 years old) I would have to go to my dad’s house on weekends. Sometimes he’d just dump me off at his place and go do his thing. I would be bored out of my mind so I started cutting and pasting paper to keep myself entertained. I would make cars and airplanes and stuff like that. The impulse just kind of stuck.
In the case of this piece in particular, it’s the artwork for my new album, Depression Era Thinking. A friend of mine made the point that I’m involved in a lot of different creative outlets but you wouldn’t know that if you only knew my music. He said I should incorporate my visual art into my album projects. Sometimes it’s a train wreck when an artist does his or her own album cover but in this case, I think it worked out.
Does it put you in a zone when making it?
I am definitely in my zone when I work on these paper projects. They take forever! It isn’t hard to figure out how to do them but most people wouldn’t have the patience. It’s the same thing with everything I do. Making tracks involves obsessing over hi-hat patterns, laboring over compression and carefully writing automation on vocal tracks. I’m not an artistic or musical genius but I have more patience than most people. I saw a quote that I related to recently: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” I know a lot of people who are way more naturally talented than I am but they don’t have the discipline to spend the time it takes to do refined work. I’m lucky that I’m happiest burning hours at a time making art.
Seems easy to damage though.
They are delicate but not as delicate as you would expect. Paper has a lot of structural integrity. You could probably put a board on top of the art and stand on it. I’m pretty sure it would support the weight.
Do you write the letters freehand first?
Sometimes I write the letters freehand first. Sometimes I use a typeface. I do a lot of brush lettering and stuff with chisel point markers or calligraphy pens. It depends on the piece or what I have in my head when I start. The typography is worked out ahead of time. Everything else is improvised.
How do you choose the phrases?
The first thing I think about when it comes to a phrase is how long it is. This stuff takes so long that if there are too many words the phrase gets rejected. I wanted to do a series based on lyrics from the album but there weren’t many three or four word phrases that worked. The art has to stand on its own independent of the album.
In general, I like short phrases that comment on pop culture. I try to steer away from internet clichés like “no regrets” or “anything is possible” and inspirational shit like that. They’re too trite. “Pity the fool” is probably my favorite because it’s important to honor Mr. T with elegant typography and lots of filigree.
How’d the Kinfolk show go?
The Kinfolk Show was dope! The theme of the show was “friends and family.” Almost everyone associated with Kinfolk is an artist of some kind. Kinfolk was founded on the principles of creative expression and high integrity product. There were so many artists showing work at the Kinfolk Family Art Show that we filled the walls at 94. It was the first show I was involved in and I sold both pieces I entered. I was pretty psyched.
What do you do with Kinfolk beyond the show?
I’m a part-owner of Kinfolk. The company was started by old homies of mine so when it was time to break ground at 90 Wythe Avenue (in Williamsburg) I got on board. Kinfolk is a total bootstraps company. We personally did the construction in 90 and a lot of 94. A lot of companies like Kinfolk were started by rich kids who could afford to lose money. We aren’t those guys and we think it shows in what we put out there.
Was tattooing ever a goal?
I respect the art of tattooing too much to go there. I have friends who are tattoo artists (shout out to @MarcoHernandezTattoo and @josepharialoi). They are so dedicated to the art and culture that I recognize I’m never gonna put in the required 10,000 hours to get nice. I don’t even understand the medium well enough to design for another artist with confidence.
Graffiti is the way I first got interested in typography (without knowing what typography was.) I used to write when I was a kid. I was positive I was dope as shit. Now I realize I was toy status, at least by my current standards. It takes soooooo much time to be official in any art form! I’ve been making music for a living since 1992 but I’m still not trying to claim that I’m the shit. The most I can claim is that I know how to say what I’m trying to say musically. That’s a big accomplishment in itself but it doesn’t mean I’m a master at it. It’s frustrating to recognize how much personal investment it takes to be legit at something. If you only care about the product and don’t enjoy the process, you’re going to quit or you’re going to experience a lot of pain.
What’s your opinion of Instagram calligraphy?
I like looking at calligraphy on Instagram. There’s a lot of inspiring stuff on there. There’s a lot of bullshit too but, oh well. Before Instagram it was impossible to be exposed to so many dope artists in such an easy way. It doesn’t replace seeing the work in person but it gives you an idea of whose work you want to dig deeper into.
That said, Instagram is like all social media; you only see the highlights. Nobody posts failures (except my homie, @nim_br who is so dope that he can post his failures without any loss of self-confidence!) I don’t post my failures. Maybe I should. I’d have a lot more “content.” (I hate it when people use the word “content” to describe art.)