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caption: The Bemis building terracotta sign that inspired type designer Andrea Leksen. 
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The Bemis building terracotta sign that inspired type designer Andrea Leksen.
Credit: Nate Harrison Photo

Turning Language Into Beautiful, Functional Design

Artists often take inspiration from the world around them, and for Andrea Leksen, a local graphic designer and typography professor, inspiration came in the form of five letters. Engraved on a terracotta panel on the side of a building in SODO, the letters B-E-M-I-S with their high-waists and flowery serifs struck Leksen and prompted her to begin a new project.

While some artists would get out oils and paint, Leksen went to her computer, loaded up a program called FontLab, and got to work recreating those five letters and shaping them into an entire digital alphabet – a font.

After months of work and over 250 individually crafted characters, Bemis was born, and Leksen had officially established herself as a type designer. The font climbed the popularity charts as a “hot new font” on, a hub for all of the newest type creations.

“Our environment is always changing, so we have to keep up with current trends and needs,” she said. “Right now typography for the web is a big new need. But people are always looking for something new – fun decorative scripts. There are so many different types.”

For Leksen, typography isn’t just an interest, it’s a lifestyle. She teaches it to students at Seattle Pacific University, where she actually gave her students the same assignment that inspired Bemis – find an old inscription and design a font around it. Together they formed the first 26 capital letters of their fonts, critiquing and helping each other along the way.

Leksen attends weekly meetings with other typographers where they exchange industry tips or troubleshoot each other’s designs over beers. Just last month, Leksen visited Amsterdam to attend an international typography conference, where type designers from all over the globe discussed the challenges of creating fonts that are both beautiful and legible in alphabets like Arabic, that reads right to left, or Mongolian that reads top to bottom.

Regardless of the alphabet, Leksen says she definitely considers type design to be art.

“In any letter form there are numerous ways of designing it,” she said. “It could be that the contrast is greater – the thin strokes to the thick strokes – or how it’s slanted, or how those serifs (the flourish stroke at the end of a letter) end."

Bemis Type Specimen (click to enlarge)