“… I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started… This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country… You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.” – President Barack Obama in his farewell speech on Jan. 10, 2017
In this new regular feature, we highlight the accomplishments of our own young people, the kids who grew up in these mountains. We’re reconnecting to hear about the incredible things they’re doing locally and out in the world.
This week we catch up with Christopher “CJ” Dunn, who is a professional graphic designer and typeface designer living in New York City …
CJ was born in Honolulu, and moved to Idyllwild in 1988 with his mother Ellyn Dunn, older sister Jamila and stepfather Chris Pennock. He started in second grade at Idyllwild School. CJ was active in academics and sports during his elementary school tenure, but his passion for the arts took off and landed him at Idyllwild Arts, where he earned his diploma in 1999.
After graduating from high school what did you do?
I went to UC Santa Cruz to study art. While I was in college, I interned as a graphic designer for a skateboard company called NHS, which is the parent company of Santa Cruz Skateboards, Independent Truck Co. and a handful of other skateboard brands. During my senior year, they hired me as a full-time graphic designer. It was a challenge working full-time and going to school full-time that year, but it was a dream job for me. Having grown up skateboarding and getting that work experience in my field was well worth the exhaustion.
I always wanted to live in NYC and I knew there would be more options to grow as a designer there, so after a few years working for the skateboard company I moved to the city.
What is your current occupation? What are some other jobs you’ve held?
I am currently a graphic designer and a typeface designer. These are two different disciplines, but they inform one another and I enjoy projects where I can use both skills together.
Over the years, there are many kinds of design that I have been hired to do such as packaging design, identity design, apparel design, art direction, publication design, web design, advertising, typography, lettering and typeface design.
I was briefly trained by a sushi chef, but that’s another story.
How did you get into your current field? Please describe the work you do.
While working as a graphic designer over the years, I became particularly interested in typefaces, logotypes, typography and really anything involving letters. In 2010, I attended a post-graduate program for typeface design at The Cooper Union which really helped me to specialize in type.
In 2013, I started working for a type foundry called Font Bureau and in 2016, I launched my own foundry: CJ Type. My first retail typeface — Dunbar — was chosen as one of Typographica’s best typefaces of 2016 and selected for Print magazine’s type and lettering awards. My work involves both making type and using type and I’m interested in the dialogue between the two practices.
A project of mine that recently launched is the design for An die Musik NYC, a classical music concert series in Brooklyn. I created the identity, posters, website and printed matter as well as a custom typeface that I used for the project. I’m currently working on the identity for Helsinki-based furniture design studio Kaksikko, and print design for artist Carolyn Pennypacker-Riggs.
I’m also super happy that I’ve recently been able to work with Cody Hopkins, my Idyllwild School classmate and friend, in designing the identity for his snowboard business, Baker Street Snow. We just made new Baker Street shirts which will be available at the album release party for (Idyllwild band) Throw The Goat on Jan. 25 in Anaheim. The singer of that band is Michael Schnalzer who was one of my first friends in Idyllwild when I was 7. I love how things all come back together.
What was special for you about growing up in Idyllwild?
I liked playing in the forest as a kid and sledding in the winter. I liked skateboarding, but honestly, a mountain town really isn’t great for skateboarding. We had to get creative and we had to stick together, and I will never forget the friends I grew up skating with.
I feel lucky to have attended an arts high school like Idyllwild Arts, which probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t already live in Idyllwild. As a teenager, I felt isolated and bored, as many teens do, but there I was able to put my energy into the arts.
Who were your Idyllwild mentors (teachers, coaches, friends’ parents, etc.)?
Teachers: Yvonne Poirier, Ken Valdez, Rob Rutherford and Steve Hudson.
Scout Leaders: Trish Wimbrow and John Holt.
Friends’ parents: Myra Dutton, Pat Hopkins, Darleena Klarer, Martha Maezumi, Tut Schnalzer. All of these parents were very generous with their time and brought us kids off the hill to do fun things. They all let me stay over for days at a time and treated me as family.
My friend Micah Schembri made a huge impact on me and everyone who knew him would understand why. He was just an amazing person.
Please share one of your favorite childhood Idyllwild memories.
My friend Steven Savage lived in Alandale so around his house was a seemingly endless forest. A group of us friends would often stay over at his house for days and have elaborate adventures fighting dragons, building forts, making swords and all kinds of fun, nerdy things like that. Now that I live in NYC, I realize just how amazing it is to have that kind of open space and the freedom to safely explore on your own as a young kid.
Do you have any advice for the younger generation of Idyllwilders?
It’s good to see what else is out there in the world. Even if you feel stuck now, you will probably appreciate Idyllwild later.
Don’t complain about what you don’t have, be appreciative of what you do have.
Experiences are more valuable than objects.