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The VCFA MFA in Graphic Design Program Blog

In Memory of David Lance Goines by Natalia Ilyin (PRINT March 2023)

March 9, 2023

A few days ago, my sister forwarded me an obituary. Poster designer David Lance Goines died on February 19th after a stroke ten days before. I looked at the red envelope that stood propped on my desk. I always save his Lunar New Year’s card to open as a little present from him on a difficult day. This was that day. I opened it to find a chiseled rabbit looking back at me, and “Happy New Year 2023” in his fine italic hand.

“People who run for buses will never make calligraphers,” Goines once told me sedately, as I blew into work, windblown. But I think he heard that bus coming when he signed those last cards. The pen was moving fast.

Obituaries are funny things. They make a nice package of a life so that we can feel we understand that life and tuck it away, complete. But the outside things about David Goines, his fame as a quirky person, a poster designer, typographer, and calligrapher, didn’t do justice to the formidable mind and work ethic and “tears for things” held in the man.

I met David Goines in 1977 after getting tossed out of my first college. On my last day, my type teacher, James Hutchinson, pressed an envelope into my hand as I was leaving class. The envelope was sealed and addressed to Goines. I carried it to Berkeley.

In those days, as a young person, I thought of Goines as a demigod of design and was terrified of his quiet and his certainty. He was 31. I considered him middle-aged. He was a big deal in the California design-world. He’d been thrown out of UC Berkeley in the ’60s for printing pamphlets for the SDS. I think that shock contributed to his becoming a hugely educated person and an autodidact in design.

When I met him, California was piecing itself back together after the confusion of the early 1970s, when the hippies and flowers and dreams of universal love faded into drug addiction and kidnappings and blown-up buildings and death and terror cells. Goines’ methodical creation of poster after poster for all kinds of Berkeley businesses and good causes threw a fine net of visual order over the city. His posters served to create cohesion— his personal routines championed the value of work, of unlocking the shop door every morning, of locking it every night.

I remember opening that jingling storefront door that first morning, carrying the letter in my little box portfolio, and seeing the calligraphed sign, “Sorry, We’re Open.” (And the reverse, “Yes! We’re Closed.”) He loved an ironic opposition.

From The Constructed Roman Letter

Goines greeted me with the formality of someone from the 1890s, and I answered in kind, having been brought up by Edwardians myself. Today, you’d think steampunk. Vest and watch chain. Waxed moustache. We both had hair. It was a long time ago. He handed me a mug of Peet’s, read the letter, and gave me a job.

I shrink-wrapped piles of cards and cut up negatives for stripping. But mostly I watched Goines make things. I had worked for a commercial printer, but I had never seen someone run a letterpress, never seen a Heidelberg windmill or a Chandler and Price actually printing, never seen work that was so handmade.

And what a printer he was. Each sheet of Mohawk Superfine went through his Chief 24 one color at a time, often more than 20 times— with perfect registration. He never used halftones. If you see a teal and an aqua on one of his original posters, those are two separate ink colors— two separate passes through the press. He ran that press dry as a bleached bone.