Things: John Ed De Vera– Paper

By Payal Khandelwal

John Ed De Vera’s love for paper is all encompassing, and he blends it well with his eclectic typography and calligraphy experiments. John is a designer based in Manila, Philippines.  

He currently works as TBWA\SMP’s creative director for design. In his various projects, while he has played around with different interesting materials like copper wires, sugar, strings etc., paper plays a central role in John’s creative life. In this interview, therefore, we try to focus exclusively on his relationship with paper.

TFM: Could you give us a brief background to yourself, including your current role at TBWA\SMP?

JEDV: I graduated in 2000, with a degree in Fine Arts Majoring in Advertising Arts. I chose advertising over nutrition & dietetics because it sounded better, and I didn’t know what college was all about. Later on, I would suffer from gout attacks once in a while, making me think if I took the right course back in college.

I worked as an ad & promotions officer for Cole Haan’s local distributor in the Philippines. After seven years of multi-tasking, I decided to focus on doing creative work so I transferred to TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno, my first ad agency. Currently, I am TBWA\SMP’s creative director for design, managing a team of young passionate art directors and juggling requirements of both local and international clients.

Sometimes, I get to use my passion for typography in some of our projects. Last year, we created large Christmas cards for orphanages with messages that used folded money as letters. They were used to buy food, diapers and other important supplies to bring joy to the children in the most festive time of the year. I guess this sums up my personal mantra: create with you head, heart and hands.

Origamoney-White Cross


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John Ed De Vera

How did you get into typography/calligraphy? 

Apart from typography being part of my work as a designer, it has always been a habit to draw (instead of write) some notes when I get bored at meetings. With calligraphy, I just started late last year when Carl, a friend in the local type community, introduced me to parallel pens.

When did you first start working with paper? 

We used to hand draw advertising plates back in college, so I guess that was where it started. One of our plates/ exercises for preliminary exams was to do a paper tole print ad. So I drew images from Nat Geo magazines as references and created an ad for Jet Airways. The challenge was to repeatedly paint the visuals, cut them and arrange the cutouts layer by layer to make it look three-dimensional. I immediately fell in love with the process.

What draws me into working with paper is that it has become not just a flat surface for me to write or draw on. It has become my ink. It is able to take many forms depending on how you sculpt it. It is tactile. It can be multi-dimensional. It’s available everywhere and you can reuse and recycle it.


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A rough sketch for a project

What draws me into working with paper is that it has become not just a flat surface for me to write or draw on. It has become my ink.

Do you have any specific childhood memories associated with paper?

When I was in grade school, we were taught to create paper batik by recycling used bond paper by dyeing them in colored water, drying and ironing them. I loved its texture effect so I created lots of them — these became my art paper instead of the usual colored paper my classmates used that time.

Could you tell us about the making of one of your projects that uses paper calligraphy/typography ? 

I start off with first drawing the letters/ design on a used bond paper using a mechanical pencil with 2B lead. I make sure I create small bridges to connect the letters to each other. Adding flourishes helps in making the output one-piece. When I’m good with the form, I prepare that same sheet by darkening the outlines.

I then transfer the design on the actual material (paper board) by scratching (not sure of the term) the back side of the bond paper with a coin, making sure that the lead transfers on the other paper. This is probably an old school tracing technique.

I now have a flipped outline of the typography design, which becomes my cutting guide. I cut the paper using a knife for precise curves. This particular cutter looks like an x-acto knife, only with a 360 rotating ball head-like part, which allows you to cut smooth curves. Cutting bond size pieces takes around 20-30 minutes, depending on the flourishes and details.

I usually use paper boards (like vellum, bristol and colored paper) but prefer 220 GSM watercolor paper because the pulp is more compact.

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John starts off with drawing the letters/design on bond paper using a mechanical pencil with 2B lead

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The cutting process

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The cutter has a 360 rotating ball head-like part

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GoodType Papercut

What are the challenges of working with this analog medium/form? And what are some of the other materials you work with? 

There’s always the possibility of cutting it the wrong way, accidentally folding or tearing it. Of course, when you work with paper as your medium of choice, water is your greatest enemy (laughs). Paper has always been my comfort zone when doing watercolor, but I’m open to experimenting with other materials like strings, sugar, metal and recently, conductive paint when it comes to type work.

What are the kind of papers you have used so far for your projects? Where do you source them from? 

As mentioned, unless I want it colorful, I use watercolor paper because of its more compact pulp construction. I buy my colored paper boards from local bookstores and paper companies here in Manila Phillippines. Some are given by friends.

Create Your FUTURE XX

Create your Future

Live & Learn

Live & Learn

Type Love

Type Love


John Ed De Vera


All the images have been provided by John Ed De Vera.© 


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