Ed Fella by Jennifer Gustafsson

Ed Fella is an artist, educator, and graphic designer whose groundbreaking works in typography ushered a new era in graphic design. Fella was born in 1938 in Detroit, Michigan. From when he was a little boy, Fella always had a sketchbook with him and was constantly drawing in it. Most of the time he drew with a 4-color ballpoint pen, which he still uses today. Fella had a deep interest in a wide range of intellectual subjects from literature to pop culture and photography. After graduating high school, Fella was a very successful commercial artist and stayed in the profession for 30 years. He received his MFA from Cranbook Academy of Art at the age of 49. [4] He claims that because receiving education later in his life allowed him to learn more about art than he could have when he was younger through the Bauhaus style teachings the Cranbook School initiated. [2] Since receiving his MFA, he has been teaching at the California Institute of Arts, influencing the students to revel in the ambivalence of art and explore the subtext and hidden meanings behind the multiple dimensions of design. He has also received the Chrysler Award (1997) and an AIGA Medal (2007). [4]

Ed Fella led a new generation of graphic designers and spearheaded a new era of post-modern graphic design. His style consists of combining low and high-culture using mechanically reproduced materials with typography. Fella understood better than anyone at the time, the postmodern theory of deconstruction [1], which sought to unveil a labyrinth of repressed meaning. His works ranged from colorful and playful typographies to enigmatic subject matter. He fused reality with his impression of street culture. Through his collaboration of multiple fonts, imagery, and wordplay, Fella pushed the boundaries of graphic design. Fella went to the roots of design by bringing crafts back. He never used computers to do his work and even today, still does everything by hand. In the days before Adobe or desktop could change fonts, he used photocopiers to blend and alter his images and letters together. Fella took typefaces and disassembled, altered, and amalgamated them. It would be years before computers could pull the same effects with fonts that Fella did using copy-camera Photostats and X-Acto knives. [1]

The flourishing alternative arts scene in the 70s and 80s was an ideal outlet for Fella to show his private work to the public audience. He made several posters and catalogs for nonprofit art organizations. This exposure established Fella as successful graphic designer. Even today, his pieces for organizations serve as a platform his more recent artwork. His early works were shocking to designers who favored grids, composition, and a clear-cut approach to graphic design. [3] Ed instead cut, pasted, mixed, and twister fonts to create a disarray of letters. Although some people from the world of traditional art often criticized Fella’s artwork, his work still made it to the walls of the Museum of Modern Art In New York and the National Design Museum. [4]

Fella also has works in several publications and anthologies. He has also recently published Edward Fella: Letters on America, Photographs and Lettering where he gives us insight into his unique ability to fuse his typefaces with his images and conveying several messages.

Fella’s artwork caused quite the stir in the art community because it deliberately went against the rules of commercial graphic design. The intentional wrongness and anti-establishment style challenged the dimensions of graphic design. He methodically took apart the fundamental principles of art and opened up the field of graphic design.

[1] Vince Carducchi. Ed Fella, http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-edfella (2007)

[2] Holly Willis, Graphic Convergence, http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/graphic%2Dconvergence%2Ddrawing%2Dtogether%2Ded%2Dfella%2Dand%2Dgeoff%2Dmcfetrid (April 1, 2008)

[3] Bijan Berahimi, “Designer People with Ed Fella,” 2008

[4] California Institute of the Arts, Ed Fella, http://calarts.edu/faculty_bios/art/faculty/edwardfella/edfella (2005-2009)


Carducchi, Vince. “Ed Fella”. Medalists. AIGA the professional association for design. Web. 30, April 2010.

Willis, Holly. “Graphic Convergence”. Drawing together Ed Fella and Geoff McFetridge. AIGA the profession association for design. 1, April 2008. Web. 30 April 2010.

Berahimi, Bjian. “Designer People with Ed Fella.” Demonangel.tv. Vimeo. 2008. Web. 30, April 2010.

California Institute of the Arts. “Ed Fella”. Faculty. California Institute of the Arts. Web. 30, April 2010.

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