Hi! I’m Kimmy Kirkwood. I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Since leaving home after high school I’ve bounced around a lot, finding myself at home in southern California, Chicago, London and now back in the Pacific Northwest. I am a type designer, DIYer, incessant hobbyist, world wanderer and mom of my fur-babe Otis and human-babe Charlie.
I am a big believer in loving the work you do, and have been fortunate enough to make a career from something I’m deeply passionate about. If you are here to dive a little deeper into my personal and professional history (they are very much intertwined), then let’s do this!
To better understand me, I have broken down my life into 5 important factors that make me who I am and do what I love.
I am a massive introvert
Hi, my name is Kimmy, and I am an introvert. In the world today, this has become something to be proud of. I have come to appreciate and love my quirky, quiet and contemplative nature. This was not always the case, and in fact I didn’t even know I was an introvert until I went through a hardship (see #3) and was practically forced into seeing a grief counselor, who, after some time, informed me of the fact that I am an introvert and how it made me special.
For some inexplicable reason, up until that point I had no idea what introversion and extroversion was. I had caught on that I usually burned out in social gatherings far before anyone else, had always been attracted (in friendship and love) to outgoing, life-of-the-party people and had such a fear of public speaking that I wouldn’t sleep for days before a presentation. I loathed group projects, and did some of my worst creative work in an open workspace agency. I had felt like there was something wrong with me, and only saw the negativity of my nature and what I was lacking instead of everything I offered to the world.
It was the most liberating feeling to finally understand myself. I have since shaped my life around these attributes and have found a deep appreciation for what introversion offers not only me, but the people around me.
Life as an independent type designer means I spend countless hours alone at my desk, going over fine details, having to be self critical but also know when enough is enough. I work and concentrate best when I am alone in my own space (except, of course, with my trusty fur-partner, Otis.) I go for long walks to work through ideas, problems and dreams. I am fiercely loyal to the people in my tribe, and thrive in the comfort of small group gatherings.
I am Kimmy, I am an introvert, and I am awesome 🙂
I have always thrived on imagination and creativity
Ever since I was a toddler, I have always been highly imaginative. My parents would chuckle watching me circle our house for hours, talking to the shrubs and flowers, putting things in the trees and having a tea party with my stuffed animals. I would make up stories, talk in horrible fake accents (no one ever said I’d make a great actress) and be in my own little world. In old family videos of birthday parties you can see all the other kids in a circle participating in some sort of activity, and then I would be off in the background talking to a bush (introvert, heyo!)
I also loved to build things. My dad was the type that would rather fix anything than buy something new. We always had scraps of wood, paint, stains and a plethora of tools to make things with. My brothers and I would help my parents with various DIY projects around our home; painting the house exterior, paving a backyard or fun projects like building a go-kart or make-shift raft from driftwood. My dad not only instilled the idea of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” but also how to make it happen.
As an adult I’ve strived to keep this mentality even as I lived in small apartments with limited tools. When I began my type design career I was living in a tiny apartment in Santa Monica, CA. I had essentially one corner of the living room that could be dedicated to my ‘office’ so I designed and built a stand up desk that would fit. I used galvanized steel piping as the frame and reclaimed wood for the top. It has been my ‘office’ ever since and has travelled with me everywhere I’ve moved (which has been a lot.)
My DIYism has taken on a new life since my husband and I bought our house in 2020. The concept of “wouldn’t it to cool if” was amplified when we decided to use COVID quarantine to gut and remodel our house (with the help of professionals), and grade, level and build a dry stacked retaining wall in our backyard by ourselves.
Grief has altered and shaped my life
Again the following September he deployed back to Afghanistan to embed with a unit of the Afghan National Army. This was supposed to be his last deployment before going to a job that would keep him home for a few years. Just before returning home, his battalion’s next deployment was changed from a (relatively) safe MEU to another combat deployment…returning to the same area in Afghanistan that Will had been in 2008. He felt obligated to go back one more time. So, severely exhausted and burnt-out from nearly 5 years of annual deployments, we said our hardest goodbye that next September.
The first weeks were always the hardest, but then you find a routine and get used to being alone. Will would call at completely random times with no forewarning after days, weeks or months of silence. Our longest stretch was 110 days on one of his earlier deployments when his ship was called to the coast of Yemen. Missing a call was devastating, so I always kept my phone charged, on loud and within arms reach.
On January 31st, 2012, just 54 days before his final return home and 1 month before his 24th birthday, I received a phone call from his dad. Will had been hit by an IED and was killed. In an instant, my entire life, my future, my heart had shattered. I got on the next flight to Seattle, and so began the procession of grief.
The first few weeks were agony. His final homecoming was on a rainy day in a private airfield with American flag draped over his casket. We first buried a piece of him in Seattle, then a piece of him a few months later in Arlington National Cemetery. In April his battalion returned home and held a memorial service for those they’d lost during the deployment.
In those three months I had become a completely different person. I felt trapped by a job that I had previously loved, chained to a desk that I had once felt so proud of. I felt the claustrophobia of immobility. All my income went towards paying my rent, student loans, car payments and food. I was in a monotonous, repetitive nightmare of grief, and I didn’t see a way out. If the first few weeks were agony, the following months were torture.
Then I met Max.
Lt. Maxwell Bernstein was Will’s platoon commander. We had never met but Will had talked a lot about him. At the battalion memorial service he came up and gave me a big hug. I had no idea who he was, and thought nothing of it other than a passing thought on how attractive he was. Not only was he an officer and probably married with kids, but I was so caught up in my grief that the thought of someone else was unimaginable. But Max was someone who was with Will in the last months, weeks, days and hours before he died, so he was someone I could talk to about my pain and share my grief. It turned out he wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, had a lot of time and needed to share grief of his own. So we became friends and eventually were inseparable. He became my rock.
Will & Max // Dec, 2011
He got out of the military in 2014, and our life as a couple of our own began. We moved to Evanston, Illinois just outside of Chicago, where he went to business school for two years. Then we moved to London, where we got married and spent 3 amazing years as expats, living the English life and traveling the world. We moved back to Seattle in 2020, bought a house and had our daughter, Charlie.
Will has been a part of our lives every step of the way. We visit him every year at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day weekend. We’ve shared almost every memory we have of him together. The pain of losing someone is such a life altering experience that I can’t think of one thing that hasn’t been affected by his death. I am who I am now because of the time we had together and the time we never got.
Why am I sharing this? Other than the idea that omitting Will from my story doesn’t do him justice, it is because of the profound impact that he and the experience of losing him had on my life. Without losing him, I never would have thought to leave my job, to look for something more. I may never have taken up type as a hobby, then a passion and then a career.
I learned that life is short and to live it well. There was a quote that Will’s mom shared with me once. It read “Walk in the world for me.” I have truly taken that to heart and have tried to make my life something that Will would be proud of.
I am an endless dreamer and experience seeker
After regaining a new sense of ownership on my life and learning a lot about myself, I discovered that an agency desk-job wasn’t for me. I learned that I loved to travel, explore and adventure. I had spent most of my post college adult life waiting for life to happen, those precious moments in between deployments, that I hadn’t had time to look in the mirror about what I liked doing, or where I wanted to go and do. Being a partner to the military you spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for training exercises to end, for deployments to end.
I was done waiting.
I spent 6 weeks backpacking through Thailand and Laos with my two brothers. Max and I traveled for a month to Europe where we fell in love with London and decided to find a way to live there. 3 years later (and after 2 years in Chicago for Max’s MBA) we made the move overseas. Once in Europe we found exploring the world to be at our fingertips. We camped on the beaches and fjords of Norway, motorbiked in the mountains of Northern Vietnam, explored coffee plantations in Colombia, hiked to the peak of Sri Prada at sunrise in Sri Lanka, motorboated in the San Juan Islands and beyond of the Pacific Northwest. For 6 years we were on the move, visiting new places, meeting new people and living a completely different kind of life than either of us had imagined.
It’s not just far away adventures that make my heart soar. I love to wander, may it be to a local park, through neighborhoods, high streets, farmer’s markets and bookstores. Letting my mind wander, listening to an audiobook or just enjoying the silence of my surroundings is calming and rejuvenating. My ideas, goals and dreams are endless, and although I know they exhaust my husband and family, it’s an attribute that doesn’t seem to let up or go away, and I’m always excited about where it will take us next.
I f@cking love type
Around 10 years old I started creative journaling. I would write about my day and decorate the pages with illustrations, magazine clippings and doodling words. Doodling became an incessant hobby/tick. It got to the point where you couldn’t go a page in my school book without seeing words sketched into the margins of every page.
In 5th grade I created a ‘logo’ for myself. It really just ended up being my signature but I practiced it hundreds of times before I got it just right. I still use the same signature, albeit more messy, today.
In highschool I was a part of a ‘Sportsboosting Club’ that would decorate lockers for athletes, teachers and other clubs. While it seemed like a silly extracurricular at the time, it was actually forming a foundation in lettering that has followed me throughout my career.
I left Seattle to go to university down in California, where I was enrolled in the PR and Advertising program in film school. In my sophomore year I took a graphic design class and ended up loving it so much that I double majored in both. My favorite class I took was a typography class. At one point we had a project to create a typeface out of an object. It was a silly assignment – if anyone is ever in need of a hammerhead font, let me know! – but I loved it. I decided to create an independent study course where I created a font from scratch, learned an early version of FontLab Studio, and made my very first working font. I found that I loved the repetitive nature of creating fonts. Coming up with a concept, creating a system for it, and implementing it over a wide array of characters. I had no idea this was actually something people made careers out of, but I figured it would make a nice hobby.
After college I moved to Santa Monica and began working for a small design agency in the Entertainment Industry. This was incredibly exciting to be a part of an industry that touches the world, and creating key art that would be seen by everyone. Not unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the world was creating title treatments, and finding ways for type to interact with imagery. I started doing animation for home entertainment ads, learning after effects and cinema 4D, and exploring new ways to work with type.
This time was when Will was deploying annually, so I had a lot of time to myself, living alone in a city where I didn’t really know anyone. So I began creating fonts inspired by projects at work, or from signage I would see around Santa Monica. After Will was killed and I became more and more unhappy with my job, I spent nearly every waking hour creating fonts. I would get up early before work, work late into the night and spend entire weekends in front of my computer. Eventually, after a lot of hard work, even more time, and a few successful typefaces (lookin’ at you Lunchbox!) I was in a position to leave my day job and pursue a full time career as a type designer.
I built a desk for myself that fit in a small corner in the living room of my Santa Monica apartment, bought a iMac and have been working at that station (throughout 4 moves, 4 cities and two countries) ever since.
When Max and I found out that we would be able to move to London, I applied to get my Masters Degree in Typeface Design at the University of Reading. I commuted and hour and a half from London to Reading everyday for the 2017-2018 year.
Up until that point I had been completely self taught in designing type. I had bought books, watched tutorials and signed up for online seminars. Other than that I had always been a bit removed from the typeface community. This was not only my introduction into established principles in type, type history and cutting edge technology in type, but also into the people behind them! Spending time with my classmates was such an incredible experience.
My dissertation was on artistic printing in the late 19th century, a controversial era of typeface design that I found fascinating. Living in London and having access to 19th century specimen books gave me a profound insight into the history of display typography that I never would have had elsewhere. I’m so grateful for that experience and for what my learnings will give me in my future career!
Now I am back in the US, living in Seattle and on my own again, but with a wider knowledge of my industry, and connections that will hopefully last a lifetime!