John Downer began training as a sign painter while he was in high school. He finished his apprenticeship after college, then started graduate studies in art at The University of Iowa, where he received MA and MFA degrees in painting.
Downer currently resides in Iowa City, and lectures throughout the U.S. and Europe. His essays on type history and hand lettering have appeared in Emigre magazine and House magazine. Downer’s professional activities include sign painting, lettering, glass gilding, type design, typography, and logo design. He has also designed custom fonts for individuals and corporations.
Downer’s debut text family was Bitstream Iowan Old Style, published in 1991. Iowan Old Style is classified as a Venetian old style type design. It is related to earlier, 20th-century American interpretations of Italian Renaissance types cut by Nicolas Jenson and Francesco Griffo, but it is modeled also on classical inscriptional lettering and sign painting seen in certain regions of eastern Iowa.