Born in Kingsville, Canada to American parents, Richard Isbell moved to the States with his family when he was three years old, settling in Detroit, Michigan. From an early age he wanted to be an artist or illustrator. Between 1936 and 1943 he took special art classes for gifted students at Detroit Institute of Arts. He also attended Cass Tech High School - which is known for its art tuition - taking all the available lettering classes there.
In 1943 he joined the US Marines. He served in Australia, and later the South Pacific. In 1945, upon discharge, he returned to Detroit and worked for General Motors in the graphic illustration department. He joined New Center Studios in 1947 as a lettering and design artist. Owned by Art Greenwald, an ex-lettering artist, New Center Studios was to be his home for nine years. In 1955, he saw the first use of his alphabets for Mercury and Pontiac cars. Together with a group from New Center Studios, he formed Art Group Studios in 1956. He spent four years there, designing for automotive clients. In 1960, he became graphic director at Headliners International, designing various Oldsmobile advertisements. He continued to design for the automotive industry, becoming a member of the General Motors design staff in 1965 and designing the Chevrolet signature.
In 1966 he created Americana for American Type Founders in honour of the US Bicentennial. Then, with Jerry Cambell, he produced ITC Isbell in 1975. Between 1976 and 1988 he taught lettering and design at the Center for Creative Studies, as well as at the School of Art and Design, Detroit. He has also lectured at New York's Type Directors Club, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University. He now concentrates on landscape painting and woodcarving.
[LC, December 2009]