Pete Florentini in the Big Smoke

Pete Florentini is a Toronto-based art director who specializes in visual identity and custom typeface design. Beyond his creative talent and career success, Pete is a really interesting human. Born in Peru, his family left during a national recession and relocated to Spain when he was 10. He spent his formative years in Madrid, as a racialized immigrant kid in a country still transitioning its integration to the EU, where he fell into the counterculture of rebellious youth movements, fuelled by 90s hard core punk and hip hop, and anti-authoritarianism. Armed with markers and spray cans in a city loaded with culture right outside his door, Pete found his voice and identity through graffiti writing. 

Everything felt accessible to Pete while living in Madrid, where little pocket communities had no barriers to entry and creative culture just existed, ready to be consumed. He collected lo-fi cassettes and obsessed over album graphics that he photocopied—an artistic approach he ended up practicing through print work and processing in later years. 

“I’m drawn to funky or obscure versions of things, like the b-sides and things with character and personality that are rare.”

As a Peruvian ex-pat in Spain during the late 80s and early 90s, Pete was an anomaly within the community and says he always felt a sense of isolation. His creative expression was influenced by the hardcore scene of emerging punk music and a straight-edge lifestyle. It was a further counter to counterculture. 

“It was about revolting against what’s cool by doing something different, while sharing the same values,” he says. Pete upholds a “clean” lifestyle today, but for his own philosophies and personal views, not as an advocate. That said, he views cannabis as a way for many creators to find inspiration—for example in hip hop, which he has a lifelong appreciation for and connection with. He also believes in the idea of cannabis helping people in beneficial ways that are an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs and the common healthcare approach of pills being prescribed as solutions.

As an artist, everything Pete creates is in some way inspired by his past and present surroundings. That includes found objects, relic ephemera, and one-off pieces of times gone by. He has an affinity for everyday items that represent different eras, and tokens that become a new context through aging. “I’m drawn to funky or obscure versions of things,” he says. “Like the b-sides and things with character and personality that are rare. I’m also drawn to what’s natural and authentic.”

Pete is now a partner, co-founder, and art director of Meat Studio Toronto. Unlike most of his peers from his youth, Pete managed to avoid the law as a graffiti writer, graduated high school, and eventually relocated to Toronto to chase a career that aligned with his passions as an artist.

“I wanted to keep the Superette brand palette, iconography, mood, and aesthetics.”

Pete recently created the Big Smoke Tourist Tee with Superette—a fan favourite among Toronto locals and non-locals from all over the place who love a clean, hand-sketched font. “I wanted to keep the Superette brand palette, iconography, mood, and aesthetics,” Pete says about his design approach to the project. “From there, I focused on the typography display fonts and illustration imagery treatment.” 

He went deep on font options before landing on the most interesting variant that wasn’t available in digital format. So he started manually typesetting Big Smoke. “Sometimes with typography, especially if it's a tailored one, I draw it over the screen with my reference underneath and add other elements I have in mind,” he explains. “Then I have a better feeling of shapes and dimensions for the whole composition.”

In addition to the customized typeface, Pete added his own design elements to the tee, including the Toronto city skyline and his own take on the Superette logo. “I kept a lot of white space, as it's a big part of the brand, as well as the main colours that are associated with Superette.” he says. “Also, notice the joints in between each letter to make the BIG SMOKE look more organic.”

Well played, Pete.

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