Jana Federov a.k.a. Xuli Loves Calligraphy and Conspiracy Theories

The Hamburg-based calligrapher really digs typography and mysterious phenomena.

In this hyper-virtual day and age where basically everything is increasingly speeding towards turning into an IRL Instagram filter, choosing to be a full-time calligrapher is almost an act of resistance. Yet that’s exactly what Hamburg-based Jana Federov a.k.a. Xuli decided to do a few years back after studying Graphic Design. Despite receiving a pretty digital-first education, the typography class she took resonated with her the most; since then, she’s honed her skills as a calligrapher, typographer and designer working with a bundle of clients across multiple industries. She tends to stick to monochrome pallets and shapes that feel more rough around the edges than clean and minimal, but other than that, her work ebbs and flows between influences and inspirations. She’ll create murals with Japanese-style lettering, and then do an old-school sign with curls evocative of NYC cafes. She’ll tease out loose letters full of street art momentum, or produce abstract prints of letters jumping in a jittery yet wholly satisfying flow. Clearly, Xuli isn’t afraid of trying new things—which makes sense, since she recently opened up trap-oriented CHAINS club with her good friend DJ Cri$py C. Since we’re working with Xuli as part of our collaboration with adidas Originals, we thought we’d ask her about finding her place as a calligrapher, conspiracy theories and dealing with crappy days.

Girls Are Awesome: Hey, Jana. Did you have an ‘a-ha!’ moment when you knew you wanted to create typography, or did it kind of come naturally?

Jana Federov: Actually, I can’t say that I’ve always been focused on typography. The ‘a-ha!’ moment came when I took a calligraphic course at university a few years ago. I took it for no special reason; I just wanted to try out something different from all the classic graphic magazine editorial work. But as soon as I started, it just caught me and has not let go up to this day.

How would you describe your calligraphic style?

Cryptic, mystical and partly influenced by underground cultures.

Can you describe your working process, from when you start a new project to when you’re done and happy with it?

There’s a difference between working on a project for a customer and working on a personal project. For personal, free projects, I just let it go and take my time. I try out new things and give myself the space to process impressions of whatever I’m inspired by at that moment. And I’m happy with the work when it just feels right.

For working with customers, it’s important to have structure, a timetable, research and a lot of communication. In this case, the project is finished when we both are happy with it.

How much of your time goes into making fun stuff for yourself vs. working for clients?

I am in the lucky position to do what I love, so I can say that most of the client jobs I do are the fun stuff, too

What are some of your go-to sources of inspiration?

Music has always been a huge inspiration for me as well as any kind of resistance against the norm. I also love conspiracy theories, legends and stories about things you can’t really explain. (Anyone remember X-Factor?)

What are some of the projects you’re most proud of and why?

This is a hard one to answer. I am pretty much proud of everything I’ve done because it’s brought me one step closer to where I am now. And after every successful, completed project, I feel proud. But at the moment, it’s of course our CHAINS Club Project which I am really into. It feels like the next big step.

What’s your dream project or person to collaborate with?

Hard to say; I don’t have that ‘one’ special thing in mind. All I know is that I need to go to LA and I want to do a huge-ass mural there. Plus, I know that all the artists with huge names like Mister Cartoon, Norm, Chaz Bojorquez and Mike Giant are over there. I have so much respect for their work that at the moment, it’s inconceivable for me to imagine a collaboration with them. But we will see; maybe this dream will come true one day.

A lot of the calligraphy on your website has an almost Japanese feel to it. Can you explain that a little bit?

Haha, yes. That work comes from a period during which I was super fascinated by samurais, ninjas, hagakure and Japanese legends. All of that definitely left a huge impact on my work. I mean, it still does, but at the moment I’m more focused on the Pichação and chicano cultures.

What’s the best part of being a freelance specialist in lettering, illustration, calligraphy and typography—and the worst?

The best is the freedom to do whatever and go wherever I want at any time, and the worst is definitely the hustle about the irregular income of money. But it’s all worth it.

What advice would you give to young creatives just starting out in your field?

Sounds super spiritual, but “believe in your intuition and your skills” and “don’t be afraid to try out new things.” Fear is something that holds you down and and will not let you cross borders.

What’s a new skill you want to tackle?

Definitely tattooing. I’ve been trying for a while to find the time and cash to buy the equipment and finally start this. So many people ask me about it and I definitely need to get going.

When you’re having a shitty day and basically just need a big hug, who do you go to?

I need a dog. Nothing else calms me down more as spending time with animals.

What are you working on these days?

Reaching all my life goals.

Thanks, Jana.