Design+ Hand Lettering
If you could give your first-year self advice what would it be?
Be patient. When I was in my first year, I felt like everything should happen immediately. I was rushing to finish my classes all throughout college so that I could graduate and get to the next big thing, only to realize that I was graduating in the middle of a pandemic and everything was at a stand still. So rushing got me nowhere. During the pandemic, I was forced to wait which was sort of a blessing in disguise for me. It allowed me to focus more on hand lettering, develop my portfolio by taking on more passion projects and invest in myself so that I could come out of this pandemic a better hand lettering artist and more set up for success.
As a recent grad, did you ever see yourself becoming involved in hand lettering? How did you start hand lettering?
I fell in love with hand lettering in my second year of college during a typography course. Before this, I had never even heard of hand lettering! Like anyone who starts a new hobby, I was pretty bad at it at first. I became obsessed after taking this class and started drawing letters in my free time, just with a pencil and paper. In my third year, I bought myself an iPad so I could digitize my lettering easier and start taking hand lettering more seriously. So yes, I did see myself becoming a hand lettering artist, but I had to be introduced to it in college and I am so thankful that I did.
Do you have any favourite resources for someone who wants to start hand lettering but is overwhelmed?
You can start hand lettering with anything! I started with a pencil and a piece of paper and really, that’s all you need! Some books that I found helpful to get started are House Industries Lettering Manual and In Progress by Jessica Hische. I also took some Skillshare classes by Mary Kate McDevitt, Jon Contino and Lauren Hom (just to name a few, there are so many!) where they covered the basics of lettering, their process and some of their work. If you don’t have a Skillshare account, Martina Flor and Ian Barnard are great accounts and people to follow for tips, tricks and resources. Procreate also has a very helpful Instagram account with tutorials.
Motivation was also a big thing for me personally as I pushed myself and continue to keep pushing myself to get better at my craft. Some people and Instagram accounts to follow for motivation in hand lettering and freelancing in general are The Perspective Collective by Scotty Russell and podcast Perspective Podcast, Tom Ross and his multiple accounts and podcasts, Meg Lewis, Molly Jaques and Pandr Design Co.
What are the biggest mistakes that are made when it comes to crafting letters? How do you overcome those pitfalls?
For me, I struggle with when to follow the rules of typography and when to break them. Hand lettering is essentially a blend of typography and illustration. Because of this, hand lettering artists have to toe the line between the rules of typography and the freedom of illustration. Sometimes you have to break the rules of typography for the benefit of the composition and knowing when and how to do that well is tricky.
How does being an art director inform your hand lettering decisions and vice versa?
As an art director, I am always (selfishly) looking for ways to incorporate hand lettering into a campaign. Not every client and not every brief makes sense to use hand lettered typography in execution — actually there are few campaigns where it works. However, the exercise of looking for ways to incorporate hand lettering into a campaign helps me to push the boundaries of my own knowledge of lettering. Doing this offers opportunities to make campaigns more impactful (where a hand lettered execution is applicable to the brief) and also to expand on my craft as a hand lettering artist.
I noticed you work with both digital and physical mediums (pens and pencils as well as a tablet), if you had to give one up forever which would it be and why?
I would give up pen and paper. As much as I love working with physical mediums, I cannot live without my iPad. Using an iPad is so much more versatile than working with pencil and paper. I love being able to take it with me anywhere I need to go and it is also much more forgiving, meaning that if I mess up, I don’t have to erase the whole piece. Instead, I can just double tap to erase or just select and move an element if I need to.
What are your favourite physical (pens, markers, pencils, crayons, paper, etc.) and digital tools (Adobe suite, Procreate, iPad, iMac, Wacom, etc.)?
My favourite physical tools are probably pencils and Micron pens and a piece of paper. Super simple! My favourite digital tools are my iPad and Procreate, Adobe Fresco and Adobe Illustrator for iPad. I also use the Adobe Creative Suite on my laptop — specifically Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.
Who are your biggest inspirations for hand lettering?
Lauren Hom, Monique Aimee, Mary Kate McDevitt, Adam Vicarel, Veronica Grow, Ben Johnston, Becca Clason, Ade Hogue, Cymone Wilder and so many more that I am forgetting at the moment. Most of these people work in digital mediums most of the time which inspires me to try new things when I’m drawing letters on my iPad or look at their work for examples when I am struggling with a piece. Some, like Becca Classon, work with textiles and it is always interesting to see how she turns a physical object into a word. I also look up to muralists like Ben Johnston for inspiration because he forms letters and words in such interesting ways on a huge canvas like the side of a building. I have always wanted to paint a mural, but I just haven’t had the opportunity yet.
One of the things that I love about lettering so much is that although most hand lettering artists are working with the same 26 letters in the Latin alphabet, there are infinite ways that they can be perceived and executed. Hand lettering artists all have their own unique style and the people that I listed have all been my personal inspirations for when I want to try something new, when I am working in a new medium or when I just see something that I like and I want to emulate it somehow in my own work.
We’re going to end with a fun question, if you could only design in one style for the rest of your life (Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, Futurism, etc.) what would it be and why?
I think I would choose Art Nouveau. It is such a delicate style and the letterforms are so interesting and unique. I try sometimes to incorporate some Art Nouveau-esque letterforms and influences into my personal work here and there because it is just so beautiful.
Julie is a graphic designer, art director and hand lettering artist based in Toronto. She is a recent Humber grad with a B.A. in Creative Advertising.