Feminine Goth: Victoria Black

New York-based letterer & ADC Member: "the alphabet isn't going anywhere."

Well it looks like the month of May is giving us a big dreary dose of April weather, so it makes sense that ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month is being extended! OK, the gloom has nothing to do with it. It might be drizzling outside, but it’s a downpour of submissions from ADC Members who have a passion for letterforms, be they precision-tooled digital font libraries or customized hand drawn lettering.

Kicking off the new month is a New York-based ADC Member who considers lettering to be one of the only things she really understands.


HeadshotVICTORIA BLACK

Letterer
New York, NY
theVictoriaBlack.com
thevictoriablack@gmail.com

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Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?

I wish there was some romanticized story of how I critiqued the typeface used for spaghetti-O’s or detested my comic-sans name-tag when I was 7 but really it’s something I picked up in college. Sure I was always creative and making art from a young age, but my love affair with letters started in 2008 in Richard Mehl’s Visual Literacy class at SVA. The first day I had to draw the letter R with exact precision and I hated every second of it. After presenting my work, he told me to consider a different field. It was the best advice I had ever received, because I had to prove him wrong. Letters suddenly became my obsession.

(DISCLAIMER*: Richard Mehl is one of the best typography teachers I’ve ever had and he now fully supports my lettering career)

What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of this, and what convinced you it was even possible?

There really wasn’t any other choice. It’s one of the only things I really understand and I’m never tired of it. Some days I wake up and I have to pinch myself that this is actually my job!

How would you best describe your style in a sentence? Do you fight against having a telltale style, or do you embrace it as your brand?

I love this question. My style is “Feminine with a goth touch”. I’m constantly told that my work is “too feminine” or “too funerary” and it used to drive me crazy. I used to be jealous of designers that used bold, bright colors and bold, thick lettering. After trying to alter my style I realized the work started to lack that “X factor”. So now I embrace it fully. Besides, since when are feminine gothy things bad?

Walk us through your usual creative process.

Henri Matisse said: “Drawing is putting a line around an idea” and I totally agree. When a project comes in I start with a really simple paper & pencil sketch. It’s the easiest way to determine whether a design will be successful or not. It’s almost like a gesture drawing, I usually start with a series of tiny little sketches just to get a feel for the content and what I’m working with.

Everybody’s got a favorite brand of marker, a favorite kind of ink, that pencil with just the right amount of heft. What are yours, and why do you swear by them?

For me, a basic mechanical pencil and the crappiest tracing paper I can find are my ideal tools. Sure fancy markers and ink are great, but I get too intimidated to make something incredible. The pressure of having a stroke be “perfect” throws off my ability to focus. Tracing paper and my off-brand clicky pencil aren’t too precious so it puts me at ease.

“Sure fancy markers and ink are great, but I get too intimidated to make something incredible. The pressure of having a stroke be “perfect” throws off my ability to focus.”

What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design? Why is that your favorite? (Ampersands don’t count!)

Well, I have to mention the letter F, since I have a tattoo of one! But I fall in with the letter L constantly. It’s just so fluid and balanced. Also, technically ampersands were once considered a letter (#typesnobalert)

Who wins in a fight, serif or sans serif?

Violence is never the answer. Blackletter always wins. Then again so goes Neutraface Condensed Demi. Can’t we all just get along?

“Wait, what is that you do again?” How do you explain what you do for a living to people who aren’t in creative fields? What’s the thing they can’t quite grasp about it?

Explaining what I “do” is sort of tough. A lot of people ask me why I do what I do, and I constantly try to explain that what I do is provide something custom. The other answer is simply explaining that I actually enjoy drawing letters. It brings me back to the time of Saul Bass or Paul Rand, when craft was so crucial to the function of design. I think that’s what I love what I do. It truly is a craft.

“It brings me back to the time of Saul Bass or Paul Rand, when craft was so crucial to the function of design. I think that’s what I love what I do. It truly is a craft.”

Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?

The “YAB Sticker” might be my favourite project. It’s just a simple sticker that says “You Are Beautiful”, in my favourite colours: blush pink and deep black. The sticker is meant to make someone happy, that’s it. I got to use my talent in a way that is going to spread happiness and positivity & that is exactly what I want my work to do.

YAB_vb+copy

What would be your dream project/assignment/client? What’s something you’ve never had the opportunity to do thus far, but would kill for that chance?

It’s a toss up! I’d love to create work for the Museum of Sex or any vegan restaurant. MoSex is always switching up its style and doing eclectic fun things with typography in their signage and posters. And I just love vegan food so I think the chance to design the branding or logo for would be so much fun.

What is the most difficult thing about making a career out of what you do? How do you get around that, and what advice would give to others facing similar challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is finding a balance between making the client and yourself happy. When this happens it is magic. Other times it’s a real bummer. One piece of advice is to kill your darlings. At the end of the day letters make letters. The alphabet isn’t going anywhere and you can draw a new one tomorrow, and it will be even better.

What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I really like to draw and cook (but not at the same time of course). You can’t turn off creativity, so I find inspiration everywhere, whether it’s a conversation with a friend or a really great piece of architecture, or a new place or a new word I’ve learned.

“Language is one of the most extraordinary, beautiful things in the world, and I get to make it even more beautiful.”

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?

There are so many talented people out there! I especially look up to Jessica Hische, Ken Barber, Jon Contino, Marlene Silveira and Louise Fili. They’re all so transformative yet clear in their style.

When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a letterer?

Language is one of the most extraordinary, beautiful things in the world, and I get to make it even more beautiful.

Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April and May, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!

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