Ionut Radulescu: “Keep Your Eyes Open”

Brooklyn-based ADC Member has a passion for lifestyle branding and lettering

This is it! The final two days of ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month! It’s been a fantastic ride, but don’t worry — we still have more to show! Whether you’re designing brand new digital fonts for the world to use, or whether you’re creating free-flowing calligraphy to adorn a wall, you guys know that there is more to written words than just their meaning.

Kicking off this week: a Brooklyn-based graphic designer who calls his style “playful and diverse.”

Graphic Designer & Illustrator
Brooklyn, NY



Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?

I used to draw a lot as a kid, and without even realizing I was finding myself lost in a pile of papers and pencils, watching cartoons and later drawing characters from anime series like Pokémon or Digimon, and before that it was Sailor Moon, ha ha!

Before going into an art high school, I realized that I love drawing and designing clothing, so my first thought was to go into fashion. However, I ended up studying industrial design for four years. It was a great opportunity to learn different things from furniture design to interior design and having lots of art history classes, sculpture, painting and traditional drawing.

I realized that I loved to visually illustrate my concepts and compose layouts, and so I learned that “graphic design” is an actual profession where I would be able to do just that. I ended up having my first job in high school drawing animal characters into packaging design for kids cereals. I barely knew how to color them digitally, but that small company taught me about this process. After high school I ended up studying Graphic Design and some Illustration in a three year BA Program at the National University of Arts, Bucharest.

After my graduation in 2010, I worked in advertising and publishing, picking up several illustration and design projects. I discovered I loved to illustrate words and play with letters, merging the bridge between design and illustration. I didn’t know at that time what “lettering” was. My first lettering project was for McCann-Erickson in London, designing a series of posters, web and print applications to illustrate a playful type image for a restaurant.

In August 2011, I moved to the USA for my Master in Illustration Design at SCAD—Savannah College of Art and Design. I didn’t knew exactly what the outcome would be, I just knew I wanted to learn and be challenged by different mediums and disciplines.

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

It was in college when I realized that I was interested in different disciplines, but keeping type and lettering along with illustration as tools to express my work. And by disciplines I mean creating work for lifestyle, fashion, food, editorial, video, pretty much everything new that I could apply my lettering to.

During my Master at SCAD I created a poster for the New York Times Summer Movies 2012. It had a lot of illustrated letters and it got to be featured in the finalists gallery. A bit later after that I was creating illustration to be applied on furniture for a fun project. The following project was drawing letterforms for a fashion movie to be applied on a video.

I enjoyed working with different people that helped me discovering new ways of seeing and applying my lettering work. I did my first internship at Pearlfisher Design Studio in New York, and after that I worked with several design and lifestyle agencies. It helped to have different workspaces, working with both design and illustration.

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?

Playful, diverse and with a hand-crafted touch, especially on the lettering and illustration projects. I think the word “voice” or “visual vocabulary” is more appropriate. I can have a hand-crafted style on a project, or I can go for a minimal visual solution for another project. But the way you use colors, shapes and compositions will develop organically and you will establish your own artistic personality.


Walk us through your usual creative process.

It really depends on the project. Music helps, sometimes late nights help when my brain gets lost in various images from the books, magazines or from the internet and I start to make connections. This will end up either directly on the computer or on the paper with several variations and organic developments. But overall, most of the project starts with research, brainstorming and then a thought process that can go into different directions.

I don’t think I can call a project finished, but it has to stop at one point and I know that it has to be like that, I think you kind of instinctually feel when “to stop”.

What is your favorite ‘practical’ typeface, one for everyday use? What is it that you love about it so much?

I love a lot of typefaces for different applications, but I have a recent crush on “Canela” typeface from Commercial Type, because of its gracious features and the ambiguity of the shapes between sans and serif, soft and sharp, modern yet classic. It gives me a certain feeling.

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?

I love working with Indian black ink, watercolor and colorful inks with different variations of brushes and pens. Then I like using the tablet and the computer to mix the analog and the digital.

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

S, R, E, T and F. I like drawing with ink very fast and create dynamic shapes out of the letters. Particularly R, S, and E can bring some interesting results out of a brushstroke.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Both! It’s like in the first part of the Hunger Games, but in this case, winning is forever!

“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?

That’s a hard one! I try to explain them that I use images, letters and drawings to express a certain message or a point of view. “You cannot not communicate” as my design professor used to say. I think people tend to better understand what these things are when you put them in a context that they will be able to resonate with.

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

I don’t particularly have a favorite project, but a recent one I did of Hello Mr. Magazine was a fun one! It’s currently displayed on their social media and web platform, as part of their Spring Campaign. I created a series of illustrated lettering pieces showcasing different phrases on the concept of “love”. It was interesting to see how people react to it and how these things are being seen nowadays in our modern culture. The project is relatable because it illustrates emotions and feelings from everyday life. The second one is my recent exhibit in New York, as part of a daily side project started in March 2014. The challenge was to create an illustrated lettering piece everyday as a visual diary and as a challenge to grow and improve my skills. I currently have almost 700 pieces. The project is still going on.

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?

I would love to design and create a whole experience for a lifestyle/fashion brand. It would be great to work within a team and combine different mediums and disciplines to bring together a brand that not only looks great visually but also distills contemporary culture in an interesting way while having an engaging conversation with the audience. This could be everything from logo design, custom type and lettering, collaterals and various web and print applications that bring together a great level of experimentation.

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 hardest part is to obviously make a living from what you love while staying challenged and growing while having the chance to work with people that can inspire you. And for that you need a great level of practice and patience, and you need to be eager to continuously learn and stay relevant. There are a lot of similar lettering styles out there, and what will make you stand out is the way you are telling your “visual story” and your capacity to polish and expand your skills and creative thinking. Everything is changing so fast and you need an out-of-the-box mindset to keep up and bring new ideas on the scene.

“Keep your eyes open” is a classic but relevant expression nowadays in terms of understanding culture and trying to infuse that in your work. Craft skills are not enough, you need to have great ideas and apply that into design thinking.

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

I get inspired by literally everything around me: people, places, moments, objects, reactions and pretty boys. I try to always discover weird music, videos, writings, magazines basically all the things that I think will resonate with me and touch me in one way or another so that I can make connections and get inspired to put something new on the paper.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why?

I have been following studios like M/M(Paris), Antoine+Manuel, Kokoro & Moi, Oh Yeah Studio and creatives like Rodrigo Coral, Mario Hugo, Lisa Hedge, Jessica Hische and Gemma O’Brien.

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

Working within this field brings up a high-level of inspiration and motivation to be better at what I do while experimenting with different things and be part of a creative community that pushes me. It is interesting to see the different reactions of the audience when they interact with what I create.

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