Typography/Lettering May 25, 2016
The month is almost over, and with that comes the end 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.
Next up: a Brooklyn-based ADC Member who feels there’s no ‘end zone’ to getting better and improving her lettering techniques.
Calligrapher & Lettering Artist
Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?
I didn’t have a particularly creative upbringing, but I did live in the countryside where there really wasn’t much to do except going to the library, so I naturally became a bookworm and a doodler. I didn’t have digital cameras to snap photos when I was little, so I was obsessed with drawing things I couldn’t have, like the neighbor’s dog or the cool snow fort I made. Now that skill has transitioned to drawing letters.
What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of this, and what convinced you it was even possible?
My career started out with formal design education. I went to the School of Visual Arts for Graphic Design and took typography and type design courses. A little while after finishing undergrad, I went back to school again to specialize in type design at Cooper Union. Although some people prefer taking the independent study route, I loved being able to interact with my instructors, and the camaraderie of the classroom environment was crucial in keeping myself motivated. Having the enthusiasm to keep chipping away at what you want to be good at is just as important as the quality of education itself.
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 try not to think about having a particular style. At the end of the day, since I am human after all, I’m sure my personality will be embedded in every project. So I try to let style take a backseat to what I’m actually trying to express through my work.
“…I try to let style take a backseat to what I’m actually trying to express through my work.”
Walk us through your usual creative process.
Projects can come in from all sorts of directions. Since I work full-time in advertising, there’s the corporate projects with strategy briefs that I deal with every working day. Outside of the office, I also work with smaller-scale clients for freelance. For those clients, it’s usually through word-of-mouth.
After setting up parameters and timeline of the project, I tend to start on paper and go back and forth from analog to digital. There’s a natural doodling tendency on paper that helps with the flow of the creative process. I have a hard time doing the same with the computer. Maybe it’s because it’s more unforgiving. Usually when I think I’m finished, I walk away and try to look at it with fresh eyes the next day. If it still looks alright, I send it out and move on to the next project.
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?
My favorite pencil is usually the Blackwing. There’s something so smooth about the quality of the graphite. Sketching with it is just a dream. Sometimes when I have creative block, I try out a variety of different pens and pencils. You never know, that red ballpoint might just be what you needed.
What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design? Why is that your favorite? (Ampersands don’t count!)
I would say that R is an interesting letter. It has the straight, round, and diagonal stroke all in one.
Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?
Definitely a serif. Sans serif is a serif without its blade. As Arya likes to say, “stick’em with the pointy end.”
“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?
Perhaps the best way to explain it is that the creative process isn’t something that you can turn off after leaving the office. Your creative senses are always turned on, 24/7. It’s exhilarating but it complicates your life at the same time.
Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?
My favorite project is always the one that I just finished. For now, it’s the Chance & Destiny blackletter cut-out piece. I wrote out the piece with hand in calligraphy, then transferred it over to a piece of black paper before cutting the whole piece. The trickiest part was to make all the letters connect so it could be one piece of paper at the end. I’m fairly happy with how it turned out, at least for the time being!
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?
Branding an entire restaurant in either classy flourished letters, or in powerful blackletter. Designing everything from the logo to the interior decoration would be a project to kill for.
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 would say one of the most difficult day-to-day challenges is the fear of uncertainty about my own work. How do you make sure that you are always doing quality work? For myself, I try to take classes and read books that are related to type, lettering, calligraphy, and design as much as I can. There is an infinite world out there full of knowledge that I haven’t come across yet. Every day, if I’ve learned something new, I consider that an improvement over the day before.
“Every day, if I’ve learned something new, I consider that an improvement over the day before.”
What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?
I get motivational inspiration in Pixar movies and get relaxing inspiration in sketching animals at the zoo. Besides that, I try to stop by every antique shop that I can when I’m traveling. There’s just so much inspiring material just lying about for 50 cents apiece.
Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?
I look up a lot to my old instructor, boss, and mentor Joe Marianek. He co-founded the design studio Small Stuff with Dinah Fried. I met him through his Basic Typography class when I was a sophomore at the School of Visual Arts, then had the pleasure of working with him at Apple Inc., my first job out of college. On top of being a great professional, he’s just a remarkable human being. You can instinctively sense that he genuinely cares about the people around him, and is constantly inspiring everyone around him to do their best work. That’s a lot to look up to.
When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?
There’s no end to this craft. I could keep trying to get better at type and lettering forever, and never reach an end zone. I think it’s great to know that this is a craft that you can be working on for the rest of your life and still have more to learn. Challenges that seem impossible are often the ones worth pursuing!
Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April and May, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!