ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month is cruising right along, showcasing the many ADC Members who make their mark with letterforms. Whether they’re designing brand new digital fonts for the world to use, or they’re creating free-flowing calligraphy to adorn a wall, these artists know that there is more to written words than just their meaning.
Our next featured ADC Member is an old friend of the Club, an Australian expat who made a splash lettering overheard conversations in the Big Apple. This time he reveals he’d be almost as comfortable with a Stradivarius as he is with a stylus.
Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?
I grew up in Mt. Eliza, a sleepy town just an hour Southeast of Melbourne, Australia. I have an extremely supportive community and family that always pushed me to make art. I was one of those kids involved in everything from the school plays, choir, orchestra (I was the lead violinist), the prefect board and particularly art competitions. I remember winning my first prize, a 1993 diary featuring illustrations by Terry Denton (now one of my favorite cartoonists), for the best Christmas tree decoration, a paper-cut stocking decorated with wild glitter pen patterns. Eight-year-old me loved the feeling of solving a creative challenge and I’ve spent the rest of my professional life pursuing that feeling. I really should start using glitter pens again.
What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of letterforms, and what convinced you it was even possible?
I think it was the same time I realized I could make a living out of forms and shapes in general. I see handlettering in the same light as any other type of illustration. I was doing an illustration elective at Monash University in Melbourne an was briefed on a book jacket project for a publication of my choosing. I chose Oscar Wilde‘s ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ where I combined zany illustration and lettering for the first time. That was when I realized I could apply this interest to a real world situation. I got a little rush out of holding something I physically made and could put on a shelf somewhere. I think my parents have it now. Afterward, I continued with type and illustration experiments with my first paid job making posters for a local Burlesque Club. I was really drawn to artists like Brandon Ragnar Johnson and Arthur De Pins at the time because they were great at combining illustration with type. I was also discovering art nouveau and vintage 1920’s Hoover ads that also had some stunning illustration and type examples. That was an era where fine art and graphic design were really meshed together well and I loved that.
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 approach handlettering with the sensibility of an illustrator and my style shifts with my interests so there’s really nothing to fight against. I find that anyone who is known for a particular style only did it for a limited time. Consider Picasso, he’s known for his cubism work but he initially drew from observation in his early career.
Walk us through your usual creative process. How do you know when you’re “finished”?
Most of my jobs come through friends/friends of friends, so email or Facebook are the main avenues. The brief is usually a quick description of what they’re after but it normally leads to coffee and a conversation. I brainstorm while I research, I’ll usually see something in a design, article, photo, whichever, that triggers a sequence of thoughts and small ideas. I start sketching with those fragmented ideas in mind and physically seeing them on a page shapes the idea even more, one feeds the other. I usually present 2-3 ideas as sketches alongside visual references to communicate what’s on my mind. I know the work’s done when I can place it next to those visual references and it holds its own as a complete, individual artwork.
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 can’t go past the black Faber Castell PITT Artist Pen. The tip stays sharp, the ink lasts for ages and you can get the darkest fills and the finest lines in one stroke. I often have to pull myself away from using it so I actually try other mediums.
What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design? Why is that your favorite? (Ampersands don’t count!)
There really has been an ampersand craze going on, right? Sure it’s a lovely shape but there are so many other ones you can try, I wanna see a semi-colon trend or something!
I’m drawn to big, round shapes so you’ll see a lot of Ps, Rs and Bs in my sketchbook. however, I’m more interested in whole words and how letters connect and fit together. Words like ‘Bowling’ or ‘Panache’ are good for that.
“There really has been an ampersand craze going on, right? Sure it’s a lovely shape but there are so many other ones you can try, I wanna see a semi-colon trend or something!”
Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?
Serif! Always. It’s the lettering style of Roman and Greek Conquerers, Latin branded shields and those super expensive Universities. It represents strength, power and knowledge, how can you lose with that?
“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?
‘I do the writing you see at the end of a TV commercial or the signage in the fruit aisle of your grocery store’. I get that it’s a tough one to grasp because the range of work is so broad. I’ll be making web banners for a comedian’s national tour in the morning and then yoghurt packaging in the afternoon.
Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?
Easily Eavesdropper, my instagram handlettering series inspired by overheard conversations. I love it because it’s my own idea, it makes me and tens of thousands of people laugh, it’s simple and it’s opened so many doors for me. It’s also given me the opportunity to work with photographers, comedians, cartoonists and style brands that I really admire.
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’d looove to do a massive mural at Hawaii Pow Wow. For those unfamiliar, it’s a week long festival where artists get together in Hawaii and just make art, see live shows and share knowledge, so awesome! I’d also love to make something with Cartoon Network, their bumpers are so wacky and 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’ve always had a tendency to set high expectations for myself creatively and be hard on myself if I don’t reach them. The most difficult thing has been keeping those expectations realistic and not judging my work by comparing it to others’. I get around it by educating myself, going to workshops, seeing art shows, keeping in touch with what’s out there. The only person you can truly compare yourself to is you. Keep your old sketchbooks and refer back to them to get an honest view of how you’re actually progressing. You’d be surprised by the huge differences between your work today and what you were doing only a year ago.
“Keep your old sketchbooks and refer back to them to get an honest view of how you’re actually progressing. You’d be surprised by the huge differences between your work today and what you were doing only a year ago.”
What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?
I pick up the violin when I can and I’ve been reading more lately. I’ve also started working out more and doing yoga and meditation. It’s so important to keep your body and mind healthy, you’re going to need both in good condition if you’re hoping to inspire others with what you’re making. I find inspiration from travelling and seeing how people navigate challenges in other countries, I was in Gili Island last month and was amazed by their transport system; no cars, busses or trains, just horses and bikes, it makes such a difference to a tiny island.
Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?
Seb Lester – He’s managed to bring classic craft into popular culture in a beautiful way.
Alex Trochut – I love his experiments with type and he’s also a great teacher if you can ever get around to one of his classes at Cooper Union or Skillshare.
Gemma O’Brien – She’s also a very generous teacher, she’s managed to create one of the most mimicked styles of the past five years but still keeps it fresh and interesting.
When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?
As long as a I have a pen, paper and computer, I can do what I love from wherever I want to be.
“As long as a I have a pen, paper and computer, I can do what I love from wherever I want to be.”
Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!