Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn: The Cheese Stands Alone

ADC Member Shauna "Parmesan" brings a whimsical style to her freelance career

 ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month continues — right on into a second month. Yes, there too many type geeks and lettering nerds within the ADC community to squeeze into April, and so we have expanded this celebration of letterforms into May. 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.

We’re closing out the week with one of our most active ADC Members, an Orlando-based lettering artist who is blown away by the realization that she’s doing exactly what she wants to be doing.


Lettering Artist/Illustrator
Orlando, FL



Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?

I’ve been creating since I could hold a pencil. I was very lucky to grow up with parents who made sure that art was always a part of my life. They probably realized how much I enjoyed coloring as a tot and wanted to foster that. They were also the ones that encouraged me to study graphic design, which I did after a brief stint studying opera. But growing up there were always art supplies available to me and my parents would find ways to help me attend various art camps throughout my childhood. It helped to learn early on what media I enjoyed (drawing, painting, screen printing), and what I didn’t (ceramics, photography, sculpture).

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

I did some lettering in college, not fully realizing that it was a thing I could do for a living. It wasn’t until my internship at Brunet-García Advertising that I realized that was a possibility. The (now senior) art director, Aerien Mull, asked me to illustrate and letter a poster for Players by the Sea my first week interning, and the (former) creative director, Jefferson Rall, later in my internship asked me to hand letter a poster for an event called “The World of Foote”. That particular poster ended up getting accepted into CommArts Type Annual 2 and started spreading over social media. Anytime BG was contacted about who lettered that poster, they kindly directed them to me, even after I’d completed my internship. They’re great people.

Ultimately I continued to letter whenever I could and would try to bring it into various jobs. I was contracted for several freelance lettering jobs, realizing that full-time freelance was my ultimate goal. I moved to Orlando for a job, where 3.5 months later I was fired and I dove head first, at the encouragement of my parents, into freelance lettering and illustration. Exactly a week after I was fired, I landed my first job with a client who had seen the World of Foote poster I’d created 2 years prior.

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?

Whimsical. That’s what I’ve been told anyways. I feel my work has a bit of naivety to it which I think works well for me, but I also like to push my limits with my work, so my hope is eventually it’ll be this fun blend of whimsical punk, as I’m a little closet punk/grunge child. I embrace my style though because if I try changing it too much, it just doesn’t look like my work. It’s like someone who never wears makeup going out in a full face of cakey makeup. They don’t look or feel like themselves.

“I embrace my style… because if I try changing it too much, it just doesn’t look like my work. It’s like someone who never wears makeup going out in a full face of cakey makeup. They don’t look or feel like themselves.”

Walk us through your usual creative process. How do you know when you’re “finished”?

Usually a client will email either me directly or email my agent. If they sent the inquiry to me directly, then I will forward it to my agents who will then get in touch with them. Once terms are agreed upon and a contract is signed, then I will get in touch with the client for any further information that might be needed and then start the project.

Brainstorming involves me throwing on music and just drawing until things start to feel right. I always have to knock out the bad or cliché ideas first and then the really fun stuff shows up. I vary between starting on paper and starting on the computer. If I’m hired for something like lettering around a person’s head, I will generally just do sketches on the computer so I know that the proportions and such are accurate. I have brushes I use to simulate pencil so it still feels like the rough sketch stage to me.

I never know ‘finished’. I usually just go by either the deadline or when I find I’m nitpicking. If I am nitpicking, then I step away for a day if I have time, and come back with a fresh head and look over the work to make sure there’s nothing weird or awkward and make sure I’m completely happy with the layout. It’s at that point I make any final adjustments or changes to the design before sending off to the client for the final approval.

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 have such an array of tools that it changes constantly. So I won’t necessarily name brand names (though I have a few I do like) and will keep it pretty general:

– Colored pencil, preferably colored mechanical pencil lead – Sketches. This allows me to be REALLY loose with my sketches and not worry about being very accurate when it comes to laying out initial works.

– 2B lead, mechanical pencil, .5 size – Sketches. I use this for blocking out the shape and such on top of the colored pencil. By this point I’ve figured out my rough layout and I can go in and do a tighter sketch on top of what I’ve drawn.

– Pen (Bic Retro, Tul Ballpoint, Uniball Air, Pentel Stylo) – Sketches. Any of these are best for when I’m just overthinking every aspect of what I am drawing and force me to draw and make mistakes. There’s no perfection when I draw with pens and sometimes it’s just enough to take me out of a rut. I switch between sketching in pencils and sketching in pens depending on how I’m feeling that day.

– Wacom Inking Pen – Digital work. The Wacom pen that comes with the tablets is just too thick for my liking (I have small hands) and so I purchased a Wacom Inking pen that has a stylus tip and it feels like holding a regular pen. The bonus is my hands don’t get sore from holding something too big for long periods of time. I also feel like I have more control with it.

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 think it’s a tie between an S and a Q. The S simply because that’s the first letter of my name and it’s always been a tougher one for me to draw, so I try to experiment with it more so I can get a better handle on it and figure out new tricks for tackling it. The Q is fun because the tail allows you to get super experimental with the design. It can go from super simple to super elaborate.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

While a sans serif can pack a powerful punch, a serif brings their sharp knives and wit to the fight. For every punch the sans serif throws, the serif jabs back with physical and mental capabilities beyond the sans serif’s understanding. Not only do they have the resilience of centuries of type families behind them, they also stand proud, tall, and professional in modern times.

On his last blow, the Serif stands tall and proud. He looks down at the sans serif and says, “My name is Times New Roman. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“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 actually had this scenario last year at my grandma’s funeral. My family is full of medical professionals and engineers and the like, and I am the only one who creates art for a living. Trying to explain to them what I do was hard, and even giving examples they didn’t quite get it. So I just said “People pay me to doodle and make art for advertisements”. I think that’s about as understandable as I could make it. Regardless, the family was impressed and was amazed I was able to make a living doing it. Then at Christmas mom used Christmas cards I illustrated for Studio Oh and sent them to the entire family, so I think they kind of understand now.

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

One of my favorites is one that I’m unfortunately NDA’d on for life, so I can’t even say who it was for, but it was a really awesome well-known client.

I’ve had a lot of fun doing social media illustrations and lettering for Publix, which if you’re not in the south you may not realize is the best grocery store out there (PubSubs for the win). Their campaigns feature a lot of lettering, and their marketing is based in Florida, so I was incredibly excited when they finally reached out to me. I’ve worked on two campaigns thus far that were all online: Hispanic Heritage Month and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s day was really fun because they gave me words and some rough concepts and I really got to go to town on the lettering and illustrations. They were featured on their Facebook page, Twitter, and YouTube account and animated.

Other than that one, I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve done for Studio Oh. I’ve done several things, so I think the postcard book would have to be my top one. Nothing beats walking into a stationery shop and seeing your work on the shelves, or receiving texts from your friend in California with pictures of your work in random stationery shops.

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 have a huge dream client list: Starbucks, Target, Disney, Chronicle Books, Abrams Books, The Land of Nod, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Trader Joes, Sephora, and Whole Foods.
Hey guys, call me. 😉

I would LOVE to do some packaging, wine labels, or beer can designs. I’ve done a little packaging, but I want something super lettering and illustration heavy. But wine and beer, that would be a dream to design. Or a Starbucks Holiday Cup campaign, that as well would be the ultimate dream.

Wonderground Gallery is a life goal. I would love to create Disney art for them. I have no idea how I will accomplish this one, but if I can make it happen one day, I will be so happy.

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?

Finding the work. Freelance goes through an ebb and flow where there’s a period for everyone every year where the work slows down and it’s so hard not to jump into the survival mode mindset. The best thing to do during those times is to keep putting work out there, make sure you’ve saved money for the “famine” times, and keep active on social media because you don’t know where your next job is going to come from. The slow times are the best times to sit down and work on personal work you’ve wanted to do, and if you can put your focus into that, it will help you get through the slow times.

Oh, and set aside 20% of every job for taxes, and pay taxes quarterly.

“… keep active on social media because you don’t know where your next job is going to come from.”

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

I have been figure skating on and off since I was 10. I grew up spending Christmases in Chicago with my family and my parents would always take me ice skating, and in 4th grade I found out some of my school friends were taking lessons at a local rink that I didn’t even know Daytona had. So I asked my mom if I could start taking lessons. I went from 10 until about 15 years old, and then took a break until I was about 20/21, when school got incredibly stressful and I needed an outlet. Conventiently there was an ice rink 15 minutes from where I was living when I was in college, and eventually I got back into taking lessons, got a part time job at the rink to fund the hobby and get ice time, and then began to teach toddlers and beginner adults before I moved away to a new rink. When I moved, I was able to rent an apartment 5 minutes from the Orlando rink and began skating there soon after and made a bunch of friends who all skate as adults and now make it a goal to skate at minimum 3 times a week during lunch with my freelance friend. I have found that when I’m concentrating on my moves in the field and testing requirements to move up levels is when the great ideas for projects or solutions to things I am stuck on will come.

I was recently diagnosed with arthritis in my knees (result of the years of falling improperly onto my knees on the ice, broke the cartilage down, had an arthroscopy young, so when I came back to skating it was already thinned out considerably and then every fall after, plus being overweight, did nothing to help that) and so along with losing 30+ pounds, I switched tracks, gave up my axel dreams, and focused my discipline in ice dance. I will be finishing up the first level at the end of may and beginning to test the second level. But ice dance has opened up a whole new world to me and I’m stronger in that discipline than I was in freestyle (jumps and spins, though I am still doing spins), and that’s been inspiring me in other ways.

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

Danielle Evans — We are good friends, but I still want to plug her work because she’s a queen of puns and food lettering and is an overall awesome human being that I enjoy texting Mean Girls quotes and pictures of Teddy (my studio pup) to.

Mary Kate McDevitt — Her work is fun and exciting and her 100 day projects are fun to follow.

Molly Jacques —  Super talented calligrapher, also awesome human being.

Dustin Lee — Not lettering, but he makes tools that I use in my lettering work. With that said, Kyle T. Webster’s tools are also great.

Jessica Hische — No explanation necessary, but have had a design crush on her work since I first came upon it in 2010.

Jen Mussari — Love her style. She’s very versatile, yet all the work looks like her work. There’s no question when you see things she’s done that she did them.

Spencer Charles and Kelly Thorn — Super talented apart, even more talented married. They’re opening their own studio soon and I’m excited to follow the work they do together.

Louise Fili —- No explanation necessary. She’s just astounding.

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

The fact alone that I get to do this every day for a living still blows my mind. I think it’s just the realization that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing that I love most.

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