Tina Smith: 100 Days of Expressive Type

We are so thankful for infinite scroll.

We’re still receiving your “letters”! So we’ve extended Typography and Lettering Month from April to May, with the help of our good friends at Monotype. In a sea of same-like typography Tumblr.com’s, we’re diving into 100 Days of Expressive Type, a project headed up by graphic designer and typographer Tina Smith. Tina, who spends her days at Partners & Spade sent us this gem. In her own words, “100 Days of Expressive Type was a self-initiated project that explores creative typography. The project’s focus was the idea of expression, in both its emotional and phraseological forms. Each piece started with a turn of phrase or idiom, and that content inspired the form of each 3-color typographic experiment. It was originally published on my Instagram in different color-ways as part of Elle Luna’s and The Great Discontent’s 100 Day Project of 2015.” We love her color palette, her curves and edges and we naturally were curious to know more about it. Here is our Q&A below accompanied by some of Tina’s art from said project.

Tina Smith
Designer, New York



Tell us how you got here. When did you first encounter typography and graphic design?

I grew up on a vintage Volkswagen farm in Montana, where there was so much space and time to let my imagination run and create things by myself. My family got a computer when I was 10, and I started making graphics and coding websites for fun. I continued through high school and turned that passion into my university studies. I realized typography was a pursuit in itself when my professor, Meta Newhouse, brought Dana Tanamachi to speak at my school, and her lettering sparked my interest. The next semester I studied abroad in Italy with the same professor. For our main studio class, Experimental Typography, we spent the entire semester observing Italian typography and drawing type by hand. From then on, typography in all its forms was the main focus of my work. I continued to push myself to be better, taking a workshop at the Cooper Union with Ken Barber, making type-focused work at my studio job, and designing publications.

Tell us about the 100 Days of Expressive Type project. How did it come to be?

I started 100 Days of Expressive Type at a time when I was feeling not-so-satisfied creatively. Experimenting with type and layout was the work I would have rather been doing, and was something I did naturally on my own in my free time. I wanted to move away from lettering (though I mixed some in), and work with typesetting and color. Of course, typography is a medium of language, so the words and phrases I wrote or chose were important, too. I’m a bit of a bookworm and magpie of words and phrases, and I was interested in using type expressively to heighten or assign new meanings.

Participating in The 100 Day Project, which was put on by The Great Discontent and Elle Luna, sounded like a perfect way to make this fun work a priority, and feel part of a creative community while still in Montana. I started the project in April 2016 and posted the 100th piece in November.

Why did you choose Instagram and Tumblr as the platforms to showcase your work?

The central tenet of the 100 Day Project was to post on Instagram each day, which was scary for me at the time because I hardly ever showed work there. I was motivated by the huge community of people participating. After I finished, I posted my designs on Tumblr in one color scheme to tie them together and keep them in one easy-to-find place.

Did you design these all yourself? How many in a day…Is it when inspiration strikes? Do you queue posts?

Yes, I designed them all myself. At the beginning, I was working as a freelancer from home so I designed them whenever I felt like during the day, usually when I found a good turn of phrase that fit a layout technique I wanted to try. I usually did one or two per day at that time.

Halfway through the project, though, I moved across the country to New York City from my rural Montana home. I started a full-time day job, so I designed at the time I naturally get introspective and focused: after midnight. I tried for one per day, but adjusting to a completely different world made me take much more time for the last 50 pieces. I sometimes would spend entire weekends in downtown coffeeshops making 3 or so each day. I posted them as I made them.

We love the color palette! Is that something intentional? Will there be a gradual change or are these the colors you want to keep as the standard?

I wanted them all 3 color designs, so I could make them all the same in the future, or screenprint them. To tie them all together on Tumblr, I used the same color scheme I kept coming back to over the course of the project. On Instagram, I used colors I was particularly inspired by—usually pastels. The feeling of each piece is quite different between Tumblr and Instagram!

Serif vs. Sans Serif: who wins?

Serif! I adore serifs and always root for the underdog.

What are your must have tools?

I’m pretty low-maintenance: a computer with InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, and a sketchbook to sketch thumbnails or jot down words and ideas that come to mind.

Sky’s the limit: Who is your dream client?

In the design/identity/art direction realm at large, I’d love to be part of the art direction of a fashion brand like Céline or Marni, or the identity design of a new fashion brand. I’m a chameleon, though: I want to do everything from set design to menus to retail wayfinding to photography and more. The clients I’m most excited about have a fashion, art, or cultural bent.

A lot of our members we’ve spoken to during the month are freelancers. How does having a full-time gig aide in your other creative pursuits or side projects, like the Tumblr for example?

I do a lot of type-focused work at my job, in addition to identities, advertising, web design, art direction and more—it’s amazing to have such a huge variety of work that allows me to learn new things and rise to different challenges. I feel really happy at my job, which makes me want to design more—I think that’s rare. It also makes me focus on stuff that’s important to me. My side pursuits can really be whatever I want because I don’t feel the pressure to deliver to a client or make money. I’ve learned so much at my job, and realized there are so many things I want to do beyond type and lettering. I have a strong foundation in typography and I’d like to use that to push myself further in other spheres. The next project will either be small, focusing on getting better on a craft, or something completely different that combines everything I love.