Typography Spotlight: Jillian Adel

ADC Member likes things "kinetic and imperfect"

Batten down the hatches! The new week begins with dire warnings about a severe snowstorm for the New York City area. Is it a Snowpocalpse? Snowmageddon? The radio this morning was calling it a Nor’Beaster. But as they say, neither snow nor a lot of snow nor an estimated three feet of snow stays ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month! from its appointed rounds.

Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, ADC Typography Month features a daily Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.

To kick off the Typography Spotlight this week, we head to the significantly warmer climes of LA, where an ADC Member and self taught letterer focuses her craft.

headshot_cropJILLIAN ADEL
Los Angeles, CA, USA


Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?

My senior year of high school, I carried around a sketchbook where I would make drawings that featured phrases & song lyrics during class. I was always the kind of person who needed to be doing a crafty thing in order to focus my brain on anything. This wasn’t appreciated by most of my teachers. This was mainly just therapy, and I never gave it a second thought throughout my entire college career. It wasn’t until 2009, after about a year of living home in the Philly area after college, that I moved back up to NYC and started drawing again, letters & words. I knew of Jessica Hische’s work since she went to Tyler & gave a talk at AIGA Philly where she drew an adorable swirly promotional postcard. I had just started using Twitter, so I started following her work between Louise Fili & her freelance. It sort of just hit me like a ton of bricks that a person, not only that but a WOMAN, was making an entire living out of creating these beautiful letterforms and illustrations. I knew immediately that I had to be doing that.

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

Completely self-taught. Save for the three lettering workshops I’ve taken over the years, everything I’ve learned has been through a dumb amount of practice, trial and error, and exposing my stuff to the community and my peers/betters.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?

I really don’t know that I have a notable style. I still feel like I’m really young and workshopping new styles, especially with this new chapter in my life of freelance. Looking at my current body of work,the heavier influences are definitely in scripts, sign painting, and anything brushy or painty. I prefer things to be kinetic and imperfect.

“How many people get to say that the people they’ve met in their industry energize and motivate them in the darkest of times?”

Walk us through your usual type design process.

This is totally project-dependent. Sometimes I rip through half a sketchbook of pages practicing a very controlled Spencerian or Copperplate alphabet just to make a mess on the 51st page and have it be the thing I love in that sitting. Sometimes I draw with my Wacom stylus right in Photoshop, straight to the finish line. Sometimes I’m freehanding & painting on furniture with acrylics. One thing I rarely do is get fastidious with vectors in Illustrator. It just never seems to be beneficial to the kind of work I like to make.

What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?

I use Alright Sans for most of my personal presentation materials and documents. I like that it’s clean and well-designed (shout out to Okay Type!), but has an inflection of friendliness.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?

I don’t know if I have a favorite, but I definitely despise the letter “J”…which is majorly inconvenient.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?


The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.

That pretty much covers it. I think it’s interesting to see how the two camps can bleed between each other’s worlds. Illustrators who letter. Illustrators who feel they can’t letter for anything. Letterers who came from an illustration background and use that heavily. Letterers who can’t draw *stuff* for the life of them. I see it all as less of two separate worlds and more that lettering is just a flavor of illustration. Coming from a graphic design background, I’ve learned everything about the business of lettering from the illustration world and have a lot of admiration and respect for my illustrator friends.

What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I worked in the music industry in my early twenties. I learned how to book, plan, and promote concerts in college from all of the music industry majors who planned the concerts on campus and then booked at venues in NYC for a few years after school, so the music world has always had an impact on me in some way. Fashion, entertainment, people, life, stories, food, pop culture, street art…are all things I like to dive into and am inspired by. I’ve also developed a yoga practice for myself in the last 5 years or so, and it effected my entire life, including but not limited to: my art, my design (I did posters & signage for my yoga studio in New York and branded a new yoga studio in Brooklyn), my community, the way I treat my clients, the way I manage people and projects, and the list goes on.

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

I tend to really drool over business minds like Mike Monteiro, Jessica Hische, my buddy Jason Schwart, and Margot Harrington …only one of which would call themselves a letterer or typographer. But if I had to pick a few people who’s stuff just visually blows me up every time: Peter BankovFaust, Adam Garcia / The Pressure — Adam is currently going through the alphabet with something called “Letterspaces” and it’s one of the best things happening in typography right now, in my opinion — Baron Von Fancy, Sean FreemanMatt Chase, everyone who’s ever worked at Louise Fili: John Passafiume, Dana Tanamachi, Kelly Thorn, Spencer Charles and Nick Misani.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

Being your own client. Anything that involves you having to step out of your subjectiveness & make judgement calls about your own work or brand in an objective manner. Branding yourself, promoting yourself, writing about yourself (!!), talking about yourself…I feel like I had zero problem with these things in my early 20’s but now it’s so difficult. I really would like to hire a Taskrabbit for it all.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

The community. Everyone is so supportive and excited about collaborating and just giving the industry everything we got on the short time we have on this planet. How many people get to say that the people they’ve met in their industry energize and motivate them in the darkest of times? I also like that I’ve never had to worry about having tattoos or piercings or dressing in a way that would offend anyone. The weirder the better in this industry.