feature :: hand lettering

Katie | December 25, 2014

I’m sharing some of the best posts of 2014 throughout December – I’m such a huge fan of hand lettering, this was a real pleasure to write… (PS Happy Christmas to those that celebrate!)

hand lettering sean mccabe

This is the second instalment in my new “feature” column; a series of long form articles of 800 – 1000 words which allow me to explore subjects in a bit more depth on the blog. This time it’s hand lettering and an article which first appeared on the D&AD website in a slightly different format.

Whether it’s sharing a new example everyday, bringing a sense of calm amid the chaos, or an introvert’s retreat, hand lettering is gaining momentum. I spoke to three of its advocates to find out why…

hand lettering lisa congdon

San Francisco illustrator and fine artist Lisa Congdon is the online queen of hand lettering. Her 2012 project, 365 Days of Hand Lettering, took the social media world by storm.

“I’ve always loved making pretty hand writing and printing – ever since I was a little girl. I have dabbled in hand lettering since I began making art 14 years ago and incorporated words and phrases into my paintings and drawings,” says Lisa. “About three or four years ago, I started lettering poems as gifts for friends and selling screen prints of hand lettered phrases. Last year I decided that hand lettering was something I wanted to do more of, so I started my 365 Days of Hand Lettering project.”

hand lettering lisa congdon

Every day for a year Lisa posted a hand lettered quote or poem on her blog. “The response from people has been huge and extraordinary. People share my work on social media. Every day I get at least one email telling me that people love what I do. Two of my hand lettering styles have been released as fonts. And a book of 100 of my hand lettered quotes is being published by Chronicle Books.”

hand lettering lisa congdon

Sean McCabe is a hand-lettering artist and type designer. Having spent much of his childhood doodling letterforms instead of cartoons, he was relieved to discover ‘typography’ – a name for his obsession and the knowledge that he wasn’t alone.

He offers this advice for people wanting to give hand lettering a go: “Keep it simple. Many beginners see the more advanced and ornate pieces and simply imitate the execution. The trouble with this is that the thinking behind the chosen styles is lost.”

hand lettering sean mccabe

“While two different forms of type may appear to be extremely different from one another, the designer ensures that there are common traits that tie them together. One group of type may be serif, and another sans serif, but both might have similar stroke widths, or matching fill.

“The best advice I can give would be to start simple, combining one or two styles, and work your way up from there.”

He says, “I’m an introvert. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy good conversation and social gatherings, but I also enjoy the long, quiet drawing sessions where all distractions are tuned out, and there’s only a pen, some paper and me. There’s something very calming about the monotony of creating letters. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you enjoy the process of gradually crafting something, there’s nothing like sitting back and admiring the slow realisation of your idea in physical form.”

hand lettering sean mccabe

Zander Grinfeld is the co-founder of Venn Creative, “a small design agency with big ideas” based in Falmouth Cornwall. He used hand lettering in a set of posters and flyers to create a personal feel for a very personal story, creating a sense of calm that would cut through.

He says, “The concept for a show was the very intimate account of Molly’s Naylor’s experiences leading up to the London 7/7 bombings. I felt that hand drawing the type got that sense of the show across – a bit like I’d drawn directly onto one of her photos.

“It also allowed me to do a lot more with the space. The poster and flyers were used in the Edinburgh Festival. When you’re there you’re hammered with flyers, and the walls are plastered with posters, all trying to be louder than the last. By using a lot of white space, it stood out more than something really bright, as if the other posters were making room for this one. Using hand lettering meant I could have huge type, but still have loads of white space. I just wouldn’t have been able to fill the space in the same way without doing it by hand.”

Zander offers this advice for using hand lettering in design, “Do your research first, and decide whether hand lettering is appropriate. Don’t waste time doing it when a font would work better; likewise don’t cut corners if you’re doing it by hand. Don’t copy and paste letterforms – do each one by hand, make each one unique.”

hand lettering Venn Creative

For more inspiration check out Zander’s favourite examples of hand lettering: Ralph Steadman, Stefan Sagmeister and “whoever did the Ren and Stimpy titles,” and Lisa’s hand lettering heroes; Marion Deuchars, Susy Pilgrim Waters, Leigh Wells, Jessica Hische, Shanna Murray and Mary Kate McDevitt.

Further inspiration for the especially geeky:

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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