Here’s the presentation and slides I put together for Web Directions ‘What Do You Know?’ night in Melbourne. The presentation is only allowed to be 5 minutes. Using my chalkboard to letter up my slides, I talked about what lettering is and then ran through a quick process of some lettering I did for the Ruby Conference tshirt design. It was a great experience!
So I’m here to talk about something pretty niche that mostly doesn’t involve a computer.
I’m a nerd like you guys but I like to nerd out on things like ears, bowls, legs, eyes, vertexes, arches, shoulders, ascenders, decenders and BALL TERMINALS.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, BALL TERMINALS.
No I’m not into ball sports. I’m into type. Or should I say lettering. I love to draw letters in chalk, in pencil and pens.
With whatever pen and paper I can get my hands on really. So what is lettering? Can’t I just use a font? That would be so much easier than drawing it.
Well as much as we all love futura, there are times when your design needs a bit more personality. We can use our very own hands to draw letters that are unique and one-off.
By definition, lettering is drawing. Actually, lettering is closer friends with illustration than typography is. Let’s also just clear up that calligraphy is writing and typography is a predictable and repeatable system of letters - a typeface. Each has it’s advantages, but drawn letters can be a beautiful image in their own right.
Shield your eyes now if you have an aversion to swashalicious swashes.
This is by Friends of Type and shows how lettering can enhance the message. There is no way you could do this with a typeface.
See what I did there? This is not type, this is lettering! This pun is by Ken Barber who taught me lettering in a workshop when I lived in Berlin.
There is amazing type all around you! You just have to turn on your lettering-dar. This awesome painted piece was seen on the streets of Melbourne.
So here’s where lettering becomes an important part of creating an image. This is some chalk lettering I did for the upcoming Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook cover.
The work by Mary Kate McDevitt is very much bordering on illustration. See how it hasn’t been vectorised and the imperfections show it was hand drawn.
On the other hand Jessica Hische likes to letter straight into illustrator. So it’s still lettering but there are times when the computer is good.
Sometimes people look at me weirdly when I take photos of butchers windows, but check out this brush script! I love it when I see beautiful sign painting out and about. The craft was almost wiped out with the introduction of vinyl signs and desktop publishing. But I think now there is a resurgence of hand crafted things. And in particular the skill of painting and drawing letters. And being able to draw makes you a better designer.
So if someone was to come to you and ask, “I need a website”, the quickest thing you can do is just choose a word press template, but you’d probably be lucky to find one that is exactly what you’re after. Where the real fun comes is in the customising. It’s the crafting of something that is unique. Just like your unique fixie you had built up.
So how does one make a piece of lettering? You really only need a pencil, rubber and some paper. But I like to break it down into three stages.
Research is looking through references - like vintage books and sign painting. Exploration is getting into the jigsaw puzzle of how the letters work together by drawing them. And refinement, inking up the final and doing some photoshop or illustrator magic.
Here’s a little example of lettering I did for the Ruby Conference. The organisers came to me and asked me to make a rad and unique tshirt.
After brainstorming with them, I was thinking the word Yield could be inspired by Americana baseball scripts so that it felt like TEAM RUBY.
So once I have an idea, I go straight to my references. Starting with my cat fonts of course.
From here it was pretty obvious on which direction to go.
Then I really got into studying retro brush scripts and sign painting that were all created with a lettering brush.
I’ll start by just writing out the word out a few times and play with composition using my brush pen.
Then I’ll draw out some light grid lines on an angle for a baseball type composition. I’m thinking that ‘y’ is pretty fun, what would happen if it looped to make an underline.
Then I trace over it again with another pencil sketch. Making refinements as I go and fixing things like the spacing.
I’m going to make those little end bits have a flick like a brush pen.
It’s important to fill in the letters not draw in outlines, so I can easily see the positive and negative space. Then I can focus in on details like the contrast on the strokes.
And when I’m happy with how that is looking the fun part is colouring in! Here’s the inked up Yield reading for scanning!
And here you have a bunch of geeks wearing a tshirt!