Sharing your whole self online and in your work has pros and cons, but to me the pros far outweighed the cons. When I graduated, everyone wanted to set up a studio under a different name than their own. They wanted to be treated as an agency rather than an individual. This is really useful if the kind of clients you want to attract are the kind that want an agency behind the work, but for me it became really important that people know me before they hired me. It can be really hard to develop a relationship with a client to the point that you don’t question each other’s feedback and know that you’re not being made to run around a hamster wheel to please some cost-analysis person behind the scenes. I think putting myself out there has helped clients feel like they know me before they make first contact, and maybe made them more likely to contact me over someone with similar work but less transparent of a personality. It’s also been wonderful to meet strangers that feel like they know me already. I can ask them questions about them and not have to go through the whole “so what do you do” robotic introduction that happens at design events. I feel like old friends with people instantly and strangers write me as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. It’s wonderful to have every email feel like it’s written from an old friend and not from a stranger. I’m a people person, I love hearing everyone’s stories, I love making others feel enthusiastic and encouraged about what they’re doing, and I love living my life as me and not some polished version of myself.
For illustration work and lettering work, I always start with pencil sketches—not because it is my preferred way to work, but because clients need to approve something before I can move to final. My pencils used to be quite rough but because I’ve been doing more and more lettering work for advertising clients, they’ve become more refined. After a sketch is approved, I jump into illustrator, usually not tracing my sketch for the final. I believe that the translation from sketch to final without tracing helps me correct my mistakes as I go. I idealize like how you would if you were drawing a person from memory versus from real life.
I don’t use a lot of fancy tricks in illustrator, mostly just the pen tool. After a few years of working intensely with the program it has become more natural for me to work on the computer than by hand. I don’t use a wacom tablet (I hold a pen like a child holds a crayon (in a tight fist that will only catalyze the carpal tunnel)), just a mouse or the trackpad on my laptop. I usually work with the grid on at first, starting with a single weight line and then adding thickness or ornament later depending on what I’m trying to achieve. I make general decisions at the beginning to figure out what kind of lettering I want to draw (a script? slanted or upright? thick or thin? sans serif? retro feeling or more modern feeling?) and then add decoration / ornamentation after the “skeleton” is drawn.
You shouldn’t have a favorite font! If you have a favorite font it probably means you’re using it inappropriately. It’s easy to do, especially if you spend a few hundred dollars on an awesome H&FJ typeface, you want to use it on everything in order to “get your money’s worth” (your words, not mine!). While you shouldn’t have a favorite font/typeface, I think you can definitely have a favorite foundry or designer that you pay attention to and keep coming back to. There are a ton of contemporary type designers whose work I admire: H&FJ of course, Commercial Type, Kris Sowersby, House Industries, Okay Type, Josh Darden, Mark Simonson, Hannes Von Döhren, Type Together, Mark Von Bronkhorst, Ale Paul, Underware, Process Type Foundry…too many to name!
Be nice to people. Being a nice and genuine person will get you so much farther than your portfolio will. When you’re applying for a job, the first thing an employer thinks is “Would I mind spending nine hours a day with this person?”. If you try in whatever ways you can to brighten someone’s day, to be fair and respectful to everyone, and to grow your network without being “networky”, you will be a rockstar. Have a plan, but be willing to deviate from it if awesome opportunities arise. While it’s important to think about your future and what you want to be doing in 5 years, don’t let that plan be so concrete that you ignore opportunities around you. Practice, practice, practice—it takes an incredible amount of training to be a great designer. You have to first train your eye to see your own mistakes and the mistakes of others, then train your hand to be able to correct those mistakes. If you don’t feel like you have the opportunity to learn and practice at your day job, do personal work and side projects. Side projects can do so much for your career and you can make something you actually care about.
To be honest, I have no idea. I think it’s a combination of making pretty pictures for a living, cursing a lot, and posting animated cat gifs. In general though, I think what people have responded to is that it’s pretty apparent that my twitter personality is just me being me. I don’t filter myself, I share things that I’m interested in, I complain when I’m having a bad day, and I celebrate people that are doing awesome things. The best way to be successful on a social network is to be yourself. People can sense if you’re being disingenuous from a mile away.
Procrastiworking! I have a real tendency to fill up my free time with side projects, particularly ones that are web based. This past year I’ve gotten really excited to learn how to actually make stuff happen on the web, and even started a website to help share some of the knowledge I picked up. There are moments when I’m not working or procrastiworking though, and during that time I can usually be found in a coffee shop, wandering around outside (I love walking around cities), spending time with friends or traveling for conferences (I can’t get much client work done while I’m traveling, so while these trips probably technically count as work, they don’t always feel like it). Russ and I have started little personal movement which we’re calling Tech Sabbath, in which we try to not work at all on Saturdays. Both of us are terrible at filling all of our time with work if left to our own devices.
You kind of can’t go wrong if you name typefaces after wine, women, or food. I tend to name my typefaces after things that they remind me of. Ultimately though, you want to give it a name that showcases some of your favorite characters. Buttermilk got it’s name because it felt like a creamy dessert, and because I wanted to use the t_t ligature.
To a letterer or illustrator, style is incredibly important. When you are hired as an illustrator, you’re hired to work in a style that your portfolio proves you excel at. The person that hires you is most often not the end client—you’re hired by an agency or a publisher that is working for a client. The art director has to use work that you have created in the past to sell you to the client; they’ll pull pieces from your portfolio that they like and show it along with their idea for the campaign. The client gets a very clear idea of what the end result will look like before you’ve even put pencil to paper. As an illustrator, you slowly evolve your style until your portfolio reflects the work you want to do and are interested in. As a letterer, you work within a number of typographic styles (for instance, blackletter and script), but your portfolio should still feel consistent. An easy way to accomplish this is to work with the same medium or same few mediums. You can work in as many mediums as you wish, but the more consistent your portfolio is the easier it is to sell you to a client.
Graphic designers do not need to have a style. In the past few years, a new kind of designer has emerged—the designistrator: a designer that is also an image maker. Designistrators tend to have a style because they are illustrating or lettering for their design projects. Not all graphic designers need to be designistrators. I believe that if you are a graphic designer (not a designistrator) and you have a “style” it means one of two things: the kind of clients you are working for are very similar from project to project, or you’re doing inappropriate work for some of your clients. While graphic designers don’t need to have a style, it is important that their work is consistent. Consistency is is not style. Consistency is showing time and time again that you know what you’re doing—that you understand nuanced typography, that you can generate good appropriate concepts, and that you can curate and delegate well when necessary.
Lettering is essentially illustrations of letters, words, and phrases. As a letterer, when I’m hired to draw the word “holiday” I don’t first draw the entire alphabet in the style I wish, then position the letters to spell out the word. I draw the word as a unique image. This means that in a lot of lettering, if you rearrange the letters it would look pretty crappy—it’s meant to be seen and used in that configuration and that configuration only.
Typeface designers work very differently. They have to create a system of letters that can be endlessly rearranged and work together. Display typefaces are usually less elaborate than text typefaces (though they look more elaborate, by and large text typefaces are much more difficult to make). Type designers have to make typefaces that even the least design-savvy person can work with and set beautifully. They create software that you can essentially own forever without updating. I try to advocate for typeface designers as much as I can because most designers don’t stop to think about the work that goes into making fonts. They make what I do seem easy!
When I was in college, I was too broke to buy decent fonts. I knew that I could either approach every project with my limited number of typefaces, spend days digging through terrible free font websites to find anything even remotely acceptable, or “draw my own fonts” (I say this in quotes because it’s a complete misuse of the word font—a mistake I made all the time when I was younger). I noticed that the more I “drew fonts” for my own projects, the more I lettered titles and logotypes and headlines for fake magazines, the more my work started to stand out from my classmates. Everything felt more personal and more cohesive. Plus I loved to do it! My student portfolio ended up having a fair amount of lettering in it which was ultimately why Louise Fili ended up hiring me.
While I was working for Louise I really fell in love with lettering (note the proper terminology now). All day every day I drew words and phrases for her. I lettered for logotypes and book covers, magazine headlines and pretty packaging. While working for Louise I would work on freelance illustration. More and more I started to incorporate lettering into my freelance editorial illustration work—at first just as a component within the illustration, and over time I would offer conceptual solutions that were entirely lettering based. More and more people started to notice the lettering work and I began being hired just to do lettering.
The real lesson I learned was that in order to do what you want for a living, all you have to do is find a way to show people that you do it. If you want to be a book cover designer but don’t have a single book cover in your portfolio, the chances of you getting hired to design book covers is very low. You have to put the pieces in your portfolio that reflect the work you want to be doing.
Lettering takes a ton of practice and I was able to learn under one of the best, but ultimately if I didn’t take the initiative to make lettering a part of all work I was doing, I wouldn’t be a letterer now.
When I was in college I took a lot of electives in different art areas, always thinking I would end up majoring in that discipline. I loved glass, I loved wood-working, I loved painting and drawing; then I took a design class. I really loved the idea of having a problem to solve, of having limits and of having to communicate clearly what I (or the client) was trying to say. I liked how in design you were solving problems, that there were rules to follow, that the point was for people to get what you were trying to communicate (unlike in fine art, where if people get it right away, you’re probably doing something wrong). I would procrastinate from all of my other work by working on design projects (I think a good way to figure out your passions are to look at what you do when you’re procrastinating from everything else). When there was an assignment for a single poster I would do five. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
I have a BFA in Graphic Design from Tyler school of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia. I mostly went to Tyler because it was a good school that I could afford and they accepted me with a pretty unimpressive portfolio of student work—just the standard self portraits, wonky ceramics, and elaborate drawings of shoes (my high school art teacher sold me pretty hard to Tyler’s admissions counselor). Tyler ended up being the perfect place for me. The classes were small, at the time the art school had its own campus which made for a very amazing “real art school” experience (naked performance art in the middle of the campus, human-sized hamster wheel “sculptures”—it was awesome), and professors really encouraged experimentation and image making for your projects, unlike other more conservative programs. I don’t think I would have had as good of an experience at any other design school and I should thank my professors every day for how much they changed my life.
If I were a real German I would pronounce it “Hish-ah” (first syllable emphasized), but since I’m American and we have our own way of pronouncing foreign words it’s pronounced “Hish” (just like “fish” but with an H). Most importantly, there is no “r” in Hische.