I’ve become obsessed with handlettering lately. It’s more prevalent than ever, appearing in advertisements, packaging, signage and more. With incredible detail and draughtsmanship at its finest, these artists are in high demand, giving each project a one-of-a-kind look.
The five artists featured here are forging new ground in the lettering category using a variety of materials and techniques to achieve stunning and sometimes surprising results.
“In the last year I’ve been working way too much,” Martina Flor says. “Although I appreciate immensely that I have the chance to actually make a living from my hobby, I’m also aware of my tendency to turn into one with this little world composed by a pencil, a piece of paper, and a computer. Running my own studio can be rewarding as well as demanding.”
As an outlet, Flor started Letter Collections, where she handletters greetings on postcards and sends them to friends and acquaintances around the world. “It’s very spontaneous. Sometimes I meet someone and I feel like sending a postcard to say, ‘Glad to meet you.’ A postcard is a great way to get in touch with someone without falling in the stream of emails that the person has to filter per day. It’s personal, custom and real,” she says.
Flor is posting each of the 100 cards on her website, encouraging visitors to forward them to friends. Projects like this fuel her creativity apart from commissioned work. “The side projects are spaces that I reserve to develop my own ideas and see where they lead me. I like to be my own client and give myself deadlines.”
“Most of my work comes from either publishers or advertising agencies, so it’s not often that I get the opportunity to create something that becomes part of a physical product. It’s also rare for a client to give the level of trust and freedom I was given on this project,” says Luke Lucas of his lettering work for All Good Organics fruit juices. Art director Simon Coley wanted to avoid organic design clichés like brown paper and folk illustrations, instead aiming for a more glamorous, sophisticated look.
“The brief was to create a custom lettering style that could be unique to the brand and work across the range,” Lucas says. “Simon is actually quite passionate about typography, and in our first meetings he explained that he’d like the form to take inspiration from the swash typographic forms of the late Herb Lubalin.” The challenge for Lucas then became applying his type stylings with the shape of the bottle and maintaining a consistent typographic weight with all the flavors in the line, as well as incorporating the All Good Organics bird logo.
“The aim was to integrate the logo and the lettering in the subtlest of ways to allow a single design piece to sit front and center on the bottle. The end result sees the flavor description lettering style, the color of the juice, and the bottle shape working together to become an extension of the overall brand.”
New York City
You’d think that working with a major Hollywood film studio would come with a lot of directives and restrictions, but Jon Contino says his experience with 20th Century Fox for The Book of Life was quite the opposite.
“This project was massive in scale and already in production for years before I was brought in. The studio sent over the script, the concept art, and a bunch of mocked-up promos to help establish the vibe. [Art director] Neri [Rivas] and I had several in-depth conversations about the tone we wanted to establish for the film, and then my direction was pretty much to go crazy with it— just play with the themes in the film and do fun stuff with them.”
The Book of Life is an animated film set in a supernatural world based around the Mexican Day of the Dead. The characters in the movie all have a handmade, sculpture-like quality that Contino parlayed into the lettering style. “I got really attached to the characters and the overall story, so I fell right into the whole world pretty easily,” he says. The studio was so impressed with his type design, that they asked him to create a custom font for the film to ensure all the branded materials, including posters, promos, merchandise, and the film itself had a consistent look. El Skeleto was born.
“The film’s creator Jorge Gutierrez should get most of the credit for delivering such an epic amount of detail in the writing and the concept art. Having that as a foundation made my job really easy,” Contino recalls. “Seeing the trailer for the first time felt a lot like watching my daughter take her first steps. When you work so closely on something this massive, seeing it come to life really makes your heart jump out of your chest.”
Sean Freeman’s type projects are much more complicated than just choosing and executing a distinct lettering style. His three-dimensional creations require planning for the technical as much as the creative aspects.
“There’s no standard recipe for this kind of work. It’s a very experimental and organic process: We make propositions, do tests, and go from there. Keeping in mind budgets, resources, and timing, it requires creativity on a technical level on top of the design to bring the treatment to life into type and find ways to make things happen,” he explains.
For this double-spread section opener in Wired UK, Freeman exploited the biological nature of the subject in his illustration, using a variety of materials such as clay, seaweed, rubber, sweets, powder, flowers, jellies, and more to form the letters and shapes.
“I try to focus on the special characteristics of the chosen material, as well as the feel of the words, to see how they can be matched to key type design elements such as style, tone and legibility. It’s all about playing with visual codes and perceptions in the end,” he says. “Every detail counts to shape lettering into something visually expressive: thickness of lines, curviness of shapes, flow or size of letters. The fun thing about creative lettering is that you’re not strictly bound to fonts, and because we deal with physical objects, it’s all about customization: really specific artwork for a unique headline with the most meaningful impact.”
For this project, he created a special matte treatment to coat all the props and cut in highlights in photography, while keeping the lighting bright, which according to Freeman is “a distinctive feature of microscopic shots which are typically within liquid.”
Urban Outfitters was opening a new store in Stuttgart, Germany, and they were expanding their brand to include a little record store within the store selling new and second-hand records. Alex Fowkes says, “My task was to brand the store and apply it to the windows, some of which faced the street and others that faced internally. I had just over three days to complete the job, including designing the sections. The brief was to have a little New York record store flavor with a little bit of art deco, too.”
The store was being built as he worked, and he thrived on the fast, steady pace, but admits drawing on glass was new to him, and a bit challenging. “I had my template sketched out and stuck to the other side of the window, but this is thick double glazing, so my template is at least three inches away from the surface I am drawing on,” he notes. “This means that my eyes have to be square on everything I’m drawing, otherwise it won’t look right from different angles.” Despite working backward on the lettering, the details achieve the art deco infusion the client desired.
Fowkes lettered the whole thing using Molotow Acrylic paint markers with various nibs, but says, “Next time I’d love to use something a little more opaque. The type looks great when the outside is brighter than inside, but once the sun sets and the lights come on in the store it does show up all the brush marks.” But, he adds, “Mind you the great thing is that the type is only semi-permanent so it can evolve with the store!”
Earlier this year, Fowkes’ first book, Drawing Type, An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms was released by Rockport Publishers, which features 72 type designers from around the world, and offers tips for readers to draw their own letterforms.