In many of my workshops, I'm often asked on how I began my lettering journey (usually right after the question on why I left the big city for small town living - but that's another story). I began graduate school in 2012 at Pratt Institute and was submerged into a world that was quite foreign at the time - incredible designers, breathtaking work, professors who not only worked with the great but were the great as well.
In my second year I began working closely with Tony Di Spigna who served as my thesis advisor. Tony was a ball buster – he pushed me past limits I didn't know were possible, I cried, he yelled at me when he thought I could do better. I took away phrases like "You can drive a truck through those characters!" and "Go for a walk! Get a beer! Go get laid!" as part of my everyday conversation with him. In the midst of my classes and thesis work, I was also running Handmade Darling, the studio apartment-sized business that featured handmade greeting cards and less than a year old.
Tony had worked for the Lubalin studios when Herb Lubalin was still alive, and created a vast amount of work that is recognizable and downright brilliant. Tony's hand work was something that was no longer seen as a young designer - I entered Pratt still wet behind the ears with a fancy computer and hoping for the best with a good eye for design. Although, my one strength was simple - drawing. What I lacked in Adobe knowledge I made up for in hand skills which got Tony on my side. I signed up for his hand lettering class and finally felt like I knew what I was doing. I dove head first into lettering and studied the designers that I had loved but never had a name for. Over the course of my time at Pratt I developed skills that allowed me to tackle this journey with visual hierarchy, negative space, correct line spacing, and the way a letter curves from a downstroke to a hairline. I was introduced to typography, traditional spencerian and copperplate alphabets, and the ability to see what worked and what didn't.
Five years later, I've honed those skills and Handmade Darling is now a business that continually serves others on their special occasions. The best reward is the feedback and response from every happy couple, birthday girl, bride at her shower and more.
Many times, students will ask me about vinyl signs, cricut templates, pinterest "inspo" and the like - I do my best not to cringe and I'm sorry in advance if I do in conversation with you. There's absolutely nothing wrong if you're a crafter and enjoy adding pieces to your work. However, as someone who has apprenticed and is trained in this art form, I truly value the time, patience and skill behind each piece. Whether a custom sign or a new piece, each goes through an intense creative process. Multiple drafts are created, a variety of pencils and markers and inks are used, copy after copy, and then a final execution – making sure each letter, each character, each curve is where it should be. I still practice, even five years later, and it's a journey that is ever evolving.
If you're new to hand lettering, I encourage you to go beyond pinterest, past the motivational quotes, past what you think is just good. Find inspiration in the tried and true artists who live and breathe typography, who see letters that form shapes and characters, who have studied this movement long before this craze took place. So the question, does hand lettering really make a difference? Yes, a million times yes.
Happy writing and learning. Looking for suggestions on typographers to check out? Let me know!