The Typography Issue". Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from
and how your passion for typography started?
Let me start by saying I am very impressed with InPrint Magazine. It's truly
an amazing visual inspiration and I am honored to do an interview with you.
I was born and raised in the Chicago area. I currently work as a freelance
lettering artist in my home studio in Palatine located 35 miles northwest of
the city. I have always had strong interest in lettering. I remember penmanship
classes in grade school and I am certain the early handwriting lessons provided me
with interest in the alphabet and letterforms.
(Mini-Wheats (2005) Of the numerous commercial projects I have worked on over years Mini-Wheats was one of my favorites. On this project I worked with Christine Kennedy a phenomenal designer at Schawk! With her direction I created and refined a solid piece of lettering that still holds up as a recognizable image after years on packaging, in commercials, print media and the internet.)
InPrint: Did you go to school to get a degree or you are a self taught designer?
I am basically self taught in the lettering arts. I studied painting and drawing in college and earned a BFA from the Univ. of WI, Oshkosh in '80. After college I wanted to be a commercial illustrator but my natural ability with type design lead me to early opportunities at an ad agency and then a packaging company.
In the early mid 80's my lettering portfolio allowed me to get into the Chicago advertising art studios as a custom letterer. Initially as a staff artist and then freelance on commission. The studio environment taught me how to work under the extreme deadline pressures. There were no Mac computers back then with no command "Z" to knock out quick revisions. Every lettering treatment I produced had to be meticulously drawn by hand using French curves, flexible curves, Rapidograph pens and speedball pens. Full color lettering art was created with blue lines, film overlays, rub-down transfers and an airbrush.
While at the ad arts studios I refined both my lettering and business skills. Besides just creating lettering I learned how to work with artiist reps, clients and pricing structures. By the mid 80's the Mac computer with Adobe software had arrived and some of the area advertising arts studios started to go out of business. Times were changing and I learned how to use new technology to create lettering for digital output. By going digital I was able to handle a higher volume of lettering projects. I had an artist rep with accounts for McDonald's, Taco Bell and NBA properties. In addition to my reps workflow I began taking projects from packaging and design firms in Chicago. I produced an unbelievable amount of custom lettering at that point in time. My art rep eventually retired and I was working exclusively with packaging firms producing custom lettering for food accounts.
(Nut Harvest (2004) After years of creating the Nut Harvest lettering it continues to hold up visually as well designed type treatment. The sketches are good examples of tight and meticulous pencil concepts for presentation to final art.)
I have been fortunate for many years to work with very talented designers who use my ability to produce lettering for their design projects. There is always an exchange of ideas and sometimes it takes many versions or refinements to produce lettering that will be successful for the client needs, the product and market place. If lettering is not readable it fails.
From my early days to present I have always made lettering readable for a variety of sizes and media applications. Commercial lettering has to be recognizable for the human eye when it is viewed on the internet, a billboard, television commercial, print media or a package line on the store shelf. When developing a lettering treatment I usually include variations of letterform shapes in an attempt to find the the best visual solution for the human eye to comprehend,
As for generating ideas I often create a lot of quick rough sketches to send to a client as a starting point. I believe it is best to try a variety of quick ideas and thoughts than to put a lot of time in one or two refined sketches that may or may not work. Sometimes a client will send me sketches of their package design and I do preliminary studies which are scanned for use as templates in Adobe Illustrator. All the meticulous refinements and drafting happen while drawing in Illustrator.
Custom lettering is my fine art form and I never grow tired of it. I am now in my early 50's and I'd love to do this another 50 years or more. There is always something new to try and to look forward to.
My other design interest is the botanical garden that surrounds my home. I've been involved with this landscape design for over 10 years. There are textures, colors and patterns that inspire me. The garden always evolves and changes as with life.
I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for the majority of the lettering that I produce. I also use FontLab Studio and Fontographer when I am requested to design a typeface. What I find interesting at this stage of my career is I now use antique and hand carved writing instruments for some lettering projects. I recently started playing with vintage fountain pens from the 1900's -1930's including hand carved bamboo pens and brushes. I am always searching for methods that are more spontaneous and looser then when I draw with a Wacom pen and tablet.
I believe it is important to draw a lot to communicate ideas. There are so many different drawing styles in the world we live in. Perhaps its best for an individual to develop a style they feel natural with and one that they can do a lot of.
(Hey Hey My My Tattoo Lettering has to be readable no matter if it's printed on a commercial packaging line or a personal request for a tattoo. The client for this project wanted an interlocking script with flourishes on top and bottom. A lot of rough sketch studies had to be created to find a readable solution to fulfill the clients request.)
It's a great feeling when a client is satisfied with the lettering I produced and everything goes smoothly with the package or product. I am accustomed to the ups and downs of the business. There are times when a beautiful lettering piece will not get used due to a focus group decision, a marketing name change, or a legal matter. I honestly can not recall any lettering project I would have done differently.
In years past I have been very low key. Basically a one man studio working long hours and taking on as many projects as possible. Then about 6 months ago I started putting effort into The Art of Hand Lettering blog. Since then I have had a number of inquiries from young designers and students about lettering. The inquiries turn into discussions about the realities of the freelance business, dealing with deadlines, keeping a positive attitude, reliability, producing high quality work, developing a natural style and being tenacious.
It is very rewarding to help people better understand the business side of the profession as opposed to discussing some lettering technique or a filter in Illustrator. This is something I hope to continue doing as the years progress. Perhaps some day I will have the opportunity to lecture or talk to groups of people about the process of lettering from scratch including concept sketching, spacial relationships of letterforms, legibility, rhythm and flow.
(Milepost (2005) This example shows the importance of creating variations. A consumer has to be able to read the lettering at a quick glance. It's always a matter of trial and error to find a solution that will work for the package design and market place.)
I could say a load of flippant things here; coffee, load music and drugs! However, I am one of the fortunate people who rarely get stuck for inspiration. As I teach creative thinking, I express the need to look around you and find a theme, story or even a simple spark with any given object. Fantasy is not an omni-present reality form, it is a creation of the brain. Therefore, you take something and make a story. There comes the idea.
There is so much great lettering talent in the world and very easy to access it all on the internet. The Best of 2009 at LetterCult is an excellent site to view for the best lettering happening at present.
(Simply Orange(2000) This is one of many projects I worked on with Linda Voll of Murrie, White, Leinhardt Associates during a two decade period that began in the mid 80's. Linda would send me her roughs in the evening and I turned over a variety of styles to her within a day or two. My relationship with Linda was the equivalent of Lettering Heaven. I created beautiful award winning lettering for her projects while also refining my skills to a very high level.)
Besides viewing a variety of type, lettering, calligraphy sites and blogs I always look forward to viewing Print's Regional Design Annual as well as Communication Arts, HOW and other industry publications. I have looked at many print, packaging, logo and type design books since first getting into the business. The one book that still stands out is MARKS New Directions in Logo Design which goes back to the mid 80's. It showcases the work of Jay Vigon who at that time documented his rough concept sketches and the final art on his projects.
I have a website, a Flicker photostream and the Art of Hand Lettering blog. At some time in the future I hope to have a site that offers prints of custom lettering I create. I might need a slow period to devote some time to this project. At present I am always dealing with new lettering requests and multiple deadlines. That's life in the lettering biz.