Putting Your Best Font Forward

Finding the perfect typeface for your next project takes skill and know-how. Here we put together three different takes on type and why they work so well.

Type says a lot about a brand. Letters are a language in themselves, communicating personality traits like sophistication, simplicity, and whimsy. They can shout or they can whisper. It’s also very subjective, so knowing your audience is critical. With so many typefaces to choose from, it can be overwhelming—and nearly impossible—to make the right choice for your client.

The following projects demonstrate vastly different type applications, with compelling results that speak to their intended audiences.

Herschel’s Coffee Co.

Design: Mustafa Akülker, co-founder, Monajans

Usually, the simpler a logo is, the better. Such is the case for the logo mark for Herschel’s Coffee Co., in Amsterdam, designed by Mustafa Akülker of Monajans. “I wanted the design to be very minimal, so I used a sans serif for the logotype, but then went with an italic serif Hs for the optional logo in contrast,” he says. “I like the softness of the brand with the italic font.”

The Hs can stand alone as an identifier or be used with the full name of the coffee shop. When used with the name, it’s like the crown jewel—that added touch of elegance. The soft curves of the uppercase H next to the lowercase s, create an almost theatrical overture.

A big part of the success of this identity is also the subtle, yet distinct, color palette. “You can see various tones of brown by imagining coffee beans and milk mixed together,” he notes. “I also wanted to emphasize the memorability of the brand by using blue because it’s a nice companion to brown. It adds sophistication and class, much like how I envision a discerning coffee drinker.”

Pro Tip: It can be tricky pairing a sans serif with a serif. Test many variations and ask others their opinions about what is and isn’t working and why.

Molbak’s Garden + Home

Design: Cindy Tyler

When you have a beautiful product, show it off with great photography. There’s nothing more luminous and captivating than the natural landscape, and Molbak’s Garden + Home store, in Woodinville, Wash., uses photography to great effect in their seasonal promotions featuring lush, living plants. Designer Cindy Tyler explains, “Appealing photography is essential, as is the styling. We aren’t just selling plants, we are also selling ideas and inspiration.”

For instance, Molbak’s Lookbook provides recipes, gardening tips, and useful information about plant varietals so consumers make the right choices when purchasing plants to harvest. The photos are often featured full page, with content creatively overlaid. The hand-lettered headers were part of an overall brand strategy incorporated a few years ago to create a more hands-on, friendly feel, similar to chalkboard lettering. However, due to the volume of materials she produces, Tyler says, “It’s not possible to have them actually done by hand, so I went with the next best thing – a computer-generated font that looks hand-drawn. We also use our standby sans serif face (Myriad Pro) for larger amounts of copy.” And it works. Coupons, mailers, and the website all incorporate this open, inviting style.

Pro Tip: When placing type over photos, find the greatest contrast and most visually interesting layout to draw the reader in and complement the imagery.

 

Maisons Paysannes de France

Design: Graphéine

Art direction and type design: Jérémie Fesson

Motion design: Philip de Canaga

The Maisons Paysannes de France was formed in 1965 to preserve buildings and rural landscapes that were abandoned during the rural exodus. However, more than 50 years later, its identity was outdated and overlooked so the association commissioned Graphéine to bring the brand to life. Art director, Jérémie Fesson, did just that by designing an entire alphabet, called MPF Display. The letters in this dedicated typeface can be dismantled and shifted to create patterns evoking construction and movement of architectural elements. Every visual form was considered from the accent marks and punctuation, to the dot on the i.

The stencil lettering, in essence, deconstructs to create unique, decorative elements that are in constant flux. The letter variables are played out in print and online. There’s even a video demonstrating the fluidity of the letter parts and the different ways they can be played out. Each element flutters and flows beautifully on its own and when firmly planted in place on its letterform. “Some letters, like the a and s, have several different writings: This small detail—which often goes unnoticed at first–gives a singularity to the graphics that represents the spirit of a peasant house,” says Fesson.

Pro Tip: Be sure to consider every moving part, including letterspacing and punctuation when designing an entire alphabet. Each detail is critical to its success.

Cocktail Cards That Pack a Punch

Designer Maria Montes is a life-long learner when it comes to lettering and typography. Splitting her time between Barcelona and Melbourne, she works on custom lettering projects, illustrations, and type design, and once a year she travels to the remote village of Cabanabona (about 75 miles from Barcelona) to study lettering and calligraphy under the tutelage of Keith and Amanda Adams. There she immerses herself in historic manuscripts, studying lettering techniques from the masters to improve upon her skills.

She says, “I have a strong graphic design background and I am very passionate about all kinds of letterforms: from calligraphy to lettering to typography. I am daily training my eye to become a better designer.” And Montes isn’t selfish with her knowledge. She teaches calligraphy workshops in Melbourne, and speaks at design conferences sharing her work and fondness for details.

“I have a strong background in calligraphy and typeface design, and both disciplines are extremely technical where attention to detail is key. When I draw organic forms, I loosen up and look for energy instead of technicality. I never looked actively for this style of illustration but I am personally drawn to details,” she notes. One of her favorite quotes is by Giorgio Armani: “To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest details.”

A couple years ago, Montes was invited to participate in the Ladies of Letters series, Flourish Together by designer Carla Hackett and letterpress printer Amy Constable (Saint Gertrude Fine Printing) to design a series of four letterpress cards. “At the time, I was already in the middle of putting together my first solo exhibition in Melbourne, called Breaking The Ice. It consisted of a series of eight full-color illustrated cocktail artworks and pattern prints, so I offered to convert four of my full-color pieces into two-color letterpress cards, and they agreed instantly.”

What you see below is the result of the collaboration and the details

Mojito cards

There was a long research process for each illustration. First, I look for the message, something naughty and fun at the same time. Based on the origin of the cocktail, I try to add some cultural references to the piece. Then, I sketch the lettering and I go through many iterations. The base for each lettering style is my own calligraphy. After the calligraphic sketch is balanced enough, I use tracing paper and I redraw all letterforms adding or removing weight, contrast and adjusting letter spacing.

For the Mojito card, the original full-color piece features the actual colors used in a Mojito, but being restricted to two colors for this series, made me reconsider the colors so they would work well with the other cards.

Absinthe images

I was a little worried that the hairlines in Absinthe wouldn’t reproduce well in letterpress. Each piece was born as a large format, full-color artwork, so I went through a reduction process where I removed elements and the color palette, but kept the soul of each piece intact. Each card has been digitally redrawn using vectors. I asked Amy for the minimum line stroke to make sure that the letterpress would translate all details, and the result was great. The color palette is clearly inspired by the popular Green Fairy name associated with Absinthe. I wanted to create a glowing visual experience.

Green Fairy alphabet

“Absinthe” was originally a custom-lettering design. This design got stuck on my mind and a year later, I went back to it and drew all 26 letters of the uppercase alphabet using Illustrator. The result is Green Fairy, which started as one weight, but quickly turned into a layered/chromatic font.

Currently Green Fairy is a font family of 6 weights (chromatic layers). The font is close to be finalized and commercially available. You can subscribe to my mailing list to be up to date with the release date.

Negroni

The inspiration behind my Negroni artwork is a blog post from BonAppetit.com called How to Drink like an Italian. On this post, Andrew Knowlton states: “Italians drink differently than we do. They sip, stir, linger over low-octane cocktails.”

The cocktail venue where my solo exhibition was hosted, offers a variation on this cocktail called Chilli-Choc Negroni. I love chillies so I decided to go ahead with this version of the classic Italian drink.

I wanted to use the colors of the Italian flag without being too obvious. Chillies gave me the red color palette I needed, so I began to illustrate them as my starting point. The other ingredient from this cocktail’s recipe is Vietnamese mint, which became the second main element. Initially, the ingredients were drawn by hand and colored on the computer. For the letterpress printed version of the artwork, I redrew all the ingredients in vector format again.

Following the Italian theme, I wanted to introduce an Italian word that could be easily understood in English, so I chose salute. This lettering has been designed using my own Copperplate calligraphy as a reference. On the other hand, negroni is a lettering design based on my own Fraktur calligraphy.

Old Fashioned

My desk is divided between analog and digital tools. On the left side, I have my pens, brushes, inks, paper and an A2 lightbox that I love. On the right side, I have my computer, Wacom tablet, camera, and iPhone. I think in your work you can either specialize or you can be versatile, and do different things in different ways. I get bored easily, so I like jumping from one discipline to the other or ideally, combine them when possible.

Next year, Montes is having a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center La Panera in Catalonia. She says, “The space is amazing and the crew I am working with is incredibly supportive. I am really excited to share new work with friends and family.”

Fili & Thorn & Charles : Legends, Swans, & Dorks

Spencer Charles was hand-lettering signs at a Whole Foods in Salt Lake City when he heard Louise Fili Ltd was hiring. She invited him to New York for an interview. Fili and Charles clicked. A month later he was living in Brooklyn.

It was 2012 when Charles began working for the legendary Louise Fili, whose New York design studio specializes in book design, restaurant identities, food packaging, and “all things Italian.”

Including, apparently, amore. For Charles, landing a job at Fili’s studio was a dream come true … but that was just the beginning of his dreams come true. While working there, he’d meet Kelly Thorn … and marry her.

Meanwhile, Kelly Thorn was finishing at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. She, too, had heard Fili Ltd was hiring. “I lugged my giant portfolio case to her studio, and that’s when I met both her and the guy who’d become my favorite dork, Spencer.”

As their work relationship grew romantic in 2014, Charles left Fili to freelance. By 2015, Charles and Thorn were married and working together as Charles&Thorn.

Based in Brooklyn, they have a studio at The Pencil Factory, a creative coworking space, where they work for a host of clients including Barnes & Noble, Knock Knock, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. In fact, they’ve done a series of book cover illustrations for classic titles for Barnes & Noble. Initially, Charles designed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and then his client asked if he knew anyone who would be a good fit for Jane Austen’s seven novels. “A prerequisite was that they had to enjoy drawing flowers and letters, which suits me perfectly,” says Thorn. They have subsequently illustrated dozens of titles for the publisher. “Now, depending on the title, they decide for us who is right for each job,” she adds.

When collaborating with your life partner, it can get tricky deciding who does what, but this duo has figured out a system that works for them. “It really depends on the project and who is more excited about doing it and, frankly, who is better suited for it. We’ve learned to delegate and be honest with each other about the type of work we want, and that’s made a big difference,” Thorn notes. And then, there’s question of spending so much time with one person—is it too much of a good thing? “Of course, and this is something we check ourselves on regularly. We’ve learned to voice when we need alone time, when we need to consciously NOT talk about work,” she says, adding, “separating work and life is tricky, especially when you love your work.”

But the two, who admit that their favorite project to date, was designing their wedding invitation, wouldn’t have it any other way. The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. “We take work home all the time. I think it’s better for us to kind of accept that the two worlds permeate one another. It’s unavoidable, and we don’t really mind.”

Lettering Tips for Beginners

Joanna Muñoz, founded Wink & Wonder in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2013, as a freelance creative outlet outside of her full-time job as a graphic designer. “I got engaged not long after starting out and my work suddenly shifted toward calligraphy/lettering, as I documented the process of creating stationery and signage for our wedding. Everything else just kind of fell into place from there,” Muñoz says. “I stumbled across the Goodtype Instagram feed and was hooked. I felt like I struck gold finding a really great community to be a part of.” She’s been busy working on hand-lettering projects ever since.

Here, she shares advice and techniques to help aspiring lettering artists get started and follow their passion.

 1. What tools are best for people just getting started in lettering?

I’m a big fan of using what you have at your disposal before going on a shopping spree. The reality is that tools can only take you so far. It’s consistent, mindful practice and learning the fundamentals that will help propel your work forward.

Pencils— I’ve experimented with tons of brands, but always fall back on a few favorite tools: My go-to pencil is the .5mm Alvin Draft-Matic Pencil – the lead is thin enough for precise lines but wears down with use and creates that same texture you get from traditional graphite pencils. Using mechanical pencils alleviates the need for sharpening. For erasing, I use a kneaded eraser as it’s mess-free and does a great job of getting rid of lines.

Pens— I mainly use the Tombow Fudenosuke Hard and Soft brush pens when I initially create a piece. The soft brush pen has plenty of flexibility for me to create thick and thin lines by applying or releasing pressure, while the hard brush pen offers a little more structure and rigidity. I also use Micron pens (mostly .005, .01 and Graphic) for refining lines, and a Sharpie Brush Tip marker for filling in big areas with black ink.

Paper— I love Moleskine grid notebooks for sketching ideas, Pocket Scout Books for lettering on the go and Canson Marker Paper when I need to create a final piece because it’s super smooth, bleed-proof when inking, and transparent enough to use with a guide underneath the page.

Are there certain warm-up exercises you do? 

If I’ve taken a longer break than usual, I typically jump-start my muscle memory by writing out the alphabet (in cursive) until the rhythm of the pen or pencil starts to feel natural again. Most days, I simpy start out with really loose sketches of a concept to warm up.

What basic techniques would you recommend for a beginner?

Learn the letterforms – Understanding the different elements of each letter – serifs/san-serifs, x-heights, ascenders/descenders, flourishes, etc. – and how they work together will really up your hand lettering game. If you’re drawn to script styles, learning basic calligraphy will do wonders for you as well.

Relax – Having a death grip on your pen/pencil and applying too much pressure will cause your hand to tire out faster and create forced lines and letterforms. Ease your grip and (literally) go with the flow.

Go big – Sketch your concepts out as a whole word or phrase, and don’t draw letter by letter in full detail. Sketching loosely and focusing on the bigger picture will help you determine the overall composition of your piece. It’s best to create several quick layouts and include all of your design elements to see what works best (or doesn’t), especially if you’re using a photo and incorporating lettering. Once you’re happy with the structure of a piece, you can move on to refining the details.

Contrast is key – When using brush pens, you’ll generally want to apply pressure on a downstroke to create thicker lines, and release pressure on an upstroke to create thin lines. The change in pen pressure will create varying line width and give your work some added dimension.

Where (or who) do you look for inspiration? 

Instagram is my social platform of choice for inspiration. I’m a huge fan of @Goodtype’s wonderfully curated and very diverse feed, where you can see artwork from concept to completion and in every medium imaginable. Founder, Brooke Robinson, also does a phenomenal job of showcasing new artists alongside well-known ones.

In terms of inspiration, Gemma O’Brien, Jennet Liaw, Becca Clason, Lauren Hom, Nick Misani, Noel Shiveley, Adé Hogue, Christopher Craig, and Danger Dust never cease to amaze me. Not only are they talented, but they all create pieces with an incredible attention to detail and have mastered a variety of lettering styles.

Do you have a practice project you would recommend for beginners?  

Lettering a quote is what most, if not all, letterers have done at one point or another… and I still do it when I can’t think of anything else to write. Inspirational quotes are overdone, so challenge yourself by doing something different. Why not try a phrase from your favorite television show, an uninspirational quote, or a pun for a fun twist?

The last few quotes I’ve lettered were based on the latest season of Game of Thrones. Not only was it super fun for me to draw, but it’s a topic that almost everyone can relate to and hopefully appreciates. Think about how many words and design elements you’ll need to draw and how you want it to fit on the page. Start with loose sketches and begin to refine once you’ve locked in a composition that works for your piece. Most of all, remember that exploring different ideas, tools, styles, and techniques is all part of the process. Have fun with it!

Building a Narrative Through Branding

Logos designed by Chad Michael often have an aura of history, as if the companies they represent have been around for hundreds of years, when in fact, most are start-ups. Crests and custom lettering often create this sense heritage. “The crest or seal structure, dates back to ancient Greece, China, and the Roman Empire. It appears on the world’s first coin currency, metalsmith markings, pottery, etc. It has evolved over time to carry immense power and memorability with everyone,” Michael explains. “The crest structure has the freedom to carry a lot of brand messaging. It can encompass illustration and typography in a demanding way that typically works well in a variety of conditions. Humans also love symmetry and a crest structure usually possesses that.”

St. Laurent

St. Laurent is a brand built on mystery and nautical references—like something that has been lost at sea. “The research and strategy brought up many older references of nautical charts, which typically possess a very illustrative crest image that contains the map name. This visual research set the foundation for the design,” he says.

The package design development also pushed the need for a crest. He notes, “As with 99 percent of the brands I design, the logo and package design are developed simultaneously. You can’t have one without the other. The crest pushed the branding to the forefront and gave it an iconic look.”

The teal color was another element that really contributed to the success of the design because it’s so unexpected in this category. It has nautical references and actually adds a sense of modernity to a design with so much vintage influence.

“The success of this product has gone beyond expectations and I am now working with the client to develop a complete range of products: A barreled aged Gin, Whiskies, and Rums,” Michael says. “Each new product will keep the same design foundation but the crest and vibrant color will change with each offering. This will give the entire brand a kinetic system of family crests.”

Birmingham

Michael is also known for his custom lettering for clients, and often those solutions have an Old World aesthetic. Birmingham Pen Co. crafts and sells quality writing instruments. “The goal behind the primary logo was to create a design that had a sense of provenance, establishment, and luxury,” he explains. “The overall inspiration came from the concept of iron-work, which is abundant throughout Pittsburgh, is one of the city’s nicknames, and evokes a strong sense of handcraft which is a strong characteristic of their products.”

In his type explorations, he toyed with this idea of iron-work in many ways while also exploring older London-inspired typography, “so the logo had the feeling that it had been around for a while. It gave it a sense of establishment.”

Save

A Logo That Was Almost Lost in Translation

Illustrator and designer Alex Trochut has called New York City home for the past four years. A Barcelona native, he is fluent in all things design from logos and identity work, to editorial, advertising, fashion, and music. He tends to use expressive lettering often in his work to create movement and rapture.

Last year, he was asked to design the logo for a pair of businesses in Barcelona—a daytime restaurant and a cocktail bar, with gender-bending names: El Mama for the restaurant, and La Papa for the bar. Spanish language traditionally pairs “la” with feminine references and “el” with masculine. Trochut explains, “In Spanish, ‘la papa’ means going on a bender. It’s a funny translation… a take on very good conditions for bad habits.”

With this in mind, he went through a lot of ideas, going back and forth with the client. “I’m more of an illustrator than a designer. If something was very bold visually, it wasn’t really working as a logo. But if I designed something really simple that worked as a logo, applied to many things, the client found it too boring. We were in between all the time,” Trochut notes.

He stepped back and started experimenting with lettering and the names. “The structure of the two words have a lot in common. They share the same vocals and the same number of letters.” He put the words on top of each other, and then he saw it: “The faces came in, and suddenly the idea changed. The style that I was using in the end lead me to the idea.”

Read rest of article at LogoLounge here.

 

Save

Jessica Hische on the Art of Procrastination

If it seems like design darling Jessica Hische’s rapid ascent in the design world came easy, she’ll be the first to tell you that she worked her ass off to get where she is today, pulling all-nighters pursuing her passion. And she’s still kicking ass and taking numbers.

Known for her illustrative hand-lettering, Hische has worked for an impressive roster of clients including Starbucks, Wes Anderson, The New York Times, Target, Tiffany & Co., and Samsung. Last year she released her first book, In Progress, for Chronicle Books, which details her exacting process for drawing type. Part information, part inspiration, part eye candy, this is a fun romp through her sketchbook and how she approaches her projects.

Always one to share (or as she says, “over-share”) on her website, Hische offers great advice when it comes to creative burn-out, getting paid, and being productive. Here, we talk to her about her penchant for procrastination and how it’s actually benefited her over the years.

You’re a self-described procrastinator … in fact, you’ve coined the term “procrastiworking.” What does this mean, exactly and how bad are you?

To me, procrastiworking just means putting off the work you’re supposed to do by working on something else [that is also productive / challenging creatively]. It doesn’t always mean putting off work until the last minute—sometimes I procrastiwork by hopping around on different projects in a single day (when I start losing steam on one, I’ll work on another, assuming I don’t have an immediate impending deadline). Sometimes it means rearranging my schedule so that I can fit in passion projects. When I am really fired up about a personal project, I work on it during the work day, and work on client work in the evenings (because I know I HAVE TO stay up to finish it, because of a deadline, versus the personal work).

I do it quite a bit. But the thing that’s odd is that the more I do it the more productive I am. I’m probably more likely to hit a client deadline and make great work if I have bounced around on a lot of things in the process of getting there. Read the rest of the interview here.

procrastiworking

Logo Design Lessons from 5 Summer Blockbusters

It’s that time of year, when the summer blockbusters are released to much fanfare with overblown, Hollywood budgets. But with so many movies hitting the theaters at once, it’s sometimes hard to decide which one to see. Fortunately, you can usually judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a movie by its title treatment and logo design. Here, Matthew Jervis and I discuss five movie logo treatments and how they stack up in the frenzied Hollywood landscape. We’ll ponder why some logos work and others don’t.

Ghostbusters

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer, Ghostbusters, has come a long way, featuring an all-female cast in this remake, but one thing hasn’t changed at all: the logo. Devised by designer Michael Gross and Brent Boates more than 32 years ago, the logo has not been cleaned up, touched up, or tweaked in any way. Its genius in its simplicity.

But Gross never thought it would see the light of day, as he explained in an old interview. “The logo was in the script. The guys in the film had this logo on their shirts,” so had to devise something long before the production started. So, he came up with the concept of a ghost coming out of a “no” symbol, and asked Boates to comp up several variations. He never expected the logo to take hold the way it did, yet here we are 32 years later, and it still endures.

In the 1989 sequel, the logo was cleverly changed to show the ghost holding up two fingers. Ghostbusters merchandise has been flying off the virtual shelves of online retail outlets, showing that a good logo will stand the test of time, even if it’s for a fictional company.

Take away: Don’t mess with success.

Finding Dory

“The sequel to Finding Nemo, uses the same unique typeface, but it works better with Dory,” says Jervis. “The big round letter shapes of the ‘D’ and the ‘O’ in Dory make it look a little clunky.” Whatever little design issues we have with the type treatment, doesn’t seem to affect box office sales, as Finding Dory had the highest grossing debut of all time for an animated feature.

Take away: “Sometimes sticking with the branded look doesn’t work, but you go with it anyway.”

Suicide Squad

This movie, based on the DC Comic, has all the trappings of an action-based thriller, featuring a team of dangerous villains sent on a covert mission. Jervis says of the logo, “The punk rock aesthetic with a thrown-together placement really reflects the theme of the film. I like this logo for that reason.”

Take away: “The logo lives up to the expectations of the film.”

The Nice Guys

With leading men like Russell Growe and Ryan Gosling, you can hardly go wrong, but the title type treatment may be a little misleading. It seems to indicate this is a fun romp through the disco decade. “It’s a Cool logo typeface, pretty 1970 cliché look. It captures the time this film is set, but doesn’t reflect that the story is pretty dang violent.”

Take away: “We like the kitchy disco ’70s vibe. It always sells.”

Eat That Question

The documentary on the always controversial Frank Zappa, captures his story in mostly his own words. Unfortunately, the title design lacks any of the quirky tendencies of the artist, himself. He was an eccentric, eclectic musician known for speaking his mind, no matter the consequence, but the generic lettering overprinted on his face, doesn’t give the audience much to chew on. Jervis notes, “Apparently the studio decided not to spend any money on a real title design.”

Take away: You get what you pay for.

Confidence is Overrated: Debbie Millman’s Road to Success

As the voice and founder of the Design Matters podcast, Debbie Millman has interviewed designers, authors, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs learning not only the secrets of their successful journeys, but also the failures and rejections they’ve experienced along the way. Her keynote for the upcoming HOW Design Live Conference, which will be streamed live here on Creative Live, is called, On Rejection: A Cautionary Tale of Dreams, Hopes and Rejection. In her talk, she draws from her own experiences of rejection and despair through revealing and sometimes hysterical anecdotes.

Here, we asked Millman about how vulnerability and courage have played major roles in her successful creative journey, along with the disappointments and missteps along the way. She holds nothing back.

You’ve built your career as this brand strategy leader at Sterling Brands, but in recent years, you started publicly sharing your personal art and it’s very revealing. How did you summon the courage to do that? 

That’s an interesting question, as I don’t really see this as a courageous act. I think that something is only courageous when it feels scary. By the time I started sharing my personal story and art, I was grateful to have the opportunity and platform in which to do it. It took a long time to get here.

I recently met a very engaging young person and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer astounded me, both in its optimism and its confidence. When I asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered, Everything.

I was the opposite. I went through a whole series of career aspirations, but never felt that I was good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or thin enough to do much of anything, let alone everything. In 1979, when I went off to college, I decided that majoring in English Literature would ultimately give me the most options to choose from, and I minored in Russian Literature because I loved Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. I often joke now that I got my college degree in reading.

Despite my grand dreams of being an artist or a writer, the dominant influencer in my decision-making was the imperative to be utterly self-sufficient. I never once felt that I had what it took to make a living making art. My only marketable skills were the tasks I learned working at my college newspaper: basic design, layout, and what we called “paste-up” of a publication (since we used an actual mechanical, not a computer, to compose the pages). My first job was in the design department of a cable magazine earning $6 per hour.

I lived in a fourth-floor tenement walk-up in Manhattan and because my paychecks were so low and my rent was so high, I had to make a monthly decision about what I would use my money for: eating, rent, or paying off my student loan. When the first September came around after graduation and I sensed autumn in the air, I knew I had compromised. But I felt trapped. I could barely make enough money to pay my rent working as a commercial artist! How could I ever conceive of making a living as an actual artist? I assumed it would be harder and never considered I had any other choice.

About a year later, I was offered a position in a real estate development company in Westchester as the business’s Director of Marketing. It was a big title with a big increase in salary—now I would be making $25,000 a year—and it came with a car. I took it. Everyone congratulated me on my good fortune and the potential of this prestigious new opportunity. But on my first day at the new job, I hated it so much that when I finally got home after the long commute, I climbed into bed, pulled the blankets over my head, and cried. I hated my new job for the entire time I was employed there. I loathed the work, real estate, and my mean boss.

And this was SETTLING! This job and the job before it were jobs I had taken because I thought pursuing my dreams of being an artist or a writer were too hard. WHO WAS I KIDDING?

Every job is hard. Design is hard, marketing is hard, and working at McDonald’s and Starbucks and Walmart is hard. Why does it feel “easier” to do something we don’t love than to do something we actually feel passionate about? I think we lose our courage to pursue our creative dreams when we feel that the only way we can make a living is to conform.

I realize now that making a living doing what you love requires a personal belief that you have something meaningful to contribute. What makes this particularly difficult is that making a living doing what you love doesn’t come with a real “rule book.” There is no single process for anything. For example, you may have a process for being creative, but the actual act of living creatively is organic and (nearly) involuntary: You have to do it—you have no choice—or a part of you dies. So if you’re considering settling because going after what you want seems too hard to do, remember that hating what you do every day is even harder.

Were you ever worried that your art might affect your branding career/reputation at Sterling? Your art is so personal, and you’re basically letting all the wolves in. 

Not at all. Branding is all about being proudly authentic. I believe you need to know how to talk about your work and you need to know how to talk about yourself and what you do, even if you are afraid, even if you are nervous.

Many years ago, in The New Yorker, I read an article about Barbra Streisand. The reporter asked her manager what her greatest talent was. He replied that her greatest talent wasn’t singing, directing, acting, or even her longevity in the business. Her greatest talent was doing all of those things while experiencing debilitating stage fright. Despite the fact that she was terrified of performing, she did it anyway. She did it “as if” she wasn’t afraid.

Being nervous or scared about expressing what you want or who you are is not an excuse to NOT do it. I believe you should try with all of your heart to do it anyway. Try to do it “as if” you are not scared or nervous. You can’t wait to be less scared or nervous. The only way to alleviate that feeling of being scared or nervous is actually doing the thing you are scared and nervous about over and over until you get better at it. Very few people ever do something the first time and do it perfectly right out of the gate. Being nervous and scared is normal. But the fears will lessen over time as you get more and more comfortable actually doing the thing you are scared of doing.

Were people critical? What was the feedback?

I have connected to people more deeply and more authentically. As Brene Brown, author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, suggests, the best way to experience empathy is to look at someone in the eye and say ME TOO. I’ve experienced a lot of that and it is incredibly gratifying.

What is it about being vulnerable that is so difficult for most people? 

I think people are ashamed of not being perfect or totally in control or to show a lack of confidence. After an interview with the great writer Dani Shapiro on my podcast, Design Matters, she and I started to talk about the role of confidence in success. During the conversation, Dani said that she felt confidence was highly overrated. I was instantly intrigued. Most overly confident people, she said, were really annoying. And the most confident people were usually arrogant. Over-exuding confidence was a sure sign that a person was compensating for some type of internal psychological deficit.

Dani argued that courage was more important than confidence. When you are acting from a place of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable—in showing your art, starting a business that might succeed or fail, having an opinion on something, being in a relationship. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.

I believe that confidence is achieved through repeated success. Repeated success provides a foundation that exudes confidence. Really smart people don’t have to prove that they are smart; they exude intelligence. It isn’t heavy-handed or showy. You can’t tell someone you are smart or intelligent and expect they will automatically believe you. Authentic confidence is more internal; it isn’t cocky or arrogant. If you have to “tell” people you are confident, chances are you are insecure about its authenticity.

Confidence is achieved through that willingness to continually put yourself in vulnerable situations. Success or failure has nothing to do with it. I know people who launched a startup that tanked, had their art project excoriated by critics, or went through a difficult breakup, yet they’re still confident; they see the experience as something that helped them along their path, and they remain willing to continue on it. Perhaps confidence comes from a certain equanimity that arises from not putting too much stock in whether you’re celebrated or rejected. “Failure” is an arbitrary label, and the most psychologically healthy people I know tend to reframe it as an experiment that gave them valuable insight. So celebrate your flubs, your rejections, your vulnerability—they mean that you’re taking the risks necessary to grow.

I believe that the act of being courageous—taking that first step—is much more critical to a successful outcome than the notion of feeling confident while engaged in the process. Courage requires faith in your ability before you experience any repeated success. But that doesn’t mean taking that first step will be easy. It won’t. Taking ANY step for the first time is difficult and there is a tremendous amount of vulnerability and nervousness you are likely going to experience. But experiencing that vulnerability and nervousness doesn’t give you an excuse not to take the step.

Why is it important to be vulnerable in the arts and design? 

Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity. If you aren’t able to be in touch with and express universal human feelings—and this includes all the good and “bad” stuff—you won’t ever be able to connect authentically.

There are some who see vulnerability as a weakness. Why do you think that is? 

My guess is that they are afraid of being rejected or they are ashamed of what it means to be authentically who they are. I believe the real weakness is in criticizing others for whatever genuine human emotions they feel.

Featured Maker: Ryan Hamrick

Ryan Hamrick
Austin, Texas
Business founded: 2012

Ryan Hamrick is a busy guy these days, doing hand-lettering projects for a range of clients. “My decision to become an independent designer full-time was probably about as random as it gets. I’d never worked in a primarily design capacity ever before, be it for a company, an agency, nothing. I also had no design or art schooling beyond the ‘Intro to Graphic Design’ and ‘Ancient and Medieval Art History’ classes I squeaked by in my first semester of community college (actually, I may have flunked the latter, now that I think about it),” he explains.

What was the impetus behind starting your own business?

This requires a little bit of backstory: For about six or seven years, in my early twenties, I worked in wireless retail management. I did a stint with just about every wireless carrier, managing anywhere from one store, to an entire district of eight stores for a while with Sprint. When our family moved to Pittsburgh in 2009, for my wife’s job, I was working for a smaller regional carrier and didn’t have an option to transfer or anything, so we decided I would stay home with the kids, while I looked for the right opportunity. There weren’t really any comparable positions, so I ended freelance writing for various wireless news sites, covering news, app and phone reviews, etc. After about a year or so, I ended up taking over as editor-in-chief for a site called knowyourcell.com (since renamed knowyourmobile.com), and ran the site for about six months. During that time, while experiencing the sad state of design in BlackBerry Twitter apps, a developer partner and I actually created what would become one of the bestselling Twitter apps ever on the platform—this was my first real taste of making a little income from design.

About five years ago, the financial opportunity to take the leap and become a full-time independent designer presented itself, and I took it. For the first six months or so, I was basically working on visual design projects and UI stuff while trying desperately to teach myself web design and make myself more versatile. Then, in late 2011, I decided, more or less on a whim, to try my hand at lettering. My early attempts were quite rough, and it took a while to gain the ability to come even close to representing what I saw in my head, on paper. And once I did, I still had to deal with the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about the rules of typography or lettering. Still, the process of crafting these letters and words was easily the most rewarding work I’d ever done before, so I committed to teach myself this craft, and the rest is history!

What works best for you in terms of promotion and marketing your work?

My growth and the building of awareness of my work has been pretty organic. Early on, one of the most effective things for me was just interacting with others on social media. I would inject myself into conversations on Twitter between various people I respected that were doing the work I’d hoped to do one day. Eventually, I formed some great friendships and was able to associate myself with the industry. Dribbble was also absolutely instrumental in my growth; not only as an outlet to share my work and my progress, but also as a forum to interact with other talented artists/designers in the industry and make connections.

Today, I definitely notice a direct correlation between the amount of work I’m putting out and sharing, and the amount of incoming inquiries I receive. Staying active online keeps the inbox active!