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.”

Illustrating an Ale Narrative

With so many microbrews infiltrating the marketplace—and taking up valuable shelf space in retail outlets—having a memorable package design that stands out from the crowd is more important than ever. So when Ommegang Brewery, based in Cooperstown, New York, decided to update its brand, they hired French illustrator, Yann Legendre, to bring their packaging to life.

Each ale has a fun, quirky back story, so the art needed to portray those qualities and bring them to life. Legendre notes, “They were looking for an artist who would bring a sense of movement, openness, storytelling, and wit in the art, to both honor their history and reflect a stylish, dynamic, and modern approach.”

He credits Ommegang’s art director Larry Bennett, with devising the clever stories. “Typically, we look for a story idea that may lead to a brewing idea, that will create an even better story idea,” Bennett says. “We have a great history with Belgium and American brewing, so we don’t often have to pull rabbits out of hats. Unless it’s a story that involves magic.”

Legendre created compelling characters to bring the narrative to life. For instance, for “The Three Philosophers” ale, he drew a headless man, juggling three heads. “The story evolved from three philosophers in a William Blake play, Island in the Moon, who talk about why/how/if they would do something remarkable,” he says, so he each head has a questionable expression.

“For each project, Larry gave me the story and a series of visual references or ideas,” Legendre recalls. “He never asked me to draw a particular thing. He was more interested in how I interpreted the story and brought a new layer to it. The stories are like fairy tales, with different characters and scenes, so it was really fun to work on.”

Legendre drew everything in black-and-white, and then Bennett’s team reversed and dropped the illustrations in front of a colored argyle background in many cases. “We developed a color palette that works with the beers and seasons. For example, wheat beers tend to be warm and summery, while winter ales tend to be cool,” Bennett says. Getting everything right for production was crucial, especially when working with more than one printer, as they do. “The labels are printed at one place, the four and six packs at another, and the cartons another. Each printer specializes in what they do, but they talk to each other and to me on color matching. We send draw downs, color chips, and samples back and forth to get everything in sync.”

Fortunately, their system works. The artist’s crisp renderings pop off the packaging, bringing the characters to life as he intended. Legendre is known for his large-scale posters that hang in shop windows in Paris, so for this project, he treated the labels as if they were mini-posters, paying special attention to how they will be produced and presented. “I spend a lot of time making sure each illustration is perfectly set up for a certain printing technique, whether it’s silkscreened, foiled stamped, or offset.”

 

In fact, he loves the whole production process. “Printing to me is like bringing the work to life. I have a deep relationship with this art. My grandfather was a book binder, so I was exposed to this at a very young age. The quality of the papers, the smell of the inks, leathers, glue, etc.—it’s ingrained in me and it influences how I work.”

All of these considerations have paid off for the brewery, which has noticed a bump in sales since the packaging was updated with Legendre’s illustrations. “I’ve admired Yann’s work for several years, so he was my first pick for this project. His illustrations have a strong, conceptual framework, and they convey the ideas perfectly,” Bennett n

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!

Edel Rodriguez Doesn’t Melt in the Face of Adversity

The political discourse in this country has been at a fervent pitch for months, up until the shocking outcome November 8. Political cartoonists and illustrators have been having a field day, but none more so than Edel Rodriguez who has created two of the most talked about cover images in recent times. As a Cuban immigrant he has a great appreciation for the artistic freedom he is allowed in America, and he has a lot to say in his work.

Rodriquez immigrated to the U.S. in 1980, when he was just nine years old. He studied art and design at Pratt Institute, where he graduated with honors. He then received a Masters of Fine Arts degree in painting from Hunter College. His illustrations have graced the covers of books and magazines like TIME, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and more. In addition to his commercial work, Rodriguez’s fine art paintings voice human concerns, mortality, and cultural displacement.

Here, we talk to him about the influence art has played in his life and life work, and how visual ideas play out in the media. Read the interview here.

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Illustrations: Edel Rodriguez

Featured Maker: Sarah Lovell

Sarah Lovell Art

Wimborne Minster, Dorset, UK

Business founded in 2012

Sarah Lovell started her art print business after having her second baby. She drew and painted in her spare time, so she figured she’d take a go at making greeting cards, art prints, and coloring books. She says, “I am inspired by wildlife, my three small children and the magic all around us. I try to capture some of that magic in my illustrations.”

I hand illustrate/paint the original pictures with watercolor, gouache or acrylic and black ink. Then I send the originals to my printer (also in Dorset) who scans them in and digitally prints the cards and art prints or assembles the coloring books. The paper used is all ‘Carbon Captured’ and the inks used are biodegradable, so they are all very eco friendly products which is important to me.

How did you go about turning your passion into a business?

I started with a small collection of nine card designs that I showed to our local bookshop, and they ordered four of each. This was the beginning, and a big confidence boost. I now have over 50 cards, some of which are available as prints, and a range of coloring books which are all stocked nationwide! And I just got a new stockist in Spain too. I started with local shops, getting in touch via email, sending samples, phoning shops, and slowly increased my number of stockists.

Do you sell your work primarily online, or do you have a storefront? Is Instagram a good selling source for you? 

I sell my work via my website, and I also have an Etsy shop. I get regular orders from both avenues, and my products are also stocked in a number of independent stores across the UK.

I love Instagram, and I find it a great place to connect with other artists/ illustrators. I try to update my account regularly with new work, and make sure my feed is interesting and fresh, so I can use it as a kind of portfolio.

Do you travel to trade shows? 

I took part in my first big trade show in January. I was selected by journalist Charlotte Abrahams, to take part in the “Spotted” section of a big trade show in London called Top Drawer. This was an amazing experience, and put my work in front of a big audience, so since then I have started stocking a lot more shops across the UK.

What works best for you when it comes to marketing and promotion for your business? 

Social media is a great tool, and I keep my Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram feeds updated daily as well as interacting with other via social media as much as possible. I also love the community feel on Etsy. I am part of the Dorset team, where the members really support their fellow Etsy sellers. I also think you can’t beat sending some one a beautifully wrapped parcel with some samples of your work via snail mail to really stand out from the crowd.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out—something you wish you would have known? 

Let your spirit shine through in your work, make things that really make you happy and they will make other people happy too.

From Vacation to Vocation

It started in 2010 with a crate of figs, some fetuccine, butter and balsamic vinegar.  The next thing they knew, they had spawned a community of food and illustrations around the word. Salli S. Swindell and her brother Nate Padavick of Studio SSS—were on vacation.

“Nate was cooking fettuccine with figs in butter balsamic sauce—sounds amazing, right?” recall Salli.  “While he was cooking, I was at the counter drawing the crate of fresh figs and sipping wine. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment. Drawing food is fun! I told Nate we needed to find more food illustration jobs.”

They Draw and Cook first began as a printed book of illustrated recipes they’d give away to friends, family, and clients. Nate had the idea to invite other  friends to contribute to the book. Weeks and months passed. While awaiting one submission for the book,  Nate grew impatient. On a whim, he posted eight of the illustrated recipes to a blog he and Salli decided to brand They Draw and Cook.

Word spread. Others began submitting illustrated recipes. In a short time, they had hundreds. Then thousands: more than 250,000 follow the blog on Facebook; more than 40,000 follow it on Instagram. Schools are using these sites for classroom assignments. “Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD, and SCAD,” adds Salli. “We welcome a range of styles and skill level, and especially like it when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time.”

The site’s popularity has inspired Nate and Salli to think of fresh ideas to unite illustration and personal interests. The compiled a list of “They Draw and …” variations.  Nate’s love of travel includes an interest in map design. The brother and sister added a map feature to their site to enable visitors to find other illustrators around the world.  Then they created They Draw and Travel—a companion site that is just as fun as their food site.

Although these started as a whim, the sites take up quite a chunk of time each week. Salli manages the cooking site and Nate the travel site, and each spend 15 to 20 hours a week. With so much effort devoted to the sites, Nate and Salli try to offset the costs with sponsorships that won’t clutter the site, such as illustrated recipe contests. Salli explains, “In the past, companies such as Glad, Kraft, UPPERCASE magazine and The Food Network have sponsored contests and offered cash prizes of up to $5,000. Contests are super fun and create a ton of buzz. We don’t have any planned right now, but would love to! Anyone? Anyone?”

They also have published several books as offshoots of the sites that help pay for website development. Cookbooks ranging from cocktails, vegan, fig and holiday recipes are available on their online shop, and Nate just published his first illustrated map book, titled The Draw and Travel, 100 Illustrated Maps of American Places by Artists Around the World.

The best part about both sites is the collaborative nature and it has actually helped many artists secure new clients. “We’ve made so many new friends and have discovered new food and adventure with every recipe and map,” Salli explains. “What started out as a way for nine of us to meet a few new clients, turned into a way for thousands of artists to connect with art directors all around the world. Every week or so we hear from an artist telling us that they were contacted by an art director who spotted their work on one of our sites. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

But don’t be surprised to see amateur artists featured alongside pros on the sites. They only turn art away if it isn’t the correct size or format. “Quite a few schools use our sites for classroom assignments. Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD and SCAD. We like the range of styles and skill level and we especially like when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time!”

Cultivating Creativity: Inside Kate Bingaman-Burt’s Studio

Kate Bingaman-Burt is a busy woman. She’s written books on our culture’s consumption obsession, she teaches design at Portland State University, and she creates compelling designs for a steady list of clients including Chipotle, Hallmark, Uniglo, IDEO, VH1, and the Gap, among others. We recently visited her studio to watch her make stuff, and we absolutely loved her set-up, so we asked her for advice on setting up a design studio that is not only fun to work in, but functional.

Tell me about your workspace and why it works for you? 

I share a space with four other illustrators/designers in an old Ford factory in Portland. Some of my favorite things about this space: high ceilings, good light, working amongst friends, and our ridiculous bean bag chairs for the occasional nap. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Andrea D’Aquino on Illustrating Alice in Wonderland

Andrea D’Aquino’s illustrative ramblings run the gamut from watercolor to collage to everything in between, and it’s perhaps because of this cataclysmic range that she was chosen to illustrate this fantastic tale of two worlds for Rockport Publishers for its Classics Reimagined series. We go down the Rabbit Hole with D’Aquino, as she talks about the challenges of reinterpreting this classic through her eyes.

Is this a story you’ve always wanted to illustrate?

 It’s my favorite book, but by no means had I ever considered illustrating it, nor would it ever have entered my mind. The idea to tackle such a classic text, would’ve struck me as almost preposterous after artists from Dali’ to Disney, to Tim Burton—to the definitive Tenniel illustrations—have already been imprinted onto such a wide swath of our collective minds. How would I follow up on such a thing?

But, when I was asked to illustrate it, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I know a great opportunity when it hits me over the head! I did really worry for a week or two, wondering how I would ever approach it, and make it fresh. It’s full of classic scenes that so many of us have preconceived images. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Design Links, An Ongoing Series for HOW Design

I have been managing a biweekly column for HOW Design called “Design Links,” which features three artists every other week. Each artist chooses the next link in the creative cog, and talks about how they inspire them. We also show two projects from each artist, so readers can get a taste of their work. So far the links have taken us from New York to Berlin and Sweden, to Hong Kong and beyond. Tune in every Wednesday to see where the links take us next.

Here’s a snippet of part nine in the series.

Jonas Williamsson is inspired by …

Emma Åkerman

She is working between fine art, commissioned work, and self-initiated projects. Emma’s visual language constantly develops through experimentation with new techniques, but always in line with her distinct expression. I read the quietness in her images as something of a reversed strategy, when everything around us is getting overblown and bold, to make place for critical reflection and afterthought.

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