Hand Lettering – That Personal Touch

Hand lettering seems to be very popular now. For me it is one of those things that has never gone out of style. It is one of those skills that I have always loved, admired and worked to personally improve. I can still remember those great sign painters that had crazy skills and could set down and hand letter anything, in any style and any font, perfectly, in one try! Just thinking of those skills and comparing them to the current hand skill level of the average designer makes me wonder about the future. Image just a few years from now, when the current students in elementary school now, graduate and become our future University level design students. Remember, currently they are now not being taught cursive writing at all and very little instruction on proper letter forms in secondary schools. The end of an era could be a real possibility. It is hard for me to imagine a designer without some lettering hand skills but I think that is what we will see in the very near future.

Recently I ran into a friend that asked me if I could help him promote a local musical event with a poster design. This is not an uncommon event in the life of a designer but he was a good friend and the musical event was interesting, so I said I would design the poster. As usual, the project came with some baggage, even when the project is free, you never get free reign on the creative solution. In this case it wasn’t to bad, there were only two problems. One was time, this is normal, the project needed to be finished in about a week. The second was I had to include an old photograph of one of the “star” performers. All and all not to bad.

I knew that my friend was not going to be to picky about art directing or even seeing developmental process, so after a few quick thumbnails, I started work on the computer. First I did a little research on the availability of stock photographic images of Mockingbirds. Yeah, you guessed it, the performance was “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It was an interesting twist that this production was the music from the original motion picture narrated by one of the original stars of the movie. My concept was driven by a hand lettered title plus a line art illustration of a Mockingbird. My vision was a distressed calligraphy style and vector art to match.

I started by sketching the style of calligraphy I wanted and the layout of words. Once I was happy with the layout I started working with ink and experimented with various markers and brushes to get a feel for the letterforms and weight. I knew that I wanted the calligraphy to be distressed so I experimented on various types of paper. On previous projects I have hand lettered on all types of paper from toilet paper to slick hot pressed illustration board. The softer and more absorbent the paper the more distressed the lettering. I finally chose a piece of roll paper towel as my surface. The texture and soft quality along with the actual size was the look and texture I was looking for. With most illustrations you want to work larger than reproduction size but in this case I wanted it smaller so the imperfections would be magnified. The actual paper I used was on my desk as a wet drink coaster. Here is a photo of the finished hand lettering along with the actual marker that I used.

Paper towel with hand lettering.

Paper towel with hand lettering.

You can see the wrinkled texture and even some staining from drink cups. Here is an enlarged and cropped version so you can see the rough nature of the lettering and the actual texture of the paper. This was the effect I was looking for, rough but elegant.

Distressed yet elegant.

Distressed yet elegant.

The next step was to scan and convert to vector art.

Mockingbird HeadI then chose a low resolution jpeg image of a Mockingbird from the internet and quickly live traced it in Illustrator.1 mockingbirdMockingbird VectorPutting it all together. . . the final solution.

8.5x11 flyer proofThe final was simple, clean with a powerful message. The finished prints were large (36″x48″) images hung at the box office. I hope they increased awareness and ticket sales. My friend loved it!