Hand lettering is a skillset I’ve been drooling over for years, a talent I’d like to add to my creative tool-belt. Last year I enrolled in Hand Lettering for Designers at School of Visual Concepts (if you live in the Seattle area, I HIGHLY recommend taking some classes here), and got a first-hand introduction to lettering. My passion for beautifully drawn letters started to grow, full speed ahead!
Hand lettering is the illustration of letters, not to be confused with calligraphy or typography. It’s the art of drawing letters, as opposed to writing them. Calligraphers write words, type designers make fonts, and letterers draw words. As a graphic designer and typography lover, it seems natural to desire this skill. Hand lettering brings an impressive element to both personal and professional projects.
Over the years I’ve curated a nicely sized collection of hand lettering books and followed some EXTREMELY (seriously) talented letterers, who inspire me to keep at it and continue practicing my lettering. I’m really excited to share my very favorite letterers, bad asses Jessica Hische and Mary Kate McDevitt (who are also the authors of my favorite lettering books, go figure). These ladies are not only crazy talented, but also hard working individuals who’ve found something they love doing and were able to turn it into a full time gig. If you're interested in lettering, or just like looking at pretty art, I hope you'll find some inspiration and resources below!
Jessica Hische, also fondly known as ‘The Drop Cap Girl’, was the first professional letterer I started following. I saw her gorgeous Penguin Drop Cap series online, and then years later, stumbled upon her book In Progress. If you’ve had the pleasure of holding this book in your hands, then you’d understand why I simply couldn’t leave the store without it. Once I got home and looked through the pages I realized I’ve actually seen several of her projects before, without even realizing it! Most notably, her Barnes & Noble Classics book cover collection, her logo re-design for Mail Chimp and Retail Me Not, the film titles for Moonrise Kingdom, and the cover of Elizabeth Gilbert’s second novel Committed, a Love Story.
Jessica’s work is very clean and controlled, with a touch of elegance. Her lines are precise, whether they are delicate and flowing or ridged and bold. She is a versatile designer, able to create vastly different styles of art. Jessica’s Daily Drop Cap series is quirky and fun, and I have to say that no one can illustrate intricate drop caps like her!
One of the most inspiring lettering books out there, In Progress is not only informative, but visually stunning from cover to cover. Lovers of lettering, typography, and striking layouts need to add this book to their collection. Jessica goes through her entire process, from the early stages of research and sketching, to digitizing and vectorizing her letters. She gives a behind-the-scenes look at her big-name projects, talking about conceptualizing and brainstorming, then sharing her sketches. This book is full of tips and tricks for aspiring letterers.
"I think most people that have a lot of sucess early in their careers don't see what they do as 'work' - I would make art whether or not anyone was paying me to do it. If you can see your career as your calling more than your job, it's easy to devote your life to it." - Jessica Hische
Mary Kate McDevitt entered my life when I randomly found her Hand-Lettering Ledger in the design section of Barnes and Noble. I noticed her distinctive style at once, and started following her online. Soon after I enrolled in her lettering classes on Skillshare.
Mary Kate’s work has a vintagey, slightly rough, sketchy, non-perfect look to it. She uses a lot of illustrations mixed in with her lettering to create bold and playful pieces of art that show her sense of humor and highlight her personality. I admire her unique style, which is easy to spot among a pile of other letterer’s pieces.
One thing I love about Mary Kate is all the fun projects she’s done for Chronicle Books. I’m a sucker for this type of stuff, and really want her Mini Goals Notepad, Carpe Diem Journal, and The Big Ideas Notepad, just to name a few. I also enjoy the super crazy (in a good way) covers she’s illustrated for Mental Floss magazine. Look at that color!
Hand-Lettering Ledger is half informative guide and half workbook. While I’d never write in one of my design books, you can easily photocopy the workbook pages for personal use. Mary Kate goes over a handful of primary lettering styles and provides us with helpful tips while using bright and exciting examples. This book is packed FULL of character, and is less about her life and career and more about teaching and guiding aspiring letterers, something I really appreciated.
"Hand Lettering takes the simplest form of communication and transforms it into an expressive art form." - Mary Kate McDevitt
I hope your creative juices are flowing and these bad ass ladies have inspired you as much as they’ve inspired me! If you’re looking for additional lettering resources, I’ve pulled some more books from my collection that are worth checking out: Hand-Lettering for Everyone, Draw Your Own Alphabets, and Drawing Type. I may even put together a ‘lettering tools’ post in the near future, featuring some of my favorite pens and inks.
Because this was so much to write, I’m toying with the idea of turning this post into a series, where I’ll focus on inspirational artists with specific skillsets. Maybe I’ll do letterpress next? Or screen printing? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below!