Hand Lettering and Typography by Leslie

Ihave a new favorite thing to do. Hand drawing type. The image above is a freehand sketch of part of the New York Times logo. It's amazing what you can learn by studying something and re-drawing it. Copying work of others is ok in the context of learning, I'm not trying to pass this off as my own unique creation, but I really did learn so much by studying the NYT logo and trying to recreate it. I also learned that graph paper would be very helpful!

It all started last November after Camp Mighty when I illustrated the key points from the five talks. I enjoyed drawing the words in a way that reflected their meaning and gave them greater impact. Then I saw this O Magazine cover and this article about the artist Dana Tanamachi and I realized that I wanted to get much more creative with the lettering. When I illustrated the talks from Alt Summit, I loved thinking about the layout from a typographic perspective and I tried to do a few new things with the letters that I hadn't done before.

Lisa Congdon's 365 Days of Hand Lettering project has also been an inspiration, see her lovely script drawn in an old book below, and she also told me about Jessica Hische's drop cap project, where I got that fabulous letter "I" at the beginning of this post. Jessica's lettering work is very polished and it looks like she finishes everything in the computer. Whether it's drawn in the computer or on paper, as long as you are creating the letters yourself and not using a font, it is considered hand lettering. (PS. Jessica has great information on her blog about getting paid as a freelance artist/illustrator/designer and also about inspiration vs imitation. I love this gal, she is so smart, candid and honest about the issues that are important to her and everyone who works as a commercial artist.)

Despite my graphic design background, I didn't study type in school the way most designers did. I was a multimedia student who started out in photography and got a smattering of design education. I missed the crucial foundation design classes where students have to hand draw type, although I distinctly remember hearing about the assignment from my friends. I think I might be about to make up for it.

In New York last weekend I picked up Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller at McNally Jackson and then accidentally came upon Just My Type by Simon Garfield at my local library.

I love Typography Sketchbooks because it shows so many hand drawn fonts on their way to becoming more refined and polished. Process oriented books are the best for learning, you can see how things are developed and made and essentially see behind the curtain.

In the introduction Steven Heller says that a graphic designer who is not fluent in type is not a graphic designer. When I was working as a graphic designer in New York City after I graduated from art school I knew how to use type, I knew which fonts I liked and I recognised good design and typography, but I don't think that I was truly fluent in type. I didn't fully understand the history and work that goes into creating and designing type and that might be why I struggled with taking my design work to the next level. Time to go back to school! Or at least embark on some self guided study.

Just My Type by Simon Garfield looks like a fantastic story-based history of type. The foreword by Chip Kidd is awesome and had me hooked when he talked about the mostly typographic New Order album cover art. I just started reading it but I'm excited to get further into it.

I also picked up a first edition printing of Lettering by Alexander Nesbitt from the 1950s on our recent trip to the Reader's Quarry Bookshop in Woodstock, NY. It's inscribed to Wolfie (I love inscriptions in books!) and has some great examples of script lettering that I'd like to try drawing. It's got lots of information about the history of lettering and the second section contains "A practical course in lettering". It should be a really useful book and I just love that it's 60 years old. Can you believe that it is still in print? History is such a rich place to find inspiration. 

I'm really looking forward to focusing on this new creative outlet. I feel that lettering is a very useful skill for me to develop that will help me with my art and the communication and design of this blog. I've already started using it in my new weekly feature, Photo Walk Fridays, and I'll be redesigning my header as well. I do sometimes fear that my wide array of interests don't allow me to stay focused on just one thing, but I was encouraged by Laurie Smithwick of Leap Design who told me that all of these interests I have are related, they compliment each other and work well together. It's ok if I am a photographer/illustrator/writer/designer/artist. Why limit myself to just one thing? I'd like to know it all, thank you very much, and I'm happy that I have this nice little blog where I can put it all.

More Inspiration:

Do you love type? Do you draw type? Please share with me your favorites and your inspiration!

Hand-bound Hardcover Valentine's Book by Leslie

Handmade Valentines are nice. I think while you are making them that you imbue some of the love you are feeling into the paper. Last year I tried my hand at making my husband a hand-bound hardcover book. It was the first time I tried to bind a hardcover book and I think it turned out well. It's a detailed process, but I had two books to work from and even though there was some guess work involved, I think I mostly figured it out. If you would like to try this project for yourself here are the things you will need:

  • Bookbinding Instruction Books: Bookcraft and The Handmade Book 
  • Self Healing Cutting Mat
  • Utility Knife
  • Awl and small hammer
  • Needle: #1 Darner or Tapestry
  • Linen Tape
  • Wax coated linen thread
  • Watercolor paper
  • Bone Folder
  • Binder boards or Millboard
  • Book cloth or Buckram
  • PVA Glue
  • Glue Brush
  • Decorative Paper for collage
  • Scissors
  • Photographs
  • Fabric swatches
  • Stencils
  • Paint & Brushes
  • Sewing Machine

The first step is to create the block of pages that forms the inside of the book. Determine the size of the book that you would like and cut the watercolor paper to the correct height and double the length. Fold each page in half and line up all the folds. Following the directions in the bookbinding books for a multi-section sewn binding, create holes with your awl and stitch the pages together. I used thick water color paper for each section, but you could easily use thinner paper and more pages per section to make a book with more pages.

I decided to decorate the pages first, before I glued them to the cover. I used paint, paper collage, sewing, stenciling and charcoal to create Valentine's inspired artwork. After the pages are decorated you can add notes and messages, envelopes with surprises in them, or even a mixed CD. Get creative and have fun, if you do something you don't like, you can always cover it up or re-work it. No fear! If you like, you can also sketch things out lightly with pencil first, to see how it looks, and then finish it in ink.

NOTE: Do not decorate the front of the first page, or the back of the last page of the block of pages, those will be glued onto the binder board and will not be visible.

I sewed a fabric swatch into the book to use as a base for a collage and the opposite side (see below), with just the stitches, became a frame for a stenciled word.

Use any kind of white glue to decoupage paper elements into the book. Decoupage is when you add layers of glue on the top of the paper to seal it. Traditionally decoupage uses multiple layers of varnish on 3D objects to create an inlayed look, but you can do the same thing on paper with just regular glue.

Once all your pages are done, measure out and cut your book boards and buckram, again following the directions in your bookbinding book. I wanted to have raised letters on the cover, so I cut them out of cardboard and glued those onto the binder board first before gluing the buckram down. 

Use PVA glue and a glue brush to glue the boards to the buckram, folding the edges up and over the binder boards, taking care at the corners to fold them neatly and correctly. Once the buckram is glued to the binder board, you can glue the outside pages of the sewn block of pages to the inside covers of the book. 

I am not an expert book binder, so I will leave the technical details to the books, but I will say that this project was very fun and satisfying to make. There were moments when I was confused by the directions and not sure exactly what to do, for example, that linen tape that I stitched around that is hanging off the book signature, I didn't know whether to cut it or not. I ended up cutting it short. I don't know if that's right or not, but by the end it looked like a real book, so as long as the book doesn't fall apart, it's a success!

There is so much room for creative book binding and artistic expression in the creation of unique hand made books. One of the design classes I took at Alt Summit was book binding so keep your eyes open for a post about that soon. I hope to do more of this kind of work. It's a perfect mix of art and precision.

For more inspiration and information on handmade books, check out the following: