If it’s one thing I enjoy it’s creating custom lettering and custom fonts. I often get my ideas through client work. Each client who comes to me requesting custom lettering or custom type always gets several to choose from. Often during the process of developing the customized letters I get several ideas for fonts. Once the job is completed I usually take the type that was left behind and begin developing the entire alphabet to see if it’s something I want to keep!.This is just a small sampling of some developed and to be developed custom fonts that will be available in the shop soon! To see more examples of some custom lettering pieces I have done in the past visit my Typography section HERE!
What was your process (start to finish) with the recent cat vector illustration you did?
TO SEE EACH STEP BY STEP PANEL CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE!
First off this approach to doing graphics is not new and actually has been around for some time now. It’s a short cut method! With the advent of the computer and the deep / profound effect it had on art it became obvious that the tools were designed to give you more flexibility and control but also speed the process up greatly.
To start out the client asked me for an illustration of a cat head, straight on view. He wanted it a bit cartoon and a bit real but all attitude. With that direction the process was as follows:
#1. I started with the traditional “pencil to paper” approach. I sketch a very loose structure of shapes (ovals and lines). This assists with proportions and a framework for me to start detailing. The next step is to begin adding in the details of the illustration. What you see is half
of the piece because it’s faster! Why illustrate the entire thing when the client asked for a head on view? Other types of illustrations (like the snake or Stormtrooper vector I did HERE) have completely different starting points and approaches.
#2. I then scan the piece into Photoshop, duplicate the layer, cut it in half, mirror the image (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) and line it up. This becomes the foundation from which I will start the next step in the process.
#3. I then pick a portion of the illustration I want to start with. The portion I choose is completely based on preference and honestly I just go where I feel called! I use only the Pen Tool!
#4, #5, #6 and #7 are all using the Pen Tool and slowly illustrating half of the piece. Once the foundation is in place I duplicate and flip it again.
#8. Once I have the foundation of the piece in place I start adding deeper detail as I see fit. This process is completely based on how much time I am willing to spend and if I feel it’s necessary (too much detail can also kill a piece if done wrong!)
#9. The last step is adding color. This is usually determined by the client but on this one I had the freedom to choose.
What are those patterns in the custom lettering you do and are they created in the computer or hand done?
This is actually easier than you think. All the patterns I do are custom but not all are created in the computer! Before I jump in to some details it’s important for me to postulate like I’m a know it all! (Joking) What is important (I believe) is that I developed these skills OUTSIDE of the computer. When I learned (all hands on in print shops) everything started out as a pencil sketch. This “sketch’ was then re worked over and over until EVERY aspect of the hand lettering, graphic etc was exactly what you (or the client) wanted. The next steps were to lay acetate, vellum or rubylith over the drawing and start the labor intensive process of doing separations (A steady hand and inks) All patterns were either created by hand, photocopier “magic” or (much later) you could buy patterns to cut out and add on your separations to give them a more professional look. Reason I say all this is to get you outside the all to easy computer and look for alternate ways of making patterns unique!
All in all I have approximately sixty patterns I’ve created and use regularly. I am ALWAYS looking in the world around me for new patterns, shapes etc that I can turn into patterns.
Once you complete your pattern (patterns) I would suggest building a file to store all of them for easy access. The patterns are good not just for custom type but all sorts of areas in your projects. Limitations only exist when you fail to exercises your creativity so to speak!
CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO SEE AN EASY TWO STEP PROCESS IN ILLUSTRATOR!
I’d love to say that every piece of custom lettering, custom type, hand lettering and typography in general is approved and portfolio worthy but the truth is we all have losses. I try to make it a point to get to know as much about my clients as possible. I gather all the info I can on the project to get a “feel” for the identity and stylistic direction I should take. I ask the questions and truly listen to not only what was said but what wasn’t! All this is like fuel, like ammo in which I use to deliver something unique but more importantly something that will represent the client. The above pieces were done for DJ Mays. NOT ONE was selected or approved! I felt at times I was close but at the end of the day it’s the client I represent and if they feel like it’s not on then… it’s not! I will say that not all is lost regardless of the approval or not. Each custom type piece I work on is a learning and stretching opportunity. I carry all this forward and blend it in to my future projects wherever they may fit!
How do you get the depth to your lettering and the effects inside the type?
Let’s start out with the fact that their are numerous ways to approach text effects and custom type. Over the years I have amassed a library of approaches I have either found, stumbled upon or through hard work (the majority of the techniques) discovered. This is actually a very simple process that anyone can do. Their are not only several ways to accomplish this (I am covering just one way) but their are several other advanced techniques that use this approach as the foundation!
In addition, I am also a fan of learning things from the ground up. When I started in custom lettering, custom type and typography I approached it from the original disciplines used years ago (I still use them today!). This usually consisted of a piece of paper, compass, ruler, pencil and both your creativity combined with a disciplined hand. This process involved charting out each character and the word as a whole. It involved measuring out the X height, stem of each letter for consistency, character width, letter axis and on and on. This gave me a HEALTHY respect that their are shortcuts BUT in order to reach new levels I would need a SOLID foundation. I suggest that anyone seeking quick fixes move on but anyone wanting to build their knowledge base and achieve pieces that actually represent the craft DO THE WORK!
In order to see each step of the process just click on the above banner, wait for the post to load and then click through each slide. Their are 6 slides in total!
#1. Start with any single letter. In this tutorial I will use the letter H. Normally I would apply all the following techniques to an entire word but thought it easy to just use a single letter! Any style letter will work!
#2. Here I will create four individual layers. The top layer is the smallest white H. The second layer is a larger (black) H. The third is a white H again and the last is a black H. To create a larger letter I do the following. Create the size stroke you like. Now go to OBJECT > EXPAND (make sure FILL and STROKE are checked) and hit OK. Now go to the PATHFINDER palette and select UNITE! Do this for each layer.
#3. To create the shadow on the inside of the letter you must first decide where your light source will be. This will ensure that the final piece looks like it has consistency. What I do is duplicate the top layer (the white first layer) turn it black. I then duplicate the layer again and offset it (however deep or shallow you want). Then go to the PATHFINDER palette, select both letters and click on MINUS FRONT. (RED Arrow indicates light direction)
#4. I then create a pattern. In this case it is a bunch of rectangles that are one shape (ADD in the PATHFINDER palette). The amount of “fills” or “patterns” is endless. I then either use a mask or I place the pattern over top of the letter, select both the letter and the pattern and go to the PATHFINDER palette and select MINUS FRONT. This will give you the following look.
#5. Now I can create some depth by duplicating the last layer several times and offsetting it down and to the right. I do this as many times as I need to get the desired depth.
What is your process when creating custom lettering or custom type?
Unfortunately there’s no easy answer here. The process or approach is determined in large part by the client (or brand) and how I feel about the brand (my mood)! If the client is a streetwear brand I automatically think hand lettering so I start pencil to paper! If it’s a client like Harley my mind jumps to hard edges and graphic effects so… I start with a font and see how far I can customize it. Each brand brings it’s individual vibe that I consider and then their’s my mood. I literally will go against the entire grain and push in a different direction if I feel it’s necessary. I almost think it’s implied (at times) by the client. They want me to look at the brand and then go “I feel we should walk off in this stylistic direction!” They want me to interpret the brand through my creativity.
As far as tools in the process I stick to the basics BUT I always introduce new tools to play with (recently added some brush pens). The standard tools are a mechanical pencil, a ruler, varios Copic markers, a few microns, the mouse and the Pen Tool. I never use brushes etc.
The majority of the time the process goes like this. Start sketching to get some basic ideas in place. This is the time to “free think” with my hand. I just let go and see what happens. The next step is to choose which sketch (or sketches) I like and sharpen them up. This is over a light table and just sharpening the kerning, line weight etc. etc. Once that is complete I scan in. I then use the Pen Tool and re-build each letter (outline or fill, whatever the sketch calls for). After that portion is complete it’s back to “free thinking” I evaluate the piece and start to add, subtract, distort etc. etc. etc. all in an effort to get to a point where I feel it’s done!
One thing worth noting is that each time I feel a piece of custom lettering or hand lettering etc. is complete I will duplicate the piece and re-hash it! It’s almost a game to me to see how far I can take the piece in a different direction from the original while still staying as solid as the first. It’s just another opportunity to explore really!
I have had a two year relationship with Harley Davidson and can’t complain. It is a rare client that (after you prove yourself) trusts you with the brand. They are always open to new approaches, new color palettes and new styles. If I throw a batch of hard edge typography then switch it up with hand lettering they are good to go. If I do a run of skulls but then decide the next batch is strictly custom graphic elements I hear no complaints. As an artist you want clients to not only trust your abilities but your desire to progress. Above is a very small sampling of some custom lettering, hand lettering, vector skulls and more.
Over the years I have done several custom type pieces for OSIRIS SHOES. What I love about the client is that it’s a “anything goes / do what ya want” project. This always gives me an opportunity to explore hand lettering, customizing type or just getting out of my comfort zone to explore other forms of typography. Above is just a little sampling of some of the lettering I have done over the years. You can see more in my typography section HERE!
Let’s start out with the fact that this is intended to assist anyone seeking answers in a market and industry that seems to be a bit tight lipped and NOT an “I know it all” session. I am a work in progress like everyone else. Two things I love is learning and sharing what I’ve learned. In addition, I have received quite a bit of questions over the past few months and in an effort to use my time wisely and not have to duplicate the same emails to other individuals I thought it best to start posting them here. So with that caviat out of the way here we go:
I am a design student getting ready to graduate. I just looked through your portfolio and was wondering… How are you able to have such a wide and diverse set of styles when it comes to custom lettering?
I believe this is due to two main factors.
#1. I sit in the posture of a student at all times. In this posture I am able to look at the world around me from a standpoint of discovery. In regards to typography or custom lettering I am a student of all styles, disciplines, expressions and letterforms. I look at graffiti and the nature in which each letter is individually crafted but seamlessly works together. How it has a sense of freedom and abandonment but an undercurrent of control and execution. I look at Calligraphy and see the strict discipline of not only hand control but consistency in every stroke. I look at ALL styles and after the initial reaction of “DAMN that’s amazing” the next thought is “HOW”. I set out to discover how it was done and then purpose to achieve that “HOW”. Once I understand the mechanics and the “rules” I set to break them! I let the foundation be the How and the building blocks be my imagination!
#2. Instead of the dogma that I should develop one style and let all my current and potential clients bend to that style I treat brands like they are people. Like they are all individuals and like they are friends. In order to get to know someone, truly know who they are, you have to be intentional. You have to ask questions and learn how to listen not just to the answers but what isn’t being said! You have to study, be attentive. It’s only after time and shared experiences do you develop long lasting relationships. When I apply this approach to a new client or his / her brand I let it wash over me. The brand has a voice and in order for me to not only hear it but let it take a visual form I have to pull from how intimately I know it, how well I listened and studied, and how well I lent myself to it’s character. Only then can I start to interpret it through the art.
One is the discipline of the student and development while the other is the discipline of suspending what you think and embracing what (and who) is before you.
I’m gonna assume you know who the man is and if not… do yourself a favor and Wiki him! Having an opportunity to work on some custom lettering / branding for such a stud is an honor. As usual I took the appropriate time to submerge myself in everything Billy Gibbons and everything else surrounding the Rock and Blues era! After hours of music, pictures, interviews of the man and all his products I felt it was time to get started. Custom type like this needs to have distinct characteristics that not only set it apart from other type but can easily represent the man’s history and vibe while not seeming too forced! I created custom pinstripe pieces to accompany the type and give it a little more character. The rest of the custom lettering pieces can be seen in my typography section HERE!