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Lettering FAQ

I get a lot of people asking questions about my personal lettering work. Questions like...

    - How do you get started on a new piece?  
    - Where do your ideas come from?
    - How do you choose what style to draw in?
    - What are the steps you take to refine your final lettering piece?
    - What tools do you use?
    - Do you have any tips for someone just learning the basics?

Let's start at the top.

How do you get started on a new lettering piece?

I always like to start with making a clear, written concept. It provides me a framework for how to make the piece. After all, the whole point of the design is to communicate and enhance the concept. 

Once I have that I typically sketch in pencil really roughly on copy paper as I think *around* the idea, pushing and pulling at what it could be and where I can take it. When I sketch, I like to put away all interruptions (technology) and really focus on getting into creative flow. After a while I lose track of time until end up with something that has legs. Then I sleep on it.

Where do your ideas come from?

Usually my ideas come from personal stories, conversations with friends, observations around the city, or just random thoughts that pop into my mind. Throughout the day, I write these things down so I don't forget them (just using my Notes app on my iPhone). I try to write down just enough so that I will remember the whole idea without taking up so much time. Most of them are bad ideas that I don't follow through on.

How do you choose what style to draw in?

Over the years of observing and working with letterforms, I've built up a library in my head that I can reference to try our different styles. Sometimes I look at old books or reference material before drawing, but mostly it just comes from observation and experimentation.

I choose the style based on the concept and the length of the words. Again, I want the design to *enhance* the idea, not just make it look pretty. For example, if it's an long or uncommon word/phrase, the style needs to be really simple so it can be legible right away. 

What are the steps you take to refine your final lettering piece?

A lot of the other letterers that I've seen like to draw really lightly and erase a lot to slowly build up the drawing. I don't have the patience for that. I like to get my ideas out in bold strokes, using a dark pencil. Only when I have something decent do I go back and make a slow, careful tracing. 

My process goes like this:
Sketch, sketch more, sketch even more, trace using precise tools, retrace again and again until I'm satisfied. Vectorize in Illustrator if desired.

What tools do you use?

How I don't think tools will make you better at drawing, it does certianly make for a more efficient workflow. Here are the main tools that I keep handy:

Graphitech mechanical pencils (.3, .5, .9)
Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils
Retractable eraser
Copic multiliner pens (.25, .5)
Copis sketch marker
Kuretake brush pen
Black sharpie
Ruler
Compass

I like to buy and test new tools all the time, so if you have any recommendations, I would love to hear about them.

Do you have any tips for someone just learning the basics?

My main advice would be to not get discouraged if your work isn't as good as you want it to be. It's something that every artist faces in the beginning. A good artist is always working to improve their craft.
 

I would love to hear your feedback on this article. Please reach out to me on my contact page using the "quick message" option. Thanks

Eric Friedensohn