Why Lettering?

The other day my friend Terence asked me this question. I did my best to answer it on the spot, but it gave me pause as I started to think about it.

Is there a deeper reason behind my passion? What is it about drawing letters that is so satisfying? I've devoted thousands of hours into this pursuit. Clearly I should know this.

I started lettering because my past decisions and experiences led me to it. But why do I stick with it?

I don't have a single clear answer, but I'm going to do my best to break down the reasons why I continue in this pursuit.

Physical stimulation

It can be easy to forget what the design process was like before the computer.  In this age of screens and data, it's really nice to retreat to the simple tools — plain ol' paper and pencil — to make beautiful things. After all, I am a kinesthetic learner, so I learn through the act of doing. Also, when I get lost in my lettering work, I get into a state of flow, which ultimately brings happiness.

"When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life."

From a TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about flow

Lettering exercises both creative and analytical thinking.

Besides the physical act of making, there is a deeper level to what I do, and certain questions I ask myself throughout the process.

Does the style actually enhance the message? Is it legible? Where will this be viewed, and by whom? What can make it stronger? I try to think about all of these questions (and more) that run through my head as I am working on a lettering piece.

I really like this pragmatic design approach. I'm not going to dive deep into the "artist vs. designer" debate, but basically what I'm saying is: my lettering work is not pure self expression.

The act of lettering creates a physical finished product. 

It sounds obvious but it's worth noting. It's incredibly gratifying to be able to make a tangible finished product without help from anyone else.

For some of my friends who work in other industries like TV production or event design, it's way harder to make something of quality all on your own. For those jobs, there is typically a team of specialists (i.e. camera operators, actors, producers, editors, directors) all working towards the finished piece.

I still enjoy occasional collaborations with other artists, but most times I enjoy being able to make something of value without having to rely on anyone else.

Lettering is a means of voice.

One awesome thing about lettering is that it is both visually appealing and contextually meaningful. In other words, when you share lettering, the message you choose to illustrate becomes a way of speaking to the world.

I often illustrate words and phrases that mean something to me, and that will resonate with other people as well. The words (particularly in my personal lettering projects) can start a conversation with the viewer and build community around an idea.

People want lettering.

Of course, this is not the most important motivator, but it certainly helps that we are going through a sort of "golden age" of hand lettering. 

As I mentioned before, people get tired of technology in their face everywhere they go. It's refreshing to see something handmade with love every once and a while. 

Because people want lettering, it has become super valuable. Companies want to use it to sell things, which means lettering artists can get paid


Speaking of getting paid to make lettering, I have some exciting news. The great people over at seanwes just launched Learn Lettering 2.0, and it includes a new series I was interviewed in called Lettering Masters. You can view it when you sign up for the Free Starter Class at LearnLettering.com/eric

Eric Friedensohn