The Process Behind A Lettering Work

When I started my first series, Thanking Around, the creative process behind it was basically all the same because I wanted to capture the things that I most enjoyed in the cities that I had visited. But once I started Lettering to Anxiety, I changed this a bit, to adapt to the series' identity with good vibes using flowers and cute ornaments. 

Before I tell you about my process, I’d like to let you know that a lot of what I do when it comes to it came from Jessica Hische. I learnt A LOT from her, her book, her Skillshare classes and an half-an-hour long one-on-one I had with her a few years ago via Skype. So if you notice some similarities between my process and hers, it’s not just a coincidence. I have a lot to thank her for.

Here are the steps:

1. BRAINSTORM AND REFERENCES

When exploring a new theme, it’s important to understand what’s the essence of the piece. Is it about football? Is it from the 80’s? Whatever it is, I like to write all the words that come to mind when thinking about that sentence or theme. Spit it all out and don’t worry if it looks shitty. Afterwards, I like to study a bit more about the references related to it, thinking about what would be interesting to add.

2. THUMBNAIL

Think about blocks, not words. This is not the time for you to think about which font you’re going to use. There’s this class from Jon Contino on Skillshare that helped me A LOT when it came to thumbnails.

This step can usually be messy, because when you have the format you need to use it’s very easy to choose the first composition and stick to it. But DON’T DO IT. Think about which word is most important, explore the hierarchy of different words if possible, and if you’re going to mix letters with illustration, this is the time to think where you should place them, but don’t use any details yet - remember that now it’s all about the big picture, not the details.

One last thing: try to bring your focus to what matters the most - good composition usually happens when you don’t exactly need any ornaments, you don’t put them there to fill a gap you didn’t know how to solve that at the beginning. Ornaments are an extra, the main focus should be on the letters.

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3. SKETCH

One of my favourite parts! This is the time where you can create properly, think about details, ornaments, ligatures and everything your sketch has the right to have - don’t forget step number 1, stick to your theme and add things related to it. You can dream, but dream with your feet on the ground. And don’t use a classical copperplate lettering font somewhere where it doesn’t make sense.

This step takes a lot of time for me, because I redo a lot of things, explore new styles, explore new ornaments, etc. This is the time to explore as much as you can, even if it takes 10 pages out of your sketchbook. And when finalizing the sketch, don’t forget to finalize it as much as possible - meaning try not to make any big adjustments to your sketch on vector, I’ve done this a lot and I just doesn’t work at all, you may take twice as long than you would if you had corrected it on the sketch.

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4. VECTOR

That’s the stage where I usually go to a café, ask for one single cappuccino, play a calm playlist on Spotify and stay there for hours straight. Some people I know say that calligraphy is therapy, like painting water colors, or going to the beach. Mine's this: vector work. Yes, I do have a life, but vector has a special place in my heart. OK, now let's talk about the important stuff, instead of about how much I wanna marry my vector points (auto-correct just changed my words to say I wanna marry my ACTOR points - if my computer only knew).

At this stage I usually begin with three layers on Adobe Illustrator: Photo, Guides and Art. I have them all separated just to keep everything organised and with different opacity levels. 

I recommend starting your vector with everything in black, so you can pay more attention to technical stuff and the colours won’t influence your own critique. My vector work study started with this article that I received in 2014 from a friend, and evolved with Jessica Hische and Martina Flor’s classes on Skillshare. My advice here for you is: the less the amount of points, the better.

Depending on the art, I usually begin solely with horizontal anchor points, and start adding vertical ones only when needed. The work won’t be pretty at first, and that’s totally fine. Your sketches and thumbnails also didn’t look any prettier, so why would this stage be different? 😉

After a lot of music, eyes on the verge of bleeding from tiredness and many adjustments, Ta-da! You have this:

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Ok, but where’s the final one? Here:

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COLOR

Now it’s time to give your work some life! When I first got started, I used to take color palettes from Pinterest all the time. Now I rarely use it for colors, because I have an app (iOS and Android) that helps me with contrast, and the Pantone app. When you’re just getting started with lettering I recommend you to do as many tests as possible - different backgrounds, different contrasts, so you’ll learn how each color behaves with one another.

And after the chosen color palette, I always do a final touch on Photoshop, adding a texture or some discreet shadows here and there!

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To create is supposed to be fun, to experiment and try new things - this is how you learn. And it's how you can have even more fun. So go for it! Make the world and the internet a better place with your work, you can only grow from this. :)

Text Revision: Mari Pinheiro