Lettering Love in Warsaw
This Fall I’ve had the opportunity to go to Warsaw with co-workers from my design studio to attend a great typography conference called ATypI. It was a flurry of lectures, workshops and networking in the daytime, dinners, drinks and social events (exhibitions, documentaries) in the evening. I loved every single minute of it. I’ve taken part in creative conferences before and even spoke at a few (Graduate Fashion Week, Blogtacular) but it was the first time that I had the opportunity to go on a foreign trip with work and it was a great learning experience for me as I had only been in my new role for four months. Since then, I’ve also been sent to San Diego for Adobe MAX this November which was another amazing experience, but that’s for a whole other post!
You know I have to say, I am finding the world of typography to be fascinating. The more I learn about it, the more I fall in love. Someone at the conference told me that after a while, looking at type becomes second nature and you start to get the difference between reading letters and actually “seeing” the letters. That’s exactly what’s happening to me. I’ve always loved fonts but I’m slowly and surely becoming a bit of a nerd, bookmarking hundreds of them, reading about the emotional characteristics conveyed by certain design features, hungrily collecting type specimens, and travelling across London to find which local libraries have the best design titles collection.
At ATypI, one of the highlights of my week was to be introduced to compelling work from the international type community across and today, I wanted to write about the practice of Berlin-based letterer, illustrator, and type designer Martina Flor because I think you will fall in love with it. Her talk at the conference was really inspiring and since then I’ve been following her via her blog and social channels. Shall we dive in?
Wait, what is lettering again?
These last few years, with the widespread adoption of visual-friendly social media networks such as Pinterest and Instagram, lettering has gained a lot of ground and recognition in popular culture. It’s a creative discipline that you will be familiar with even if you didn’t know the term.
What it refers to is the use of decorative letters as visual and narrative language. Every time you see attractive, well-crafted letters overlaying a background and conveying a message, that’s what lettering is. There are countless examples of it around us in cinema posters, album art, postcards, online literary quotes, magazine covers…
Martina’s contribution to ATypI was a conversation around the dizzying quantity of lettering work out there today and she shared her tips for (reliably) distinguishing good lettering from less interesting works, especially for those (like me) who may commission some in the future. Similarly, for those interested to explore lettering in their creative practice, she shared her golden rules to be critical towards one’s output and strive to improve over time.
Meet Martina Flor
After growing up in Buenos Aires, studying Communication Design in Barcelona and graduating from the Type & Media Master in The Hague, Netherlands, Martina Flor settled in Berlin to open her studio. Lettering has been the backbone of her work for over five years and she makes a compelling argument that it is much more than a design trend. One look at her roster of clients is enough to back up this claim: she has produced great work for a number of publishing houses, print titles, agencies and brands around the globe, including The Washington Post, Etsy, Penguin Random House, Levi’s, Harrods, Moleskine and Vanity Fair among others.
She’s been featured in publications including 99U, PRINT magazine and Communication Arts, and she just took part in a TEDx talk. In other words, she’s killing it. But despite this undeniable star status of sorts, she comes across as a humble, funny, down-to-earth person and she is very generous in sharing her knowledge, craft and personal anecdotes. She’s made some very cool videos that lift the veil of her creative process for instance:
You know that I love a good creative interview and luckily, there are some great anecdotes dotted on the FAQ of her site, blog, and online features so below are some selected quotes which I think you’ll enjoy, illustrated by her work.
Design and Lettering
♦ On pursuing a career in Design and Typography:
I came into it sort of naturally. I studied graphic design and started combining my skills to draw with the design thinking to express ideas and concepts,so it was never about creating a nice picture but about making sense and conveying an idea. Later I specialised in type design and besides learning to draw type, I discovered I could get a very powerful impact by working with letterforms and text. I believe that I found in lettering a good mix between design and illustration: the systematic approach of design with the skill to draw specifically letter shapes.
♦ On her creative process:
I start by writing the initial brief down on a paper and I write some keywords or attributes that I would like the project to have. For instance: “It should be dark, bold and vibrant” or “I want it to be dynamic and energetic”. These keywords define the first boundaries within which I will work and are useful to work towards a direction and obtaining a certain result. I do very small and rough sketches where I define a basic structure and letter shapes that I’m going to use. I go from the big picture to the small details, therefore in every iteration I improve features, I change letterforms, I add complexity and I decide upon a colour scheme. After feedback, I scan it and I redraw it in digital curves, then the digital drawing develops with iterations and improvements as well.
♦ On giving workshops and teaching:
One thing that I really like about giving workshops and teaching is that people seem to walk away with a lot of motivation, eager to do things, with a certain degree of illumination. And I love that I have influence on that drive. I believe that I don’t only teach them a certain knowledge in type but I also give them feedback on how to improve their own working process. I often say that my workshops are somehow therapeutic, because you don’t only learn about letter shapes and lettering techniques, but about your very personal way of doing things in general.
♦ On finding career inspiration:
Finding a direction in the career you want to make is a very personal construction. I personally find the answer to questions in the making. As far as I can remember I’ve always kept myself in action, trying out stuff, putting myself deadlines and creating new things, no matter if those where a series of posters or a series of workshops. Talent occurs when working and in my personal experience is discovered and developed in the making.
♦ On writing a book:
My son was born a month after signing my publishing contract. Funnily, the conditions turned out to be relatively positive to work on it since during those months I was taking in very few commercial commissions from clients. I was creating the content, the illustrations as well as taking care of the layout for most of the time and, therefore, the making of process turned out to be really toilsome. Having an engaged, open minded and straight forward editor coordinating the steps as well as giving me valuable feedback was essential to finalise the book.
Try your hand at Lettering
If you’d like to read more, I’d advise checking her interview with 99U, and falling down the rabbit hole of her website and blog. If you’ve fallen in love with lettering (I certainly have), you’ll be delighted to know that Martina’s book “The Golden Secrets of Lettering” will be available early next year in English, I can’t wait for it to be available.
In the meantime, why not take her Skillshare class (membership is about £9 per month and totally worth it) to create your own Christmas postcard? There are a number of beautiful digital cards she has made as part of her Letter Collections project which you can send to friends and family online for free as well. Finally, she has just launched an online shop which has the prettiest posters, pins, and Christmas card. I definitely recommend taking a peek!