What made you want to start Lettering The Days? Why do you do this?
Long Answer: In the fall of 2013, I was in the middle of a post-bach program at Minneapolis College of Art and Design studying graphic design. I was also in the middle of a design project that required some hand-lettering. I remember grabbing a coffee with my instructor, Zach Keenan, at the time to talk about the project and taking a long tangent to chat about hand-lettering. A phrase that was new to me. We ended up spending time looking at different tools and he told me some books to check out. From there I became infatuated with the medium. I started to study all the different ways folks have been hand-lettering and eventually took a class on Illustrated Typography that next semester. Also that year I had started following Sabrina Smelko on Instagram who was doing her own 365 project around numbers, graphically designing each number of the entire year. I’m a nut for New Years resolutions, I spend every year writing out a number of goals, making categories and getting real nerdy about it all. So as 2013 was ending, and I wanted to use the New Year as an opportunity to explore this new thing I was loving and have a daily discipline around it. (read short answer for continued long answer)
Short answer: I wanted to have a reason every day to force myself to create something brand new, and lettering was the medium that made the most sense. It was something I was interested in and hadn’t done much of, something that could take a lot of form and important to for me to note, it was something I felt everyone could relate to. Every single person has a date (usually multiple) that means something to them. I loved the idea of creating something that people could connect to as well. The project was also meant to be exploratory, fun, and not too complicated.
Were there ever any restrictions you put on yourself as you planned/designed each day?
Originally the project was confined to only black and white and only illustration. I wanted to force myself to focus on shapes and form rather than color. Color I’m comfortable with, it’s an easy way to make something more interesting by adding color. So I only allowed myself to play with color on Saturdays. That eventually stopped sometime in April for the simple reason that I wasn’t having fun with it anymore. So I added in color and eventually added in props and other mediums to play with making type with. Actually this ended up being one of my favorite changes to the project. I learned that I really love tactile design, I really like to use my hands to create design solutions (cutting paper, styling objects, making letters out of non-conventional materials). If I wasn’t learning, if I wasn’t exploring, if I wasn’t trying anything new…I needed to expand the parameters. My one rule I never broke was I never started my design in a digital space. If I did use Illustrator or Photoshop, I always started on paper and scanned in my work. I never started with vectors. The day always needed to start with my hands.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. Literally. I have a lot of books with hand-lettering. (See resources below). There are a ton of really beautiful hand-letterings all over Pinterest and Designspiration. I follow a lot of hand-lettering and illustration accounts on Instagram (this has been a HUGE space to connect with other folks making cool lettering). I go on a lot of runs and look around for inspiration (October 19) I get inspired by holidays (November 27), themes (June 21), what tools I have access to (September 1).
Do you have a list of ideas that you pull from for each day or do you usually figure it out on the day of? And are they made in advance?
Both. I 97% of the time designed my lettering the day of and most of the time was rushed to get it done. Because that’s life! I work full-time for an agency in Minneapolis and have a pretty busy schedule most of the time doing that job and making my art. So I used whatever tools were on hand for the day. Now if I knew I was going to be in a new interesting place for the day, or might be around some different tools, I would use that to my advantage (June 3). There are a couple days I did in advance if I had something interesting to work with (October 20 was made on the 19th while I was on the Mississippi). I did almost the entire last week of December in advance because I wanted to use the last week as my last chance to try new materials so I played with clay, legos, felt, wire, dough, and glitter.
Did you ever have a day when you posted something then later had another really good idea that you wished you could post?
Yes! I actually did do this on May 4th. I had done this really dumb painting for the date and later realized that it was this big Star Wars themed day (my sincere apologies to all the Star Wars nerds). When doing a yearly project, taking advantage of themes really helps give some direction to the project. It’s one LESS thing you have to think about because you just cater to the theme and people get excited about that. So I went back and re-did May 4th as a Star Wars theme (May the fourth be with you). I had many days I wish I could have redone later, especially as I’m now wrapping up the project. So many factors played to why a day didn’t work out how I wanted it too. Usually lack of time and resources were the culprits (AKA poor planning). But in the process I had to learn how to hold things loosely and take things into perspective. This project is not my life, it’s just a piece of it and a piece that was always meant to be enjoyed, not a source of regret and pain.
Are any of the pieces done digitally, or are they all by hand?
All of my days start by hand, that was one of my rules. But many days I would scan in my illustrations and then use Photoshop and/or Illustrator clean them up, add texture, shapes, etc to enhance them or bring them to a more interesting place.
Do you come up with the font/style on your own, or is it something you learned?
A lot of days I came up with completely on my own. Other days are inspired by other lettering I’ve seen or letter shapes I’ve found interesting. Not so much learned as they were experimented with.
How do you stay so consistent with posting and what’s your schedule from developing the idea to posting them?
I always tried to post by roughly 11am just so that it could actually exist for the majority of the day. It felt silly to post anything too late in the day, as the day would be nearly over then. Some days I was just way too busy to make it happen before 11. I would try my hardest to work on them before 9am ideally but if I was shooting something, I was really dependent on good lighting and needed to cater to whenever that would be available to me. Usually I was doing the design the day of, sometimes creating only moments before posting. On busy days it would happen as late as 2-3pm, which always made me very anxious and kind of would consume my brain until I got it out of the way.
Did you find there was one medium that you were most drawn to? One that was easiest/most natural? The toughest?
The most natural medium was pen/pencil and watercolor. Pen for it’s convenience and simplicity, options are endless with pen. I’m especially fond of brush pens .But watercolor has such a natural lovely thick/thin to it, changes in tone, room for texture and error which I am drawn to. I like mediums that show humanness and imperfections in them (May 30). I also really love paper and have an affinity for it being a collage artist, scissors are a very natural tool for me to use and cutting out thin complicated pieces I feel more confident in. Pen and pencil were the easiest for me to use as they were the most accessible (important when in a time crunch, June 16)
Do you ever end up posting “not your best work” for the sake of time? If so, how do you handle that on a professional and personal level?
YES. A lot. There are and will always be variables I can’t control. Or rather I submit to them, because really at the end of the day, had I planned better or spent my time differently, I potentially could have made every design better. But most designers/artist understand there just has to be a moment when you say you’re finished, otherwise you can always tweak and poke and massage your work. Ultimately I value the other things I have going on in my life too: relationships, exercise, relaxing, my job, freelance, art, vacation. And my life is like most peoples, is complicated, imperfect, busy and at times, very stressful. These are variables as a designer I had to deal with. And I didn’t ever want this project to take over my life. I just wanted to play, try new things, experiment, and maybe make some cool shit along the way. So I had days like November 7 where I’m in Vegas, and no one should be doing anything in Vegas. So it’s a lame design. But it’s real and I don’t regret it and I still got a post out and I was able to make fun of the sitation too. Now there were also days where I just was lazy, rushed, frazzled, annoyed, distracted or whatever else people just feel when they’re not ON…and you have to let go and ultimately give yourself some grace. Grace can go a long way in the creative industry, as can vulnerability. There is a time and a place to get your act together and make sure your crap is the best it can be. And then there is a place to say, “today is the best I can give within my context and it does not define me or my worth. But here is something anyways”. This had to become a mantra for me because I AM impossibly hard on myself. I would fester for hours or days on some of these letterings that I wasn’t proud of. You can let it consume you and I had to remind myself why I was doing it and that life would go on, and that I wasn’t a bad designer because I had a bad day. I was normal.
What is your process for creating a day?
I would usually troll the internet or open a book to find some inspiration. Sometime I would just stand in my studio and stare at my supplies until something felt inspiring to use. Then I take out paper and my pen bag and get started. Sometimes I would need to scan my work and edit digitially. Othertimes I just shot it in the best light I could hunt down.
How many times have you told yourself: “Enough! I won’t do it any more!”
Almost every day. HAH. Definitely sometime in the summer I was fairly over it and I just had to take it day by day. I always knew I would finish it but it definitely got irritating plenty of times. Weekends were usually more fun because I had more time and more resources at my fingertips. There was the potential for a new location, good sunlight to take photos with I wanted to style, new inspirations/themes to work with. More potential basically.
What did you learn about yourself and your design in the process?
I make a lot of mistakes, which is always humbling. I’m determined. I get shit done. I am drawn to illustration. I’m a good stylist. I’ve got a lot of ideas. I’m hard on myself. I’m needy. I’m full of ideas. I really like tactile design. I better understand the power of encouragement. Creating is vulnerable, and sharing is not necessary in the process of creating but it brings it to another level of intimacy. Sharing can be really scary. Sharing can be really lovely. I’m human.
How did you feel in the process?
Overwhelmed. Excited when a day went well, when I got good reception from people. I loved when I made a day doing something new and it turned out kick ass. I hated when I was with friends on vacation and had to think about it, wish I would have prepared more for that but perhaps the spontaneity is part of what made those days more interesting. I got irritated a lot that I even had to do it, like “ugh another day?!”. But I was super proud of myself for sticking to it, not doing it was never an option, never crossed my mind. It was like brushing my teeth (wait, some nights I’m too tired, not ashamed). Sometimes it was all just loads of fun too. I loved playing with clay (December 28). I loved learning new tricks in Photoshop or Illustrator. I loved connecting with folks over Instagram and meeting other rad illustrators and artists. I loved when someone connected with a day I did, when they were feeling it, that was a huge compliment. It was fun to watch my skill and design change over time too, to see themes come out of certain months or techniques improve. I think I’m a better designer at the end of it, if for no other reason than I that I understand process better, time management, and the art of embracing something new, experimenting is so good, even when it’s so bad.
How do you feel now that it’s over?
I feel full. I feel gracious, I had a lot of people who encouraged me A LOT. I probably became a little (a lot) dependent on it. I’m relieved I don’t have to think about how to write a letter differently for awhile. I’m also super excited to explore other areas of interest, I’m interested in a lot of different things and I’m grateful to have some energy back to invest in other cool things. I’m humbled by the whole thing honestly. What a ride?! Thank you to whomever is actually reading this!? I mean, seriously…you’re taking time to read about my process?! That’s way rad and it’s not lost on me. Thank you. Really.
Where can I see all the lettering the days?
What is hand-lettering?
Simply put, it’s making letter forms (print) by hands.
What tools did you use?
No supply off limits! (expect for poop)
What resources did you use?
How long did a day take to design?
On average about 15-20 mins.
Which day took the longest to make?
October 21, my birthday took me 2-3 hours. I ended up having to make two cakes, the first wasn’t right. And the entire scene took forever to cut out and hang and style. So many bits and pieces of paper to manage. December 31 took me a few hours to creat and shoot as well.
Which day was the most complicated/stressful to make?
December 31. I formed the letters out og glitter without using glue. I pushed around the glitter on a large pad of paper using Q-tips, a razor blade, and a scrap of felt. When I was moving the pad to shoot it, it buckled and I had to retouch most of the design. Then using a blowdryer, I blew the letters away. In Afer Effects I editted the clip to play it backwards. The lighting was horrible. I was shooting at 11pm on December 30th, just cussing at the glitter everywhere. It was not ideal.
Which date was your favorite design?
October 19. For many reasons. I love the fall. I love walking/running around and I’ve always had the habit of picking up interesting bits of nature along these routes. October is my favorite month (birthday month!), and I loved using a obvious icon of fall to do something unexpected. I walked around my neighborhood that morning with the idea in mind and the entire design didn’t take long to make actually. I was actually frustrated with a few of the letters, wish I would’ve kept more of the leaf’s shape in tact but it’s still my favorite. I also really love October 21. It was my 30th birthday and I thought the whole scene looked really rad.
What was your least favorite design/day and why?
June 6th maybe? It’s tought. I dislike days for different reasons. I was SO busy this day and had NO time for lettering so I ended up just jotting down the date on a tag. I was in the middle of an Art Fair at the time and could not be bothered with lettering that day.
What was your favorite each month?
My favorites per month:
May 9 and 10
October 19, 21 and 26
December 5, 10 and 15
Other least favorite days?
November 9 and 26
August 2 and 7
June 2 and 28
March 23 (oddly similar to April 23, you think I would have learned)
Will you continue in 2015?
I won’t continue to letter the days in 2015 but I will continue to showcase creations. My plan right now is to have a new series each month. In that respect it gives me a break from doing the same thing for a year while still keeping me accountable to make something new each day. It also give me 12 opportunities to try something I’m really excited about and the space to have that change each month as my inspirations and interest change. With lettering the days, I got so excited about other design techniques and was making other cool shit on the side but felt I didn’t have the space to really explore or focus on those things because I had to letter the days project to focus on. I’m very excited to try something new and to see what I come up with each month. I only have 1 month figured out and no plans to pre-determine each month until I get closer to it.
Which post was the most popular by “likes” alone?
Tough to say for certain. In April I got put on Instagram’s Featured Users list which shot my following and likes up, especially concentrated for the 2 weeks that I was on the list. I could have posted a picture of dirty socks and I would have gotten hundreds of likes. So it didn’t feel particularly authentic. I would say I got the most genuine likes on October 19.
Will there be a calendar?
This project was created for a digital platform always. In the process, I never made the decision to make sure photos or designs would be printing compatible. That means some days are really pixelated if you were to try to print them, or the color wouldn’t be as vibrant. I never intended to print anything. BUT because I have had so many sweet people asking for it, I compromised. I created a sort of “calendar”. It’s not functional in that the weeks don’t start on Sunday. It’s rows of 5×6. But I believe it celebrates the project how I see best fit for a printed scenario. I really like how it turned out. I will offer each month individually or as an entire calendar. Hope to showcase it in the next few days.
Resources on lettering