From The Slush Pile: Hand-Lettered Type

While going through the slush mail today, I came across a pair of standout illustrators in a pile of recent UArts grads. Jim Tierney and Sara Wood, a young Brooklyn couple, have a fantastic approach to book cover design.  Their masterful combination of type, hand-lettering and drawing makes both of their portfolios equally impressive.

Check out Sara’s D. H. Lawrence book cover series, and Jim’s interactive Jules Verne thesis (there’s a video too!).  I put the cards up on the “Wall Of Stuff I Like” in my cube, right next to our other favorite hand-drawn type designer, Kristine Lombardi.  Lombardi’s cards have been up on our wall for ages.  While her cards have more of a feminine, fashion style (although I do like her Kids page!), they are the first thing that designers walking by are ALWAYS drawn to.  Check out a great interview (including the below image of her promo card) here.These designers got me to thinking: where’s the place for hand-lettered type in children’s books?  Before the age of thousands of freebie fonts on the internet (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!), hand-lettered display type was commissioned for book covers all the time. I recently worked on the anniversary edition for Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side, and I was so impressed to discover that the handsome title was calligraphed by the original in-house designer.And while I’m sure it took a lot more effort than downloading a font, there’s something careful, purposeful and yet whimsical to hand-drawn type.  So it’s no surprise that it is experiencing a rebirth of magnificently hip proportions. Now, type everywhere looks like this:Want 5,000,000 examples?  Just head to Flickr.  The New York Times.  Or anywhere.  I used to make fun of the fact that you could tell all the films addressing the teen “Napoleon Dynamite” audience (or that have Michael Cera in them) by their hand-drawn titles.In art school, we used to hear constantly, “if you want it to look hand-drawn, do it yourself.”  Designers, as a whole, have embraced this ideal. Children’s books, on the other hand, don’t have the same prejudice when it comes to handwriting typefaces.  Hand-lettering might work for display type, or a few very special people (ahem, Maira Kalman and Oliver Jeffers). But on the whole, handwriting fonts keep kids’ books looking consistent, read-able and changeable over 32 pages. 9 times out of 10, a handwriting font will actually look better than what you could do yourself. That being said, when it comes to display type and interesting details, I’m all for hand-drawn type in children’s books.  It’s fresh, playful and unique.  And with the rapid changes in technology, we may not need to draw type anymore, but I have a feeling that more lettering opportunities will open up for type designers anyway – just because we’re craving that physical, hand-created feel!
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