Industry R&R: The Kick You Need to Start Lettering

In our introductory post, I mentioned how little there was in the way of resources out there for the aspiring letterer. It’s true, it is a bit abysmal out there.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing. There may not be a ton of instructional resources out there, but you can find some great sources of inspiration, and a lot of times, these are sprinkled here and there with little tidbits of info that can be extremely useful to the keen-eyed, knowledge-hungry letterer-to-be.

Books

I’ve picked up three incredibly solid books over the past six months or so that have been particularly helpful to me for both killer inspiration and learning, too. If you get a chance to pick even one of these up, don’t let it pass you by.

First and foremost, if you aren’t familiar with Doyald Young already, you need to get familiar if you’re serious about lettering. The late letterer and type designer has a portfolio filled with your all-time favorite logos, typefaces and lettering pieces. He also has several books out, too, so naturally, this is important to anyone wanting to even come close to the kind of career he’s had.

The one I want to talk about today specifically, is titled Dangerous Curves: Mastering logotype design. This book is packed with pages upon pages of iterations and real sketches from countless projects throughout Young’s career. Not only does inspiration and awe abound, but the knowledge you can glean from seeing his iteration process is substantial. My buddy Ged Palmer once said, “Dude, I use Dangerous Curves as a pillow.” That’s funny, but this book is literally that valuable, and I guarantee most of your other favorite letterers would say the same.

This one’s a bit pricey at $100, but you can find it used, too (if you’re lucky). If you’re searching, be sure to search for misspellings, too. I got my copy for $50 on eBay listed under the author “Donald Young”. Fine with me.

My most recent purchase of the three is Scripts: Elegant Lettering From Design’s Golden Age from Steven Heller and Louise Fili. On the inspiration and eye candy front, this one’s hard to match, especially if you dig amazing vintage stuff. This one’s much more affordable and probably a great starting point. I got this one with two-day shipping from Amazon (Prime) for just short of $18. Guys, if nothing else, get it for the damn cover by the always-impressive John Passafiume. So dope.

The last of the three books I wanted to touch on today is a bit different, in that it doesn’t really have the same inspiring qualities of the preceding two. It falls much more into the majority category I like to call “Why the hell are all design books so ugly and poorly designed”.

However, don’t let the cover on this one scare you away. Where the Logo, Font and Lettering Bible falls short in looks, it more than makes up for it in good instruction. Author Leslie Cabarga goes into extensive detail about not only the art and science behind letter and type design, but also into how to implement these designs in the apps that matter like Adobe Illustrator and popular font-building software. The methods used by Cabarga in the book are very close to the same way I work when drawing vectors, and it’s much easier, I believe, to pick up and start to master than some other approaches others use.

Websites

While there may not be a plethora of how-to sites around (that’s why we’re here!), there’s no shortage of inspiration.

You know about Dribbble of course, but for a more in-your-face, instant collection of awesome examples of killer lettering to get your juices flowing, here are some of my favorites:

Either of Andrei Robu’s incredible lettering and calligraphy-focused sites.

typeverything.com
calligraphi.ca

Designspiration.net is another good one. Once you hit the front page, just start typing “lettering” and you’re instantly searching (coolest search function ever) and finding amazing stuff.

This one’s pretty specific, but if you haven’t seen this Gimmebar collection of old Sanborn Map Company covers, you haven’t lived. The things they used to do (without computers, mind you) is ridiculous.

Other great ideas of places to look are your favorite letterers and designers’ personal sites, Gimmebars and Pinterests. Two Pinterest boards I’ve gotten particularly lost in recently are those of lettering idols Darren Booth and Rob Clarke. Stalk your favorites and find their stashes.

I’m pretty random in where I look for inspiration, and I’m sure there’s a gang of great collections I have no idea about, so if you know of some good ones, you know what to do in the comment section (Seriously, where you guys at down there? Help a brother out!).

If you want to hear about new junk I find as I find it, you should follow me on Twitter.

So next week, I promise, we’re going to finally get into some actual process and instruction stuff! I wanted to really lay a good groundwork for you guys first, and hopefully these first few posts will serve as a good resource for coming back to as we grow and learn together.

Keep an eye out for a Take Five post or two this coming week as well!

Jumpstarting a Design Community

Understand Your Compensation

Designer Monoculture

The State of Design Leadership

The Science of Product Design

Interview with Michael Flarup: Co-Founder and Lead Designer at Robocat

The Importance of Design Conventions