DIY Lettering Inspiration

Geek Culture

hand letteringhand letteringFace it, DIY in the ’00s is like pinch-rolled jeans in the ’80s. It’s huge! And with crafty self-publishing like scrapbooking increasing in popularity, more and more you’re seeing people abandoning the sterility of computerized fonts in exchange for trusting their own handwriting. That’s where Hand Job: A Catalog of Type (Princeton Architectural Press) comes in. Curated by designer Michael Perry, the book presents lettering samples, art and found type from 55 artists. These works have appeared in books, ads, skateboard decks and CD cases — anywhere a less creative artist might use fonts. Forget the computerized perfection of a precisely kerned font marching along at 0 degrees, this is where you can see the amazing humanity of lettering.

My favorite piece from the book is Hyper Type, a fantastically ornate alphabet vaguely resembling Mayan hieroglyphs. Perry uses the letters to divide the book’s artists into alphabetical order. “I knew that I wanted to organize the book alphabetically and was probably going to come up with a similar visual solution.” Perry explained in a recent email. “But when Luke Ramsey & Alex Purdy sent in that face I knew I had to use it!” Tellingly, the face is so ornate it would be nearly useless to set as type.

So, you want to hand-letter your next project. Now what? “Just go for it!” urges Perry. “Choose a word and craft that word. Then break it apart and then craft the entire alphabet.” Your messy, smudged creation will reflect you and your personality better than any font. But once you’ve finished, it’s time to get digital. Scan in the letterforms, trace the outlines and drop the bezier curves into FontForge. It’ll allow you to create the glyphs and tweak the kerning that make up a font file. Then you’ll have that font for future projects — unless you decide to hand letter again.

Even if you see Hand Job as merely a coffee table book, its brilliant, diverse and inspiring lettering will blow you away. And for those who look for ideas for their own lettering projects, you’re sure to find it inside.

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