Lettering Artist Explains his Swirling World of Alphabets
Lettering and calligraphy are taking the internet by storm, filling our social media feeds with delicate swirls of alphabets. But illustrating letters is no simple feat, and there is a little more than what meets the eye.
From ornate vintage style to clean modern looks, Tobias Saul can design wonderous hand letterings and illustrations. Having graduated in graphic design at a college in Düsseldorf, Germany, Saul's shift to lettering was not a conscious decision. "By the end of my studies, I began working for a print magazine called 'The Heritage Post', founded by Uwe Van Afferden. He gave me the task of illustrating from time to time and saw some talent in me, especially in drawing letters. This was the starting point for me to dive into the world of hand lettering," said Saul. But this field was not as popular as it is today
"You really had to dig deep to find some good contemporary artists in this niche. I think my first discoveries were Jon Contino, Jessica Hische and David A. Smith, all super talented. I totally fell in love with the decorated and hand-drawn type, and it was like a fever. I started drawing letters all day long, in every free minute. This was the moment when I felt comfortable in the world of design for the first time," recollects Saul.
Just as any other realm in design, lettering requires a keen eye, immense practice and a thorough knowledge of shapes. "I think it is all about training your eyes. The more you draw, and the more you look at other designers work, the better you get. In my opinion, a good font has a stringent system of reusing shapes. I think this is the most difficult thing you have to understand and learn because the more letters you have, the harder it gets to make them all look like they belong together," explains the designer.
Hence, it is pertinent for any lettering enthusiast to study and research old vintage labels, book covers and packaging designs with unique letterforms since they form the base to build a concept for a font. "So, in the next step, I define the characteristics which should give a font its identity. After that, I create all characters using these characteristics I have defined. What follows is a lot of testing, fine-tuning, kerning and spacing to complete the font," said Saul, sharing his process behind font development.
But as hand-lettering is gaining popularity, so are the availability of fonts and styles, especially with the ease and accessibility of the internet and social media. It becomes a necessity for a lettering artist to remain fresh and develop exclusive font. "Fonts are similar to illustration and fashion, there are always new trends arising.
If you spot a new tendency early enough, or even better, if you can start a trend, then you have a good chance to establish a fresh and exclusive font. If you are aware of design trends, you can find good indications for creating fresh and useful fonts," explains the artist.
Just like every other industry, the realm of design suffered severely during the Coronavirus pandemic. The quarantine and other restrictions affected artists and art galleries all over the world since lack of exhibitions would mean that neither the gallery owners nor the artists could sell any artworks. "But, in my case, work-wise, the pandemic has not changed anything dramatically.
I have started my own company, Heritage Type Co. in 2019 with a good friend. We focus on selling design resources such as vintage fonts, illustrations and more. As we are selling globally and digitally, we are a bit protected from all the local restrictions and associated cancelled projects in the design industry. We had a lockdown for about two to three months, so on the creative side, I could discover and learn new things," said Saul.
Providing critical insights into the art community in Germany, the artist observed, "There were some financial aid packages, to prevent artists as well as other businesses to go bankrupt, which helped a lot. After the lockdown, galleries and exhibitions reopened quickly but under strict restrictions on the number of visitors. One of the biggest challenged was the abrupt switch from collective work in one space to a system of people working from home. Structuring projects and connecting all the people is difficult, and the bigger an agency is, the more complex is the communication structure between all employees. I think the surprisingly potent digital communication and home office will change the way of working for a lot of companies in the future."
The pandemic took us all by surprise and served a critical blow to most of us. We need to hold on to hope during these dark days. Sharing strategies and suggestions, Saul says "I would recommend businesses to start thinking and working globally. Use the internet to get clients or sell products worldwide, this helps because not all countries are affected by the pandemic equally. Use the time to learn new things. Being at home can be frustrating, but in my experience, learning something new is good medicine, and it keeps your creative spirit alive".