While we’ll always have a soft spot for the graphic, clean precision of Helvetica, there’s something about hand lettering that’s so personal, elegant and even quirky. As the first installment of our How to Quit Your Day Job series, we’re exploring the scripty, serif (or sans) world of hand lettering so that you can hone the craft for yourself and maybe even make some money doing it. In this series, you’ll get advice straight from professional creatives, links to classes and tons of inspiration to make sure you’re fully equipped to turn your passions into professions.
Jennet Liaw is a fresh face in the game of hand lettering, and she’s making a huge impression on her 26,000 Instagram followers and her numerous clients with murals, logos and sketches that will make anyone fall in love with the art of typography. We talked to her about her background, her process and her inspiration.
THE Hand-Lettering PRO: JENNET LIAW
Jennet is first and foremost a designer, who just so happens to have a killer eye for hand lettering. A scroll through her Instagram feed will turn into a stalk and then a “Follow” in no time. After being named one of the Top Letterers to follow on Instagram, she’s been diving further into her passion for lettering most recently by launching her own brand, Fictional Supply. Here are her tips on how you can start making a career out of your creative pursuits.
Be Stubborn. Be Persistent. Ever since Jennet set her sights on design, she’s been obsessed. She told us, “I needed to prove that my passion could support me.” So with admitted stubbornness and persistence, she couldn’t do anything but move forward. After odd jobs waitressing or doing admin, she’d always wind up back at her passion to “sleeplessly pursue design.” She said, “I was such a neurotic kid, but I guess it paid off.”
Pinpoint Your Focus. Design is an immensely expansive profession. We’re talking everything from the industrial designers who craft your favorite coffee machine to fashion designers who start the latest trends. So why, in the vast world of design, did Jennet narrow in on graphic design and further to typography? While she liked that a fine artist’s job may be to express themselves in the hopes of making other people understand them, she liked that, with design, you have to understand other people.
When it comes to type, she can’t imagine not obsessing over it. She said, “What I love about type design is that there are definitely rules, but ones that are asking to be cleverly broken. In that way, typography has always been the perfect playground for me.”
Learn by Doing. While Jennet has a degree from a university, she didn’t go to school for design. She said that her design education was 100% self motivated. “I know how to do a lot of things simply because I’ve made a lot of things.” She said that straying from the expected career path “conditioned her to be scrappy” and to “take curiosity seriously.” She went on to tell us, “Those qualities have never failed me in the real world.”
Know the World Around You. Jennet said that she’d always loved hand-lettering, but there wasn’t always a market for it. As it started to gain an audience, she narrowed in on it.
Your Niche Will Find You. “I’m not interested in being different for different’s sake. I think my work stands apart from others’ as much or as little as my personality does,” Jennet told us. Your handwriting is as unique as you are, so embrace its quirks as you hone your skill.
Work With Intent. This is what will really separate you. Jennet uses her artistic eye to question every decision of each letter she draws. From the thickness of the line to the width of the serif — everything is done on purpose.
Put Things Into Context. Rather than have a designated style, Jennet prefers to design for a project. She said she “enjoys crafting letters that are organic and flowy in an androgynous way,” but a large part of her aesthetic for a project is determined by what it is.
Use a Medium That’s Right for You. Drawing can be scary, even for designers. We’re in such a tech-driven society that if you go to any coffee shop, you’re bound to see one person working with pen and paper to every 20 people on their laptops, and that made Jennet determined to be able to design on a computer — which she still considers a pinnacle achievement of hers. But she’s realized that by whatever means you see fit, you can change the world with design.
Get Social (Media). Jennet keeps busy with referral work as well as inquiries from her online portfolios on sites like Dribble, but Instagram has turned out to be a big draw for her. She said companies will reach out to her directly after seeing her work there. Her Instagram feed has been a great personal supplement to her professional portfolios. She said, “I think that’s why it works. People feel connected to me on a more casual, personal level, which is more pleasant to soak in than a resume or cover letter.” She says she gets a lot of inspiration and motivation from the Insta-community.
It’s Not All Sketches and Doodles. When you’re turning any passion into a profession, time management is key, and Jennet says this was one of the most difficult parts of starting her freelance career. She says, “I have to be my own secretary, legal team, HR department and business manager. Going freelance definitely put a magnifying glass over how terrible I was at those things.” She learned that taking care of emails and contracts at a set time of the day ended up giving her time to “let creative juices flow” and give her utmost attention to every aspect of her business.
Say No. When you start making money through your craft, especially full time, Jennet says to pick the good projects. People may think they’re doing you favors by giving you little projects (for little money), but you’re the one providing a service. That means, sometimes you have to say no. She said, “Everyone told me that young designers should say yes to everything, but that would’ve completely put me out of control of my own direction.”
Jennet’s Final Words of Advice: “Look outside of what already exists for inspiration. The revival of hand-drawn type means that your work can take on fresh, uncharted qualities, so explore more. Be intentional. Be kind to people. Work in earnest.”
Hand-Lettering Classes to Perfect Your Skills
Are you feeling totally motivated and driven to take on a life of hand lettering? Us too. Whether you take it on as a hobby, passion or profession, we’ve racked up a list of killer classes to get you started on your path to type obsession.
1. A Quick Introduction: Right from Brit HQ, get a 90-minute start to what is sure to be a lifetime love of lettering. Danielle Evans of Marmalade Bleue teaches you how to hold your pen, make strokes and create compositions. By the end of the class, you’ll have all of the tools you need to make your own greeting cards and cake toppers. ($19 for a 90-minute class)
2. Getting Started: Want to scroll through the supplies and setup for hand lettering? The iconic Gemma O’Brien gave the ladies at A Pair and a Spare an overview of her process, and it’s another great place to get started. She gives you the dish on what supplies to buy, how to grid out your letters and the full lettering process. Just click on over and give it a read for free! (Free)
3. Process, Process, Process: When it comes to hand lettering and type design, Jessica Hische is is definitely one of the queens of the castle. In her Skillshare class, she teaches her process, from research to criticizing her own work, all based on the workflow from her epic Drop Cap project with Penguin Publishing. Seriously, if this won’t inspire you to become a modern day scribe, nothing will. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
4. Concept to Sketch: On Skillshare, Mary Kate McDevitt focuses in on the nitty gritty of those early steps that can really ground your lettering skills with the foundation you need to make some extraordinary stuff. From concept and sketch to refinement, she teaches you in 11 short videos how to really get the most out of your words from the start. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
5. Train Your Hand: Sean Wes offers two free courses or an all-out master class full of lesson upon lesson of lettering goodness. From type logos to licensing, he’ll give you the full scope of understanding lettering and mastering the craft with practice and inspiration. ($299 for the 10-lesson master class course)
6. Color and Texture: Mary Kate McDevitt is at it again with the next steps in making your lettering illustrations come to life. From digitizing to adding color and texture to your glyphs, she’ll give you all the info you need to take your words from sketch form to drop-dead gorgeous final pieces. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
7. Classic Calligraphy: If you’d rather start with the age old craft of calligraphy, Lauren Essl is your gal. In this 40-minute Brit + Co class, you’ll learn the basics of pointed pen calligraphy from dipping your pen to the dainty details of drawing script numbers and letters. With grids, templates and practice sheets, you’ll be ready to glyph it up. ($29 for a 40-minute class)
8. Time to Make Some Killer Compositions: Now that you can draw all those pretty letters, it’s time to make your words pretty as well. Type artist Jon Contino (who did the title for the film The Book of Life, say what?!) has got you covered with techniques and tricks on how to create type masterpieces with a foundation in hierarchy, spacial design and the history of composition. ($96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
We hope this column brings you the inspiration and skills to go forth and create a life you’re stoked about. We’re going to be perfecting our lettering with these awesome classes and stalking Jennet’s Instagram on the daily for more inspiration.
What passion would you like to see covered in our Quit Your Day Job Series? Let us know in the comments!