I find it fascinating when I see how every artist approaches lettering differently. I come from a graphic design background, so I follow some of the systems I learned while I was in college. Of course, I’ve also added a few new things to my process over time, which have allowed me to be more efficient.
Since I’m constantly curious to hear how others work, I invited my friend and lettering artist, Terence Tang, to talk about his creative process in this mini interview.
Sit back and enjoy as I ask Terence about the importance of trust as it relates to the process.
(Other than the questions, everything is written by Terence.)
What is your creative process like for lettering?
I’ve found that my most effective process for lettering actually starts with calligraphy first. When I have a word or phrase in mind that I want to work on, I’ll usually grab a brush pen (or whatever sort of writing utensil seems appropriate), get into the mindset of the phrase, and channel that emotion through my hand and into the pen. I explore different arrangements and possible ligatures until I find something I like, and then I continue writing it over and over until I get a piece that sufficiently speaks the phrase. Sometimes this takes 5 tries, and other times, it takes 50. Then, the piece gets imported into Illustrator for vectorization. I never do a live-trace because it never comes out right; I always re-create the art manually using carefully placed points. This is where I also make subtle tweaks to make sure the spacing and balance are perfect. Once I have a completed vector piece, I walk away from it and come back to it the next day. Looking at it with fresh eyes helps to find inconsistencies that need fixing. I’ll often leave and re-visit a piece several times over the course of a week; each time will reveal fewer tweaks until it eventually feels perfect. Total vector time can easily exceed 10 total hours.
Does it ever change or is it always the same?
I’m always open to exploring different processes; it’s part of being an artist. If an artist isn’t free flowing and adaptable with their process, then their art will likely become robotic and emotionless.
What are the benefits of having a trustworthy process?
A trustworthy process is terrific for having a place from which to start when you have no idea how to proceed. Sometimes, you just feel stuck and need to do what has worked before to get un-stuck. But what’s more important than a trustworthy process is to have trust (or faith) in the actual concept of process. The process can be smooth sailing, or it can challenge you emotionally to your very core. I might get angry or frustrated when working on a lettering piece, but that tension usually leads to a piece that definitely would not have been as strong without any conflict. Sometimes, a lettering piece can need time to evolve, and evolution is often the result of conflict. Next time you get frustrated with a lettering piece, try to remember that these struggles might somehow lead your brain to the perfect final piece.
A client who respects your process is one who trusts you as an artist and professional, and there is nothing better for an artist-client relationship than trust.
How important is it to explain your creative process to people that hire you?
It’s extremely important. A client that isn’t on board with your process is one that you’ve miscommunicated to from the start; there will inevitably be misunderstanding down the road. A client who respects your process is one who trusts you as an artist and professional, and there is nothing better for an artist-client relationship than trust. The artist will have a clearer mind while creating, and the client will rest assured that the artist is coming up with the best solution for their needs.
Did you purchase the original letter-pressed print? If so, what does the print do for you?
Yes I did, because trusting the process is something that I’ve learned to do, but I don’t always remember to do it. The letter-pressed print is framed on my studio wall as a reminder to myself – that when nothing seems to be working – to trust the process because it’ll always sort itself out for the better.
This blog post is part of an on-going series. If you enjoyed it, you might also like some of the past interviews.