Hand Lettering and Fonts with Drew Melton

Hand Lettering and Fonts with Drew Melton
July 20, 2016 Daniel Palacios
interview with drew melton

When you get an email from an artist like Drew Melton inviting you to coffee, it’s hard to say no. He’s been a big inspiration to me, so I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to meet him.

Since our first meeting last year, we’ve kept in touch and occasionally get together for a lettering session. Drew is an incredible artist and a great friend, which is why I asked him to share his thoughts on hand lettering and the influx of brush script fonts.

(Other than the questions, everything is written by Drew.)

What’s your specialty?

Good question! I would say hand lettering.

super team deluxe

How did you get into lettering and eventually designing fonts?

My path into hand lettering started in high school when I started dabbling in html which led to developing websites. My first website was for a group of friends who would go paint balling every week together. I put together a site where we could share photos from past outings and post upcoming event dates.

This project led to an internship at a web company where I learned to develop websites with ASP, Flash and do deeper backend work. Plus I did everything from editing photos, designing websites, developing the sites, databases and doing some flash web development. This internship taught me I didn’t have the patience for code (mostly debugging). As I became more interested in the design process so I decided to go to art school.

I was in way over my head applying to art school but I put together a good enough portfolio during my senior year to get in! During college I dabbled in a wide variety of design disciplines and learned about many of the design-greats including Herb Lubalin. Even though I had no idea that you could make a whole career out of typography I have realized that is what I loved so much about his work. His work would later turn into a major source of inspiration for me.

After college I found myself focusing more and more on typography and less on other aspects of the design process. The term “Hand Lettering” was becoming popular in my early twenties and so I started to imitate and learn from my heroes at the time (but that’s another story). Pretty soon I was being commissioned for hand lettering almost exclusively, which was great.

jour de valentines heureux

Fonts seem to be more about parts and pieces that work well in a system while custom lettering is more about feel.

Is your process the same for both?

For designing fonts and hand lettering? It is and it isn’t. Both require a good deal of intuition but fonts are far more precise. They require lots of detail work in order to function in a wide variety of scenarios. I have actually taken a break from designing fonts recently due to the sheer volume of work required to design an acceptable typeface (in my opinion).

Fonts seem to be more about parts and pieces that work well in a system while custom lettering is more about feel. The lettering I come up with for an illustrative project wouldn’t work well at all if you pulled it apart and tried to use the letters in a different arrangement and that’s totally fine. Fonts need to work in thousands/millions of arrangements!

boulan gerie

What are your thoughts on the uprising of brush script fonts?

I think every culture is always going through movements. Brush lettering has had it’s time in the past, it currently enjoys “pop culture” relevance and in the future it will continue to be relevant in different ways. I don’t know why its so popular or if it’s good or bad but I can say this. The more I learn about history, the more I am learning that creativity is truly iterative. The brush lettering of today is directly inspired by and is, at the same time unique from the brush lettering of the 1950’s. We have different priorities, values and tools that inform what we focus on.

The myth of creativity is that any of this is new or original. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants and someday someone else will be standing on our shoulders taking the craft just a little bit further. I’m excited to see what the next generation does with what we create.

Sidenote: I would like to see more of us focusing on learning the fundamentals rather than trying to do wildly illustrative work. I include myself here. I started off trying to do the work of people who were 10+ years ahead of me in experience and it showed. In order to truly do original work in the future we are going to have to go back and learn from the masters. I own so many vintage lettering manuals and I’m constantly blown away at their level of attention to detail. If you want to do good work now go back to the old stuff you love and learn from it.


The fact that the lettering lockup created for a custom project only works in it’s native environment makes it feel extra special.

What’s the point of lettering when fonts are readily available?

Good question. First, every situation is unique. For a project that requires lettering systems across large amounts of type then fonts are great. For smaller scale projects with very specific design requirements such as personality and customization it’s almost impossible to create anything all that compelling with a font. Fonts can be a great starting point in a custom lettering piece but it’s hard to deny the value of custom lettering. No two pieces turn out the same even from the same source. The fact that the lettering lockup created for a custom project only works in it’s native environment makes it feel extra special.

brush lettering 101

Where can people find you online?

I just added a bunch of new work to my site, www.yourjustlucky.com but you can also follow me over on dribbble at dribbble.com/justlucky and twitter.com/justlucky — I can’t promise it’ll be pretty all the time but it’ll be fun.