Interviewed by: @caseyschuurman
Thanks again for taking the time in your day to talk to us! Can you tell MLC a little bit about who you are and the work that you do?
My name is Jed Chisholm and I’m a lettering artist form London, England.
How did you find yourself in the world of Type specifically? Has it always been a subject/discipline that interested you?
I was never particularly good at drawing, but I always had a pencil in my hand. I remember from a young age obsessing over different types of handwriting. As a teenager I was into Graffiti, I guess that’s where my interest in letters really took off. Although I wasn’t cool enough to participate, I spent a lot of time drawing it. At the same time I was messing around a lot with computer software, anything creative I could get my hands on, making electronic music, 3D animation, obviously Photoshop, mostly to mess with my friend’s faces. Learning Illustrator then came pretty naturally to me.
Who or what were the biggest influences that shape the way you think or work now? Is there a particular driving force/manifesto behind your work?
I take inspiration from everywhere but as far as constant influences go I have to give props to the masters of the past, from a golden age of lettering and type design. Artists like Herb Lubalin, Tom Carnese, Tony DiSpigna, Tony Forster and David Quay to name a few, prominent in the 60s, 70s and 80s, those are some of the people who’s standard of work I really aspire to.I treat lettering a word or phrase as a form of problem solving. How can these particular letters be placed together as beautifully as possible?I want my letters to flow, dance, to have the funk! At the same time I obsess over composition, balance, distribution of weight, negative space as well as positive. Achieving that loose, easy going and at the same time uncompromisingly perfect look can be challenging!I’m still very much learning and will often look back at earlier pieces in dismay, but being a total perfectionist, at the time of their making, you can guarantee every single detail was considered.
Can you tell us a bit about your process and tools you use in creating your pieces?Depending on the project I might spend a few hours looking through books or on the internet, gathering inspiration and getting myself in the mood.After that, everything starts with pencil and paper. Usually I will rough sketch the word or phrase over and over, sometimes hundreds of times, then look at all the sketches together and decide what I like / dislike about each of them. With that in mind, I’ll draw it out again, and slowly finesse that drawing, sometimes with tracing paper, sometimes with an eraser. I’ll often end up starting again a few times.When I’m completely happy with the drawing, I’ll scan it into Illustrator and trace it with the pen tool.Depending on the piece, I might then go to town on the vector. Adding dimension, shadows, effects etc. Nerding out on Illustrator is something I really enjoy.I usually finish up a piece in Photoshop, to add texture or make colour changes.
When looking at your Instagram, your speciality is clearly script—how did you become so versatile across styles within this category of Lettering?
I really do love all types of lettering, even sans! But script has to take the prize. I just love the curves.To be honest, most of my understanding of script has really only come in the last couple of years. When I started sharing work on Instagram, I was obsessed with Copperplate. Learning formal script was a great basis for understanding other scripts.I started the ‘Imaginary Diners’ project to celebrate Americana, where script lettering is often presented in all it’s glory. It was a great opportunity for me to try different types of script. Wanting to mix it up each time forced me to explore many styles.Ultimately my versatility in script has come from lots of sketching, I’ve drawn thousands of Diners, including plenty of duds, only the best have seen the light of day.
Speaking of Instagram—that seems to be your main presence on the web. How have you found attracting work through social media only as oppose to having a website portfolio?The amount of work that’s come through Instagram has been perfect for me. Instagram serves pretty well as a portfolio, but I do think it’s important to have a website too.I’ve had one for a few years but the quality of my work has improved so rapidly over that time that I’ve found myself continually taking it offline while I update it. Website coming soon, watch this space!I bought an iPad pro about 6 months ago. I’m a bit of a purist so it was mostly out of curiosity. It’s taken a while but I’m slowly appreciating it’s benefits.As things stand, the feel of a plastic stylus on a shiny slippery screen is a million miles from the responsiveness, accuracy and pleasure of pencil on paper. I’ve yet to draw a piece from scratch on the iPad. But I have to concede it’s great for editing…Once I’m mostly happy with a pencil drawing, I can take it into Procreate and very easily make subtle changes. The size of a single letter for example, or the angle of a single letter or even a single stroke, or making sure I’m hitting the baseline and x height perfectly, or correcting some dodgy kerning! It’s pretty tidy too, compared to mountains of smudgy paper.If you’re reading this and don’t feel like you can afford one, I wouldn’t worry too much, a pencil and paper is all you really need to master lettering!
So, what are you working on now?
I have a few commissions on the go, and as always a million personal projects!
Thanks for talking with us! Is there any parting advice or hot tips you’d like to share with other letterers and illustrators?I’ll probably look back at this (and all my answers!) and think of much better things I could have said, but off the top of my head…For me at least, putting my work out there for others to see has been a positive and encouraging experience. It was the first hurdle on the path to pursuing a career in the thing I love. I’d encourage beginners to do the same, and to start a personal project that means you’re obligated to post frequently. That will in turn encourage you to practice. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, it’s all relative. Draw as much as you can and you will get better.Familiarise yourself with the anatomy of letters. Rookie mistakes, which I’ve made plenty of and will continue to, often involve the mispositioning of weight. As a basic rule, weight is on the downstroke, that applies to all letters not just script. It’s much easier once you understand the rules, to break them!Most hand lettered script is emulating the behaviour of the tool a calligrapher would use. It’s important to understand how the stroke of a particular tool meets, moves across and leaves the page. Once you understand that, you can exaggerate the behaviour of the tool.For me, good hand lettering elevates the letters beyond the capabilities of calligraphy.Study the people who seem to be getting it right and try to analyze why that is.A consistent angle on the downstrokes often helps a script look tight. You can use guides, but another useful trick is to hold your paper / iPad perpendicular to your face so you are looking across the page along the downstrokes. It’s the same way to tell if a piece of wood is straight!An easy way to approach funky, 70s like bell bottomed script, is to draw it as formal script first, then add weight to the bottom and other areas. That’s how I almost always do it.Pay attention to negative space. Try to make the negative shapes as beautiful and balanced as the positives ones.I don’t always practice what I preach, but I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting a design absolutely right in pencil, and as neat as possible before digitising. It’s so much easier to edit with a pencil, and a crisp line makes the vectoring process so much simpler, for me at least!Master the pen tool, embrace the ‘extrema’ fixed anchor method of plotting points. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. I highly recommend the section of Jessica Hische’s Skillshare class on that particular subject. It’s actually available for free on YouTube. Go check it out!Sketch sketch sketch! Practice makes perfect!