I'm a letterer, type designer, cat lady, and serious oversharer. Don't be shy, as me whatever you wish and I'll answer honestly! See my work here: http://jessicahische.is/awesome
Thanks for doing this, really great having you here. I'll start things off with a few questions.
- I really loved the lettering done for Moonrise kingdom. What was it like working with Wes Anderson. Specifically how did you collaborate with him to come up with a typeface for the movie?
- How do you develop confidence in your work, when you start out a lot of what you make is not very good, what kept you going?
- Once you develop an authentic voice/style, how do you know when to stay true to that vision or adapt to new trends?
Wes tightly art directed the whole project, so it was really a collaboration between the two of us. In the beginning, he sent inspiration artwork (first Edwardian Script, then title lettering for Claude Chabrol’s La Femme Infidel) which I based my lettering on. I began with the title, and once we had that in a good place I moved on to the beginning credits, simultaneously working on a typeface for the end credits. Every step along the way Wes was giving me direct feedback via email, and he was very particular about what he wanted (which was awesome, because I definitely trusted his vision). When I say he was particular, I mean VERY particular.
Confidence, for me, has always been about judging myself in relation to my past self vs. judging myself against people whom I admire. I think it's too easy to get discouraged if you look at the work of people with much more experience than yourself and compare your work to them. As long as you are continually improving month after month and year after year, it's easier to confidently say "I'm getting better. I'm not the best, but no one is. We're all constantly growing and improving." Don't look at something you made and think "this is shit", think "this is so much better than the shit I was making last year".
Developing a style has more to do with working in a consistent medium than anything—if I started doing chalk drawings or making type out of food everyone would see that as a huge style shift, even though the subject matter and even the kind of lettering I would be doing is the same. I love working with clients so the kind of client work I take on pushes my work in various directions. Generally I'm not hired to be experimental, I'm hired to do work that is consistent with work I've created in the past. I experiment in small ways, slowly pushing my work in a new direction if I wish. I think drastically shifting your style is difficult to pull off, and you should never do so just based on trends (since trends burn hot and quick online). I try to approach style changes more as subtle tweaks rather than full makeovers.
Lisa Frank contacts you to commission a new line of stationary, stickers and school supplies. How do you respond?
Can you talk for a moment on everybody's least favourite topic: sales? How did you get started finding work? Any tips for finding good clients (value the work and give-and-take) and establishing good client relationships (mutual, ongoing respect and productivity)?
This is definitely a tough topic to cover in just a comment, but I did make a few posts of it on my site, including this one from a while ago about getting freelance work:
Finding good clients is all about treating every client as if they are your favorite person on earth. Clients (and all humans) really respond to positive energy. If you show that you're enthusiastic about a project and try to not behave defensively when you receive feedback / pushback things go a lot better. Someone that could potentially be an amazing client can turn into a "bad client" because of miscommunications / bad email exchanges between yourself and them.
First of all - I'm so impressed by your work. If it would be 'politically' correct to say that I have a boner for it, I would. But shh, I haven't said it.
Are you planning any future lettering workshops? I know about your studio, Title Case, but it seems like those workshops are tailored for companies buying all the spots? Not sure. Would love to attend one day. Or maybe you could recommend other courses (shorter ones, preferably accessible to people outside of US).
Are you going to design new prints and shirts? The ones from the past seem to have been very limited and aren't in stock anymore :(
What do you think is the current state of webfont licensing and accessibility? It seems to me that part of really popular typefaces is on Typekit, another on Typography.com and the rest is indie enough to not offer webfonts at all. Some of them have their own hosting but seem ridiculously priced in comparison to other solutions. It looks like we are in the future but there are still some hurdles with licensing and fear of giving out the font files.
Yes! They're definitely not tailored for companies—we don't let anyone sign up in advance / reserve spots so it's first come first serve for all. I'm definitely going to do one in August (likely the 16th). Erik and I are going to try to figure out ways to do weeknight workshops as well, since those work better for his schedule.
Yes! The previous t-shirts I've made have been through other companies (like United Pixel Workers) so they're in charge of printing things / stocking everything. I do want to get some t-shirts up in my actual store, just have to figure out which designs I want to go with.
Everyone is still figuring out the best solution. Subscription services like Typekit are easiest for the consumer but aren't as favorable to the designers themselves vs pricing per font (like web type and a few other services). Usually when indie fonts aren't available or are available in a limited capacity it's because they don't have the infrastructure in place to host the fonts for you and aren't into self-hosting as an option. Things will get better and better, especially as more type designers make fonts specifically for the web vs. trying to adapt print fonts for a web environment. It just takes time, since type design in general is a pretty slow and arduous process.
Alrighty guys! Off to get some work done! It's been a pleasure!
Really enjoyed all your responses, Jess. Thanks again for taking the the time to do this!
What's an unconventional piece of wisdom you'd like to share with us?
If you wear underwear on the outside of tights, it helps keeps the crotch of the tights from falling to your knees. And you feel like a super hero all day.
But I guess that's just advice for ladies. I guess if I were to give less gender specific advice/wisdom it would be to take a vitamin D supplement because we all spend too much time inside. It will make you less angry / angsty.
Jess, you just changed my life with that first advice. THIS SOLVES ALL THE PROBLEMS.
Also solves all my problems.
Welcome! Thanks again for doing an AMA.
How long did it take you to start feeling like you were successful as a freelancer?
Are there any kinds of projects/companies you really want to work on/with but haven't had a chance to?
I was freelancing while also having a day job—when I realized that I was basically doubling my (small) salary with my freelance work, I felt confident going off on my own. It takes a while to really believe that the work will keep coming in as a freelancer, so having side projects / other projects on the back-burner helps you freak out less as well.
I really really want to be on Sesame Street. I might be doing something with them this year but my dream would be to, along side muppets, draw crazy letters with little kids. I also would love to work on more film projects with directors I admire. I would drop everything to work with Wes again, but I'd also love to work with Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, and other "artier" directors.
What is your middle name? Which is longer, your ring or index finger?
They look about the same length, but according to my ruler, the ring finger is about a centimeter longer than my index finger
It's been said over and over again that one should never give up pursuing their passion/dream. But is there a moment, sign, thought that occurs that you think to yourself, "Okay that's enough, time to move on." Does such a moment even exist? As a person that is doing what they want with their life, have you had other similar passions that didn't pan out?
Has oversharing on the internet ever come back to bite you?
Would you recommend typeface designers to embrace the Lost Type Co-op model? (Where they pay what they want)
What changes do you see in typography and lettering in the next 20 years?
It really depends on what you define as "success" in that pursuit. Are you OK with that dream being a hobby that you get to indulge in whenever you want or do you need for that dream to be the thing that pays your bills? As long as you take pleasure in pursuing your dream, it's worth pursuing—just make sure that you truly enjoy whatever it is that you're doing. Ideally, your "worst case scenario" should be "I spent a week (month / years) working on something that I was really into".
So far, the only real hiccups that I've found is that once you have a large audience you can't mention day-to-day annoyances quite as much. People respond harshly to negativity if they feel that you're in a position of privilege, so when I am having a bad day, I try to keep it to myself / to my immediate friends. It's probably best anyway to try to be positive whenever you can and not drag people into your misery, so it's not really a bad thing.
I'm not into the Lost Type model—most people pay nothing / next to nothing, even large companies. It's certainly amazing for getting your work out and all over the place, but I think letting other people put a price on your work can devalue it, especially in an industry where everyone is already relentlessly pirating work / bitching about how "expensive" fonts are (fonts that sometimes take years to create).
There will likely be a lot more type designers!
Great and respectable work Jessica! I just wanted to say thanks for being such a bad-ass.
How do you often deal with creative blocks?
- I definitely believe you sometimes have to flush all the insanity out of your head to allow for inspiration to happen. I'm terrible at meditating but absolutely love going on long walks by myself, I started loving yoga (as long as it's not chanty), and I do what I can to just "be" sometimes. Then I take practical steps to starting projects rather than feeling overwhelmed that there is so much to do. I aways run through the same process: research, brainstorm, thumbnails, sketches, final, criticism / revision. If I skip big chunks of this process, that's when I find that I'm the most blocked.
I also find that the more I have on my plate the harder it is to get creative block—I always need something to "procrastiwork" on.
Hi Jessica. Least favorite type of job? Least favorite food? Least favorite animal?
Hard to say what my least favorite type of job is but one of my least favorite job situations is when I'm told late in the game that there is a whole other rung of decision makers that the work hasn't been shown to yet. Nothing like doing many rounds of revisions on final art and then being told that the person actually in charge of OKing it hasn't seen anything yet.
Brocolli. I love brocolli so much but I can't eat it because it gives me outrageous weird back pain.
Least favorite animal is probably in the creepy crawly department—not that I don't appreciate their place in the Earth's ecosystem, but finding a centipede / cockroach in the shower is horrifying.
Is college still necessary in the design industry? Any other tips for young designers?
There's definitely a huge debate about the necessity of higher education in general. What I can say, is that nothing replaces the experience of college. I lived and breathed art for 4 years and that is very difficult to replicate in the professional world. Yes, you can gain a lot of experience quickly (experience that may be more relevant than what is being taught in many universities) if you immediately go into the work force, but if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely still go to art school. The group crits, the endless all nighters with peers in the computer lab, experimenting in fine art classes, all of those are hard to replicate once you're out of school.
The key is, in whatever route you pursue (be it college or diving straight into an internship when you're 18), that you make sure you're learning a lot and growing as a person.
My other tip: remember that you're more than just a designer. Read books! Go to the movies! Learn about the world! Being a better / more interesting human enables you to create more interesting design work.
What have been some of your favorite collaborations with fellow designers and creatives? Were there any that were particularly challenging and/or rewarding?
What was a useful piece of advice that was given to you when you were first starting out that you'd like pass along to other budding letterers and designers?
How do you cool down? What do you do to decompress between bouts of creativity? Or are you an "always on" kind of person? I suppose the flip side of this question would be how do you stay excited and energized about your work?
Thanks for the AMA, and I really cherish your gorgeous work!
Collaborations come in all shapes and sizes—I think my favorite collaborations are just when I can get heavy criticism from friends as I'm working on projects, as it can be tough to physically collaborate with other letterers (other than Erik Marinovich, who sits next to me at my office :)). Every project I work on is a collaboration—clients hire me to create a small part of a larger project, especially when it comes to ad work. I love seeing how far they can take my artwork after I pass along my vector files!
"The truth is the easiest story to remember", though I think that's more of a general life advice thing than something specific to letterers and designers.
I have SO MANY calm down activities. here is a list:
I go to spas / bath houses and do that whole cycle of hot > cold > chill out > hot tub. It is the best. I may do that tonight.
I'm a fan of massages, but usually try to solve my muscle issues through exercise / foam roller use rather than shelling out $100 on a massage.
I go on long walks
I sit in parks and people watch
I get dinner or lunch by myself with a book
I watch mindless television on netflix
All this said, usually the best way for me to get energized about work is to either feel guilty for taking too much down time (I'm never more motivated to work than after a vacation since I just spent a stretch of time "being lazy"), or to hang out with / get drinks with other motivated people. As soon as they start talking about how passionate they are about something they're working on, all I want to do is go to my office and work. Conferences are great for this.
Thank you so much for doing this!
I'm sure like most of us you've had your down times. Have you ever been in a situation when it prolonged itself to a dangerous expanse and if so how did you handle it?
I had a major hormonal issue last year due to a switcheroo of my BCP (which I'm no longer on). I felt like a crazy person and was generally unhappy for almost 6 months. I had a really hard time being motivated to work, and had that "out of place" feeling all the time, no matter where I was. Whenever I notice changes in myself like this I try to address them asap as if you wait to long you start questioning what's real and what's not. I went to an acupuncturist, who immediately took me off the pill and within a few weeks I felt like I was back to normal. (I'm not sure how effective the acupuncture itself was, but having a doctor that tried to treat me holistically instead of just prescribing anti-depressants really is what did the trick. I talked her through my issues, and week by week we tried to make little changes to get me back on track)
What I've definitely realized in myself:
I need sunshine to be happy, and if i'm not getting sunshine I need to take vitamin D supplements
Nothing helps control anxiety more than exercise. When I can exercise regularly, I'm SO MUCH less anxious.
Eating shitty food makes you feel amazing in the moment and terrible later.
i'm having mix fellings right now because i only saw this thread right now and I'm so sad the AMA with Jess is over :'( . But on the other hand i'm so happy this happened, it's one more prove that this community is awsome!
Great questions everyone! Keep up with the good work, you guys rock!
Hi Jessica, What is it like being a "celebrity designer?" Do you feel that it encroaches on your daily life more than you would like it to?
It hardly ever affects my daily life (unlike real celebrities), and I only really feel the effect of it when I'm speaking at conferences / traveling a lot (because of my "stranger friends" online, I feel like I always know people in every city I visit, which is super cool). It is really neat getting to know other "design celebs", especially people that I admired greatly early in my career, and I can't help but feel like a giddy art student whenever I end up at a dinner with one of the greats.
In general, I'm pretty much your average civilian—I putz around the Mission in SF or various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and am just like any other freelancer in town. We live in a 1br rental that we feel somewhat trapped in (just like everyone else in SF who has somewhat affordable rent that they're locked into), I walk / ride my bike everywhere, etc.
Hi Jessica! Huge fan of your work =)
Could you go into a little more detail about the research stage of your process when you get into a project? Where do you go to research and gather info/inspiration and such?
How long did it take to build your current iteration of your website?
What are you reading currently? (Book-wise)
I'm actually releasing a whole book about my process with Chronicle this year, and while I'd love to explain it all here i've found it's about 10k words worth of explanation, ha! In short: I like to do visual research periodically, not just right before a project. Then I have a big pool of general visual inspiration to pull from and let the conceptual inspiration come from studying the material I'm designing for. I generally get my visual inspiration from perusing friends (or my own) book collections, through online bookmarking sites like pinterest, and through links that people post on twitter as well as just simple google searches.
I think about a month total? I mess with it every now and again to add new features / streamline parts of it. The biggest time-suck of making a new iteration of your site though is populating it with content.
I'm currently reading a book titled "A Working Theory of Love" by Scott Hutchins. http://www.amazon.com/Working-Theory-Love-Novel/dp/0143124196
I'm a student just starting out in design. 1. What would you recommend for me to do and learn? 2. What was your first experience in design, and when did you find out you love it? 3. How valuable do you consider college education to be over experience? Is it still that necessary for knowing the fundamentals?
Thanks for doing this!
Do and learn everything. You have so much to learn, so anytime someone is taking time out of their schedule to pass on knowledge just soak it up. Absorb everything around you, even if it doesn't seem immediately relevant. Read books, criticize packaging, investigate typefaces, fall down wikipedia rabbit holes about lesser known but influential designers. All of this will turn into an awesome soup of inspiration from which you'll pull from later in life.
I found out I loved design in my first course my Sophomore year of college. We had a poster assignment to make posters for a fake event called "the monster mania festival". The assignment was to do one poster and I ended up making 5. I just couldn't get enough.
Answered this in one of the other AMA questions
Awesome that you want to do this AMA. You're one of my favourite designers! I loved "Upping Your Type Game", are you planning to publish more articles like those in the near future?
Definitely! I'm working on a book right now with Chronicle about my process, but I hope to do a book in the future about more business related writing / advice. I'm knee deep in writing for this book right now but I generally post to my site when the spirit moves me / when a topic comes up that feels important enough to comment on.
Thanks for the AMA!
What was the most and least exciting things you’ve done this month?
Most exciting: I'm going to Europe on Saturday! Least exciting: I had to take my cat to the vet on Monday because she has a cyst on her head.
Thanks so much for doing this!
What's your preferred way to communicate with clients? Do you recommend your preference when clients suggest another method, or go with theirs?
I use email for most of my communication, but definitely try to get on the phone as much as possible throughout a project so that clients can hear out loud how much thought and enthusiasm I've invested in a piece. Email / something similar to email is important so you document feedback and can keep rounds of revision in order, but nothing beats an in person review or a call to go over work.
My new favourite quote;
"Don't look at something you made and think 'this is shit', think 'this is so much better than the shit I was making last year'." – Jessica Hische
What advice would you give to students who want to get started in lettering/type design but don't know how/where to start?
Look at as much of it as you can (and not just on dribbble, but in real live books and in other places online)
Also, taking workshops / online courses can help a ton. I did a class on skillshare and tried to dump as much knowledge as I could into it, and I know there are several other lettering classes on there as well as on lynda.com
Taking calligraphy classes helps A TON too!
Do you get recognized on the street?
Ever get asked to sign something (outside of an event)?
Yes! It happens a lot in SF and Brooklyn, mostly because I spend time neighborhoods where a lot of arty folks hang out (in SF: the Mission, in Brooklyn: Williamsburg / Greenpoint / Bushwick). It doesn't happen a ton but when it does people either straight up say hi to me or (slightly more creepily) mention on twitter that they just saw me. If you're ever debating on doing the latter, and I'm not obviously engaged in a deep conversation with someone else / immersed in a book, please say hi in person!
Nope, usually even at events people are very shy about asking for signatures on things, and when I meet people in person they're usually so concerned with seeming creepy (which you're not! Don't worry!) that they keep the meeting pretty brief.
if you couldn't live in brooklyn or san francisco, where would you go?
Berlin! or Philly. I still love Philly.
Hey Jessica, love your work & interviews. The Great Discontent piece was my fave (http://thegreatdiscontent.com/jess-russ-p1).
My 2 Qs:
- What are your recommended steps for those in digital design to develop a sense of typography? -What do you wish you knew as a college graduate that you know now?
There are so many great articles / posts to kickstart you into the type world. Tim Brown is really good at posting about type on typekit's blog and in his other pursuits, and Jason Santa Maria talks about type extensively at conferences and in writing. The TDC (Type Directors Club) is a great resources and there are many members that could talk your ear off about type if you're able to head to any of their events. Otherwise, just spend as much time staring at and analyzing type as you can. Whenever you see a font, ask yourself what it reminds you of (whether that's a physical thing or just a feeling), and question why it reminds you of that. You have to analyze type in the same way you'd analyze a painting or an illustration.
That I knew nothing when I was 22. ha!
Have you ever met Jessica Walsh?
Well this is kinda creepy, but I remember seeing this on her Instagram a while ago: http://instagram.com/p/nzMjfmF2An/
Yes! We are friends. She was just in SF and we had drinks and diner and we have had a few epic ladies' nights in Brooklyn together alongside some other designy lady friends.
You've produced high quality work in typography, illustration, web design, and possibly more. Are there other areas of design that you hope one day to explore... and conquer?
I'd love to get more into making physical goods—whether I'm doing it myself (I love letterpressing my own posters, but don't do it much these days), or hiring others to help me do it. I also really want to get into embroidery and think it would be super zen to sit around embroidering lettering pieces.
Hey Jessica, thanks for taking the time to do this! What non-design related activities do you get inspiration from? Also, are you and Eric planning to continue the Type-Nerd Breakfasts? They sounds like a lot of fun!
I love consuming all the pop-culture I can (I get a lot of inspiration just from observing the world around me and it often inspires lettering pieces). I'm also a big exerciser since I moved to SF (Pilates and Yoga), which always get me amped up. Getting beers with other creatives and hearing about things that they're working on usually gets me going artistically too.
We don't have any breakfasts on the calendar right now, but I'm working on a new thing called "Unhappy Hour" in which we (me and whoever wants to join) go to a coffee shop at 7:30am for a morning meetup.
'Unhappy Hour' sounds like a great idea! Definitely looking forward to hearing more about it in the future.
Hey Jess, I really dig your site, and I especially love how you organized your URL's. By the way, where did you get that .is domain?
How did you get started in typography?
Also, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking of designing typography.
I got my .is domain from marcaria.com, but it's expensive there, I hear if you go straight to isnic it's cheaper
This is answered on my site through FAQ's so I'll just direct you there! http://jessicahische.is/aseriousoversharer #10
Definitely answered this in another Q earlier so reference that :)
Do you have a favorite letter? Least favorite letter?
Have a good day!
I love drawing R's since they have so much going on, but when I'm doodling I tend to draw the word Yes in script (script Y's are really fun)
Least favorite is probably O's, they're pretty straight forward usually.
What is the hardest thing about moving to a new place far from home? Any advice for someone trying to do the same?
Moving, when you're really young, is MUCH easier than when you're a real adult. While I found it really easy to make friends when we moved out to SF, it definitely took me a while to love it here / not constantly compare it to Brooklyn. I think the key is to appreciate the new place in it's own right, and not compared to any other place that you love. And remember it takes time for any place to feel like home, so don't be discouraged that, 4 months in, the barista still doesn't know your name. It'll happen!
As you're widely considered the best letterer in the business, I'm curious to know what's your favorite movie title scene? What are the movie titles that inspired you in your work?
I definitely wouldn't consider myself to be anywhere near the best, but I certainly spend the most time interacting with other designers, ha!
I could spend all day over on Movie Title Stills Archive http://annyas.com/screenshots/ and I think that in particular different "The End" title cards definitely influenced me the most.
Hello there! I'm behind the times on this AMA but if you or anyone else has advice for inspiration-harnessing, it would be much appreciated!
Hi Jessica, a few questions - hope you don't mind.
- What's your favorite cereal?
- What are your thoughts on Canada?
- Are you right handed or left handed?
- If you had to move to a city and live there for the rest of your life, but it can't be a city you've visited, what would it be?
- What's your go to order at Starbucks?
I like either really plain cereals (like Corn Flakes, Kix, and Cheerios (but not honey nut—I know I'm a weirdo) or REALLY SWEET cereals like Fruity Pebbles and Frosted Flakes (which is probably the best cereal of all time)
Into it! I have many Canadian friends. They are good people.
This is tough—so I'd have to choose just based on reputation? I've been to a lot of places both in the US and internationally so that narrows down the choices significantly. In the US maybe... Savannah? I've never been but I heard it's very nice (and it's on the east coast which is closer to my family than SF). Internationally—Stockholm. I haven't been there (I've been to a number of places in Scandinavia but never to Stockholm) but I know some rad people there and it seems like a good place to be.
I normally drink black americanos from good coffee shops, but when I go to starbucks I order all those weird sweet lattes because their black coffee tastes like cigarettes and gives me caffeine anxiety.
Do you have any suggestions for a print shop in/around Bushwick? I've checked out Inker Linker, but I was wondering if you have worked with someone that is specifically awesome.
I was perusing the Stern Grove festival site yesterday and thought to myself "Damn, that's an awesome type treatment". Sure enough, there's your name in the credits.
Just wanted to say nice work and thanks for being an inspiration.
I have been freelancing for the past 6 months, I was in a job that wasn't right for me and for many reasons I had to leave. Over here in the UAE you have to set up a free zone business in order to be able to freelance legally, gain visas etc. I've done this and am starting small. I have the dream to one day turn this into an agency. Things are going well but I feel a little overwhelmed by my current situation, all the things that I have always thought about doing can now potentially be given a go.
Would you have any advice for someone in my position?
Great to see that you are doing one of these. I am going to probably ask two questions that you have been asked countless times before, but I will go ahead anyway. Firstly: how did you get into lettering? Have you looked into any books or gained any advice or tutorials from anywhere or was it a case of practice makes perfect? Secondly: how did you get your first job? I am looking for work this summer and I was wondering if you had any tips either on scoring an internship or getting some freelance work.
Currently two years outside of school, and just finally reached a point where it doesn't feel like work but rather I enjoy solving problems for clients, not to mention I like my coworkers.
Here is where my question falls into place: being 23, and a little insecure still about presenting my work to clients or a boardroom full of people, how do you prepare for such things? I had the opportunity to watch my coworker present a website/product I designed to a client.
I remember being in Ottawa, when you were on Skype with Aaron Draplin for RGB and still admire all the awesome things you had to say about your life, and the way you have found a path of happiness! Keep on the good work.