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Developing Illustrative Type to Complement Your Style

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My name is Jonny Wan and I am a freelance illustrator based in the UK. My style is based upon shape experimentation, patterns and textures and I draw inspiration from ancient cultures and civilizations. More recently I have rekindled my love for type and now developing a way of working with type that is congruent with my illustrative style so the two can work in tandem when applied to commissions that requires both.

This Post is Day 3 of our Illustrative Lettering Session. Creative Sessions

Five Key Areas

This article aims to just give you a glimpse as to how I have personally approached this development, which is very much still ongoing. I have narrowed the development into five key areas that I find crucial when transferring your style to type and have included some examples of my development, as well as some tips, so you can draw your own conclusions up to take further, if you wish. So please go ahead and enjoy the read!


1. Exploring Type

As with anything creative it is subject of criticism and personal opinion, the important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong in how and in what direction you choose to explore your work. You should be answering to no one but yourself. Given a client commission things will be different and certain rules must be taken into consideration, but in the context of development and exploration you will always have free reign, so embrace it fully.

When starting to create type that compliments your style, heavy experimentation is the key and one thing I cant stress enough is to not be afraid to jump straight into the deep end. You will make mistakes and that is the best way to learn and move forward.

Don't be scared to manipulate and customize already existing type, play with composition and size. Play around with letterforms until you are happy with them, type doesn't always have to be in such a solid format because we have always viewed it that way, you don't know what new direction your experimentation may take you to.

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2. Making Your Style and Type Congruent with Each Other

When creating type that reflects your overall illustrative aesthetic the first thing I would suggest is to have a style that you are comfortable with and deeply passionate about. Having a good body of work that you can refer to, can make the transition a tad bit easier. Of course illustration styles can change and manifest over time, but its good to have a solid base to start with. If you are already passionate and feel good about your style in general, this will transfer over to you experimentation with type.

I often compare the type that I'm working on to an image from my portfolio for reference. I look for little details and commonalities within my pieces that I can bring over and add to an existing letterform.

Be imaginative and remember that everyone is unique and has their own approach when it comes to anything creative, the key is just to be consistent and true to your creative beliefs. Don't pay too much attention to trends and what others are doing, of course be aware of what's going on around you, just be careful not to fall into the trap of self depreciation and keep moving forward.

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3. Legible or Illegible?

For me personally I think that illustrated type is not really about the legibility of the piece, but rather the character and voice that comes across within it.

There are many factors that can determine if your type has to be readable, for instance working with big clients that need to communicate their message in the quickest time possible, therefore legibility will be a major consideration.

In the context of exploration, I prefer to let the viewer fill in the gaps and draw up their own conclusions. Striking the balance between legible and unreadable is a fine line and that's where your other senses as a creative come into play. Take into consideration relationships between words and play around with negative space, often the spaces you leave blank will affect the overall interpretation of the illustration. It's a big matter of trusting your instincts and balancing space.

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4. Embrace the Sketchbook

I started the process just like I did when developing my own style of illustration, in the sketchbook. There is a certain fluidity of working with just a pencil and a blank piece of paper that is swift and organic.

The first thing I did was to simply print a single letter out and create as many variations of that letter as I could. The more versions I created, the more I felt comfortable with the structure of the letter, eventually this gave me the confidence to bring my sketches into illustrator and combine my own shapes to create letters and words that I had full ownership of.

Imagination and reference to your body of work is the key at this initial stage, make sure that you fully embrace new ideas that you are working on and be aware of your original style.

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5. Further Exploration

Remember that development is gradual and incorporating it with your unique style takes time and hard work. Treat every piece of work with love, care, and attention. If you are creating hand based lettering, make the effort to actually draw your own type, rather than rely on a ready made digital font, the personal reward will be greater and full ownership will be yours.

As mentioned before this was just a glimpse at my personal journey, and a few steps on how I have started a transitioning into illustrated type, while keeping in mind my original style. Like anything creative, there is always room for development, refining, and there is always the excitement of the unknown.

There is a plethora of visually stimulating type out there and a wealth of talented individuals creating beautiful illustrated type. My last advice would be to start collecting images that you find inspiring and keep them in a folder for further reference. Stay creative!


This Post is Day 3 of our Illustrative Lettering Session. Creative Sessions
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