Can you tell me a little bit about your path to being a hand lettering artist and founding Letter Shoppe?
After I graduated from Full Sail University with a Bachelors in Digital Arts and Design I worked at a handful of agencies, design boutiques and startups. For the most part, I was always hired as the jack of all trades designer that created everything from print to web design with a little content marketing thrown in for fun. I was a good designer, but something felt off. I went into graphic design because it was the next best thing to being a professional artist. Then somewhere down the line, I realized that I was just going to work for a paycheck and wasn’t being true to myself. So I started drawing again, and that led me to discover hand lettering.
I found myself practicing hours each day, sometimes even during my lunch break or in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I fell in love with it, and over time, I got good at it. Once I started to work on client projects for hand lettering, I knew that I finally found my thing. I moved to Portland OR from FL my home state, to start Letter Shoppe back in 2012 so I could turn my passion into my paycheck. At first, I only did freelance in my spare time in addition to my day job, to see if I could potentially make it as a full-time freelance artist.
“I’m so glad that I decided to stop finally settling for what I wanted to do with my life and just started going for it.”
I’m happy to say that I have been a full-time hand lettering artist for six months now, and life is sweet. I get to draw letters every day doing what I love and making a decent living from it. I’m so glad that I decided to stop finally settling for what I wanted to do with my life and just started going for it.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I wish I could say that I was one of those artists that wakes up early and clocks out by five, but that’s the furthest from the truth. I typically work about 6 to 9 hours day in 3-hour blocks with a 2-hour breaks starting around 10 am.
I wake up to make my mountain of coffee for the day and always start my morning with a doodle. Sometimes this daily ritual lasts only 15 mins and other times it can turn into 3 hours depending on my schedule. I’m always my most creative right when I wake up, so I try to use that energy for what I love to do most, lettering.
“Take the time to actual try out your ideas instead of just thinking of them and letting them turn to dust."
This time is never used for client work and is special time set aside just for me and whatever my creativity can think of. I believe that it’s important always to make time for personal projects. Take the time to actual try out your ideas instead of just thinking of them and letting them turn to dust.
Plus this daily exercise keeps me on my toes and fuels me for the rest of the day. Nowadays I can't even start my day unless I get my "drawing me time" first thing in the morning.
Afternoon Writing Mode
Then after my daily doodles time, I take lunch, so I can put all my focus into writing mode. This is the time where I answer emails, write blog posts and set up my social media schedule for the next day using Buffer.
Although it would appear that my job is mostly drawing, almost 70% of my time goes into creating content and promoting my work. I do this because if you create a ton of work and then don't make a plan to promote it how is anyone going to see it?
"If you create a ton of work and then don't make a plan to promote it how is anyone going to see it?"
I take the time to promote my work so I can have a steady amount of client inquiries coming in, so I don’t have to worry about any freelance dry spells.
Nightly LIVE Streaming
After my second 2-hour break of the day, I typically jump onto Twitch to start working on some client work. I find that my clients really seem to enjoy watching the process of me working live so they can see for themselves why I make certain design decisions.
I live stream my process on Twitch anywhere from three to five times a week depending on the amount of work I need to get done. Streaming has been a real game changer for me and has made all the difference in my day to day. Now I don’t feel so lonely working in my studio by virtually talking to tons of supportive and new creative people in the chat. They keep me company by asking me questions or just sharing their stories with me. Twitch is by far my favorite social media platform to connect with people on and has made a tremendous impact on my bottom line with donations and new client inquiries.
I’d say the most important part of my day is my daily recap. This is usually my final hour of work where I look back on my day and journal what I got accomplished. I think it’s important to look back at what you’ve done and feel good about it or search for ways to continuously improve.
"Look back at what you’ve done and feel good about it or search for ways to continuously improve."
Sometimes these entries are more personal and other times they end up turning into blog articles or case studies around my work. Plus I always like to write down my process so that way I know, I’m always staying on track with my client's goals and don't start working out of personal preference.
Was there ever a big mistake you made early in your career and were able to take something valuable from it?
I’ve had several businesses crash and burn before I reached success with my current company Letter Shoppe. In retrospect, I know they all failed because I was creating a product for me instead of creating something that others would enjoy.
It didn't help either that I would create things on a whim without really thinking through my ideas or developing any plan to produce and promote them.
“I constantly ask questions from other people's perspective to see if my idea is something that would improve someone's life rather the just creating something because it seemed cool at the time.”
Now I take a bird's eye view of my ideas and take the time to experiment with them before I announce them. I constantly ask questions from other people's perspective to see if my idea is something that would improve someone's life rather the just creating something because it seemed cool at the time.
If you could give one piece of advice to another designer or entrepreneur starting out, what would you say?
The best advice I could give to anyone is to think about the marketing behind an idea and not just the final pretty picture. You can’t design for the sake of design. You need to take your personal preferences and ego and throw them straight out the window.
No one cares what you like—all that matters is that other people like what you make. The whole point of the design is that it’s done so to attract a particular audience, and marketing is all about getting to know that audience.
“Figure out why people should care about your work and build an engaging story around your brand.”
Take the time to ask questions and do research. Figure out why people should care about your work and build an engaging story around your brand. In an overcrowded sea of designers and freelancers, you need to figure out what makes you unique so that way you can make other people see it too.
Can you remember one of the first things you designed or created that you were proud of?
When I first started getting into lettering, I was having a hard time getting my letters just right. I had no formal training or took any online classes. I just starting practicing. I had been practicing on my own for a few months and got slowly better with every drawing, but I still hadn't created anything I was particularly proud of.
I was feeling a bit frustrated but what kept me going was this quote my dad would always tell me growing up “If you dream big and work hard there's nothing you can’t accomplish.” So I did just that. I even hand-lettered the phrase "dream big work hard" and put it on my desk as a reminder. Then I put it on Instagram along with my other lettering attempts and something really cool happened.
When I posted this piece, it went viral. I started getting a ton of likes and comments asking for prints; I was floored. So I turned the design into a free sticker and gave it out to anyone that wanted one. Little did I know that this design would launch my career and was my first successful social media campaign.
I ended up giving away over 1000 stickers to people all over the globe along with a note of inspiration telling them never to give up on their dreams. This was the piece that gave me the confidence to keep pursuing lettering because it was the first piece I was genuinely proud.
Why did you choose to make this design for The Designer Series and what does it mean to you?
I’ve always loved the phrase “create more than you consume” because it motivates me to stop thinking and start doing. I would spend hours pinning, sharing, reading and finding inspiration that it would get in the way of me making any real progress.
The hardest thing for most creatives is to start on something new. We get a great idea in our heads that gets us all fueled up but then we waste so much of that energy consuming content instead of creating the thing that got us excited in the first place. So rather than finding inspiration let's capitalize on that time to make our ideas a reality so we can help inspire others to do the same.
Can you talk a little bit about the process that you used to make this piece?
I wrote an in-depth case study on my process creating this shirt design where there were many twists and turns. I knew I wanted a retro handcrafted feel to my design, but it took me a few rounds of trial and error to figure out how to digitalize my work in a way that matched the image in my head.
I started traditionally with a pencil and paper to try out a few ideas I had in my head. Then I began working on some type studies to nail down the style and decoration of each word before I started on any high-fidelity sketches.
I live streamed my entire sketching process on Twitch, so I could share this design with my creative community while teaching others my hand lettering process. I even made a short one-minute time-lapse for your viewing pleasure.
I had a pretty solid design in my sketches but had a hard time translating that into Photoshop. I should have inked different elements of my design in layers so that way I would have spent less time separating the text from the supporting illustrations.
I ultimately ended up simplifying my work and getting rid of the arrows altogether to give more focus to the words themselves. Plus I had a hard time combining my curved drop shadow lines into my composition without them looking like an afterthought.
Once I had my line work cleaned up and looking good, I went ahead and lived traced my lettering to retain all the rough edges from my micron pen. I started to add different options for color and settled on this 70’s color palette of yellow and orange to be printed on a soft tri-blend chocolate tee for optimum contrast.
Are you working on any new projects right now?
I’m working on a ton of new projects at the moment but the majority of my time lately is going towards improving my Twitch channel. I‘m creating new graphics from my stream along with an official League of Letters t-shirt design that will be my first piece of branded swag for my Twitch channel.
I’m having a blast live streaming my process and want more people to know about this incredible creative community. I even started a live weekly talk show called Creative Talk Shoppe where I interview other creative streamers on Twitch to inspire more people to explore their passions through streaming.
Not to mention I’m in the midst of writing an article series teaching other designers how to get started on Twitch so more people can experience all the wonders this platform as to offer.
Design bucket list time: is there one creative experience or project you'd love to work on in the next couple years?
One thing that has been on my todo list for a long time is putting out my Hand-Lettering Workbook. Right now I put out free content on my blog teaching others how to be professional hand lettering artists, but I want to do so much more.
I plan on writing a 100% hand-lettered book that with include practice sheets, games and quizzes to give a more hands-on, fun approach to learning lettering.
I also want to give more in person workshops. I got a taste teaching my first ever workshop at Full Sail University this past winter and caught the teaching bug.
I just want to give back to the community and teach everything I know so other creatives can experience what it is like to make a living doing what they love.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT