If you’ve been within one mouse-click of Instagram, Pinterest, or Etsy throughout the last three years, you’ve probably noticed that hand lettering has made a comeback.
With a crafted, imperfect charm, hand lettering is making its way into the modern art scene, super-shared Facebook content, and even brand identities. Hand lettering is the art of drawing letters by hand, often script or calligraphy (but not exclusively). Some of the most popular hand lettering content out there involves freehand calligraphy, like that of hand lettering artist, Liss (beautiful work!) or the prolific script/serif/sans-serif work of Seanwes, who has since gone on to become a revolutionary force in the world of modern business (and rightly so). Other, less popular (and even more impressive!) styles exist, like the Victorian-era lettering of David Salinas. Yeah, look at his work. Unbelievable.
For those who haven’t been immersed in the graphic art industry, hand lettering is kind of an old idea, resurrected to fit modern applications. Things like logos, signs, and magazine ads were actually created by hand because that was the only option. These days, there’s a romantic attraction to hand lettering, namely from artists having an appreciation for methods of old.
Instagram is riddled with budding and experienced hand lettering artists alike, and a lot of them are accepting client work. This is great, and I think we should all be excited about the dawn of a more technical, hands-on skill finding a new acceptance in the world of commercial art and business.
However, we need to be vigilant about a few things. I have kind of a two-fold warning for artists/designers and for businesses.
A warning for artists and designers
When it comes to hand lettering, be careful not to sell yourself as something you are not. You may be truly skilled at crafting beautiful letters by hand, and that can be extremely valuable to businesses, but that doesn’t, by itself, give you the skill or experience necessary form effective brand identities.
Too often, branding is reduced to a logo, a handful of colors and fonts, or to stationery designs. Branding is so much more than that. Good branding requires competitor research, consumer behavior research, carefully crafted brand values, and appropriate messaging as well.
I’m not saying you don’t know these things, but do you offer them when you sell “branding” to people? Probably not.
Now, I know that’s not entirely your fault. Conversation surrounding branding is pretty sparse (I’m trying to change that!) and where it exists, it’s not explained very well. That leads not only to you, the designer, not being fully aware of what branding is, but the client not even knowing they need it.
Also, be sure you’re not compromising the final product you’re creating for your client because you’re trying to have one “style”. If you bill yourself as solely a hand lettering artist and not a designer, you can get away with having one style. Otherwise, you risk damaging your client’s brand because what you are giving them isn’t what their brand truly needs. This results in a misaligned redirect in their branding, and a really confused consumer base. That leads right into my next point.
A warning for businesses
When it comes to hand lettering, be sure you aren’t hiring someone simply because you like their style. I know this can be tempting (and not just with hand lettering), but if you’ve read my other blogs, you know that your personal preferences must be left out of the equation when it comes to your brand. Actually, when I create brands for my clients, I leave my personal preferences out of the equation too. I have to, otherwise whose best interest am I really serving?
The goal of branding is to connect with your audience as effectively as possible. In fact, that should be the goal of your business in general. So don’t you want to be mindful of how your business is appearing to the public, even in the smallest of ways?
Here is another point that applies to both artists and other creators, as well as businesses. Hand lettering is now a trend, like it or not. Trends start small and innocently, then sweep entire industries and end up being exaggerated parodies of themselves. This is bound to happen with hand lettering. Ten years from now, we’ll look back and laugh at all the brands trying to force hand lettering into their visual identities.
Instead of being a “hand lettering artist” how about just being an artist?
And instead of the business who is desperately trying to implement the latest “hip” things to appeal to a younger audience, how about reaching out to your younger audience and figuring out what they actually need from you?