Designer Interview: Hand-Letterer Simon Walker (Part I)

October 24, 2011
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Designer Interview: Hand-Letterer Simon Walker (Part I)

Graphic designer and letterer Simon Walker has an extreme knack for hand-drawn type and custom lettering. His personal portfolio is full of beautiful logos and signage featuring type and clever icons. Happily, Simon agreed to answer some of my questions about his work, process, inspiration and life as a full-time designer part-time freelancer.

Tell us bit about yourself. Where are you from, Where do you live now, How did you get into design?

I'm originally from England. I moved to the States as a 15 year old kid in 1988, so I'm nearly as American as the next guy - besides eating Marmite daily and obsessively apologizing to people for no reason. I'm now in Austin, Texas.

Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography

How do you incorporate freelancing into your life as an full-time, employed designer? Would you want to freelance full-time?

I freelance in what little free-time I have, but I work days at GSD&M which is an advertising agency here in Austin. I would love to someday freelance full-time or, better yet, start a small business focusing on type design and branding, but that's a long way off for me personally. What I love about my freelance career is that it gives me a lot more freedom to do the kind of work I enjoy most - which is to say, type design and lettering specifically - and I'm fortunate in that I'm at a point now where clients are coming to me specifically for the look I've developed over the last couple years. The irony is that I'm starting to want to explore type-design beyond the styles I'm known for at the moment (the vintage, black and white, type-heavy, heavily-textured stuff) but as long as people keep hiring me for specifically that, I'm not finding many opportunities to branch out and explore. But that's a minor complaint - I really love what I do and feel honored to be able to keep doing it for so many people.

Design, simonwalker, typography

A few words on motivation?

I'm mostly motivated by the people who inspire me - people who are simply better than me, of which there are many.

Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography

Could you walk us through a typical creative day for you and talk a bit about your work-space?

I wish I could show you my badass office or desk with the design books and posters and really happening three-hundred dollar lamp, but I'm just not there at the moment. My work space is primarily wherever I can set up a laptop and a cup of coffee, or, if I'm working late at the agency, my sparsely decorated cube. There's really not much to see.

A typical creative day starts earlier than most, since I'm in the office soon after dropping my step-daughter off at school at 7. I grab some coffee, head to the office, and then spend the first hour and a half of my day combing through design or music blogs while fending off the guilt I feel at not tackling my inbox like an actual disciplined person might do. I eventually do get to my email though, after which I settle in for the day. I avoid meetings whenever and however possible, and am completely happy sitting at my desk for hours, practically uninterrupted, doing my thing, so long as I have good music and a hot drink (another English vice/virtue. I juggle coffee and tea throughout the day, allowing time for occasional bathroom breaks and Crest White Strips applications).

Design, simonwalker, typography

Go-to coffee-shop drink or favorite work fuel/snack?

I work across the street from Whole Foods, so they get about 15% of my paycheck through sheer proximity. But I'll take Dunkin Donuts coffee whenever I can get it. Otherwise, I eat potato chips like there's no tomorrow.

Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography

Hand-Lettering makes up a large portion of your portfolio. How did you become interested in lettering and how did you develop your craft?

My obsession with lettering began as a kid in England and my preoccupation with the Hip Hop culture that was seeping in from the States. I always did draw, but I quickly caught onto the graffiti phenomenon and the idea that letterforms were organic and malleable and could be works of art in and of themselves. I drew and thought about letterforms for years afterwards, but didn't get serious about real hand-drawn lettering till just a few years ago.

There was for a while a really heavy trend in design - especially t-shirt design - toward quick, hand-drawn, often clumsy lettering, which I started to enjoy and get the hang of. But further experimentation in Illustrator lead me to discover features that enabled me to better control my type designs. It all started out very mathematical, until I realized I could bend those self-inflicted visually-mathematical rules and add small touches and flourishes to make my letterforms more unique. It got to the point where if I couldn't find the right font for a project, I thought why not try and create my own?

Becoming involved in online communities such as dribbble and flickr opened up my world to a lot of other designers who were doing the same thing, and I freely admit to being wildly inspired by what I've seen online over the years - although in everything I do I try hard to make my work completely my own. The rest comes with practice and patience and the will to let the skills come naturally over time - no amount of research or trolling for tips and techniques will bring you the skills to create really effective type overnight.

Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography

Could you talk a bit about your favorite sources of inspiration?

The majority of my daily inspiration comes from what I find online in all the usual places. But I have been watching tons of old movies lately, and there's a wealth of stuff to be found there - not just in the titles, but in scenes within the movie (street scenes, product shots).

Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography
Design, simonwalker, typography

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of the interview—Simon shares one of his favorite projects, lessons learned and shares some advice for those interested in delving further into the world of hand-lettering. In the mean-time, take a peek at Simon's full portfolio at flickr or give him a shout-out @super_furry.

Some other hand-picked posts you might enjoy on our Design Blog:

Designer and Student Interview: Tim Belonax
I Believe in Type: The Typography Sketchbook of Kyle Letendre
Designer Interview: Illustrator and Graphic Design Simon C. Page (Part I)

Jessica Patterson

Jessica Patterson

Hi, I'm Jessica. I'm a Designer and Writer at Drawbackwards and write for the Design Blog at Design.org. I enjoy vintage things, letterpress, publication design, and long walks around the Cesar Chavez Park pond. You can follow me on twitter at @jessdoodled for lots of fun randomness.

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