Designer Interview: Hand-Letterer Simon Walker (Part II)
Designer Interview: Hand-Letterer Simon Walker (Part II)
Welcome to Part II of my interview with Simon Walker, a talented designer and letterer in Austin. If you missed it, be sure to get caught up by reading Part I of the interview. Today Simon shares of his favorites projects, a bit of advice for designers interested in hand-lettering and insights into his process and freelancing.
I just saw your Gold Top bottles printed on flickr', and they look excellent! Could you walk us through the design and creative process of their conception and completion?
Thanks very much! That was a really tough project, and yet one of my favorite clients to work with so far. There was a lot of back-and-forth at the beginning, with the client knowing he wanted something disctinctly and iconically "Austin", and yet not really reacting well to the standard retro look that often defines Austin culture.
We did a lot of research together trying to discover a look that could feel fresh and vintage, and yet set apart from the other existing Austin brands within similar markets. The first realization was that the words "Gold Top" needed to feel crafted and unique to the point where they could stand alone if necessary.
Once we got that down, we went through a number of rounds of label design that weren't hitting home before I stumbled upon the idea of silk-screening the art directly onto the bottle. It seemed like a long-shot in terms of being cost-prohibitive, but it turned out that in the shorter runs that the client was going to have printed it would be cheaper than printing and applying labels. We then did some more research and dug up dozens of examples of true vintage one and two-color silk-screen designs on clear bottles that were right up both of our alleys, and that's how the current design was born.
What advice would you give designers who are interested in incorporating more lettering into their design work?
Not to be intimidated and expect quick results, but to just start doing it. One of the best ways to become acquainted with letters and how they truly work is to try and re-create them yourself. You'll notice things about the interactions between the parts of individual letterforms you never really noticed before. Use existing fonts as a guide and study what makes them work, too: how does the "c" relate to the "e"? Are all the ascenders and descenders consistent, or do they vary? Which rules can you break to get more interesting results?
It may take time - I've a long way to go myself, and am really just an amateur myself when it comes to true font creation - but it is a skill I think most designers can learn if it truly is their passion. You'll probably get better advice from a better, more seasoned type designer, but that's how it's been working out for me so far.
What would be your dream project to work on or be involved with?
I don't think it could get any better than doing the title graphics for a movie. Other than that, I'm a straight up bibliophile, so I'd love to do some book design - cover, layout, the works. Something literally or stylistically classic would be brilliant.
You use flickr to display your portfolio. How does this work out for you, and do you think it's important for designers to have a major web presence, or not necessarily?
Flickr has been good to me, for sure, but I don't think I ever intended for it to substitute for my own website, and I certainly never expected my work to escape those bounds the way it has. I've been incredibly fortunate in that my work has found its way onto countless websites and blogs, all of which lead back to me in some way shape or form, so people seem to be finding me okay and I'm never wanting for work. But it's probably safe to say that having a website would clarify and streamline my freelance career in a way that would push it in new directions and open me up to a far more diverse range of clients.
Either way, making yourself known within the right communities on the web seems to be a necessity, because that's obviously where clients are looking to find us.
What do you busy yourself with when you're not designing?
I read as much as I can - it's become one of my greatest and most sought-after luxuries. I occasionally find time to write, too, but that's becoming harder and harder to pull off these days. Beyond those things, I just try and spend as much time with my family as I can. The last thing I want to do when I'm not working is to try and find other ways to work.
When you start designing a logo, what is most important to consider in the planning/creative process?
I'm still not sure I have much of a process that's relatable in any practical sense. And I'm not certain that how I design is a result of having such a busy schedule or just an impatient mind, but for the most part I tend to jump in at the deep end and just start designing, allowing my mind to figure it out as I go along. I guess the most important thing for me is knowing how the logo should feel.
More often than not, at the start of a project, I can picture what the logo should feel like in a nondescript, amorphous kind of way, and then I work toward shaping it into something real. If I'm not sure how a logo should feel, then I'm missing some information, or I haven't properly absorbed the details of the project yet.
I love that Simon shows a bit of his process through the progression of various logo iterations in his portfolio:
What's you're favorite project or brand you've worked on thus far and why?
I think you nailed it earlier by calling out the Gold Top project. There are other logos I've designed that I have more love for in and of themselves, but the Gold Top project marks one of the very few times I've seen a project through to fruition without at any point having to sacrifice my original vision.
Most designers will tell you that it's next to impossible to see a project through to completion without some decision-maker sabotaging some essential creative element of your brand - it's just something you get used to as a creative in this industry. So this project was exceptional in that case.
What's the most important thing you've learned through your creative career?
I've learned (and am still learning) to occupy the niche I'm in and be happy there and to not try and be every kind of designer to everyone. I've also learned to be active and generous with my time, but to not make too much noise or try and become too big of a personality - those things really keep me sane and relaxed within the design community.
Thanks, Simon, for speaking with us and sharing your insights and portfolio!
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