Lettering Process: Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut
Lettering has been one of my favorite parts of illustration since I started making posters for punk shows 15 years ago. At the time I would cram as many hand-drawn ‘fonts’ on a page as I could, or smear the page with a single aggressive scrawl. But I also love true typography, and while I don’t attempt it myself I will sometimes base drawn lettering on set type, to give it a uniformity and structre.
First I drew a sketch of what I had in mind. Next I found a typeface similar to it from which I could work. I think it’s important with lettering to decide if it’s to look hand-drawn or not, as lettering which somehow wavers between font and handstyle typically lacks the best of either form. I chose Hawthorn by Mike Daines.
I layed the letters out in Hawthorn, only concerning myself with the spacing and relative sizes.
From there I made my adjustments to the letters in Photoshop. My Photoshop technique is fairly primitive and I simply used the Brush to adjust the shapes, occasionally the Free Transform tool to stretch or squash a portion of a character.
I removed the serifs almost entirely and gave it a little more weight overall. I also rebuilt the O altogether, finding the original too tall and square-shouldered. I extended the shafts of the Ts, Rs and the H and sharpened them to give them a cutting, slasher-esque quality. Finally I used a hand-drawn S to mimic the black swash through the poster, and to break up the formality of the font. These S forms didn’t play nicely with the heights of the other letters, so I dropped them down just a touch and joined them to the H and T. I like the way this ties the two lines together into a more solid block, which better allows the lettering to act as an anchor at the center of the whole design.
After re-shaping the letters in Photoshop, trying to keep them as clean and straight as possible, I use Adobe Illustrator to make them into vector files (which don’t pixelate and can be almost infinitely enlarged or reduced). In this too, my approach is elementary at best – I simply use the Live Trace button to create the vectors. If the resulting shapes have inconsistencies, I will clean those up in Photoshop and trace them one more time in Illustrator. After that a white fill and red stroke, and they’re done (see above).