Jessica Hische is a world renowned lettering artist and in the eyes of many a creative genius too. Her work has delighted viewers and captured the hearts of artists, designers, her family, friends and a great deal of others over the years. You might find Jessica’s lettering work on book covers, used in film and television for titles, used in marketing campaigns and used for different elements of branding. Artists have credited Jessica alone for providing the inspiration they needed to get started within the field of hand lettering, and pursue careers in this area.
The term ‘side projects’ gets passed around in the lettering community, and not everyone understands the importance of a side project. Jessica is an advocate of side projects and has gained a great deal of attention and work from them. ‘Daily Drop Cap’ and ‘Should I Work for Free?’ are just a couple of side projects that she has worked on, and that have provided just as much inspiration as her client work has. To add to this Jessica has also written a fantastic book titled ‘In Progress’, which teaches readers how to letter. She has also created an in-depth class available through Skillshare. The class like the book, focuses on teaching lettering but with an emphasis on designing drop caps, something through her side projects that Jessica has proved she is highly skilled at doing. It doesn’t really need to be stated as it goes without saying, with all that she has achieved, created and all those that she has inspired, Jessica Hische is a ‘Lettering Legend’.
If you’re already familiar with Jessica you may know that her strong passion for art has always been present, ever since she was small. You may also be aware of the fact that she never went to a prestigious art school. To reach the distinguished point she is at now Jessica has worked hard, practiced a lot, embraced opportunity and brought a great amount of enthusiasm along for the ride.
Jessica has had some experiences that not all aspiring lettering artists may encounter. As you read on though you’ll discover how much she thinks certain experiences can impact the path of a lettering artist. Jessica also discusses the necessity to learn calligraphy in order to draw letters, provides insight into the process that she used to design the beautiful lettering for Wes Anderson’s film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, and shares more.
If you’d like a recap on what a ‘Lettering Legend’ is and how to qualify, or if you’re not sure what a legend is you can read more in the ‘Lettering Legends’ introduction. Visit ‘Resources’ to view past interviews.
Facebook’s design team contact you and ask if you can update their globally recognisable ‘f’ logo. It’s a well known fact you are a master of caps, what would you do with the project and why?
“Honestly, I love projects like that—taking an existing mark and refining it. They’ve actually made some refinements to it over time which really improved it from the original. If they approached me, first and foremost I would ask them why they want to update it—did they notice it doesn’t work for them in certain formats? Does it become unreadable at certain sizes? Do they just feel like it’s a little too vanilla? Then I would address whatever problem made them think to change it in the first place. If they were having issues using it at certain sizes, I would work with the weight of the letter and the whitespace surrounding it. If they just didn’t like the style I would explore different ways to draw the f, keeping a lot of the original DNA so that it remains recognisable.”
Many lettering artists believe learning calligraphy is an integral step towards drawing letters well. In the past you have described yourself as not being a calligrapher, despite this you’re incredibly skilled at drawing letters. Do you think being competent at calligraphy does make a significant difference in ability to draw letters, or is this subjective?
“I think understanding calligraphy (and how calligraphic tools work) is very important in understanding letterform structure, especially within certain typographic styles. You don’t have to be a skilled calligrapher to do this (meaning, you don’t need to be so skilled at using a pen / brush that people would professionally hire you to perfectly address hundreds of their wedding envelopes). There’s a difference between drawing calligraphically (in which you respect the rules of calligraphy and how a pen would react when lettering) and writing calligraphy.”
Before venturing out and working on your own you worked as a senior designer for Louise Fili. For those that are really serious about lettering would you recommend that they seek out similar experiences, or is it still possible to reach your high levels of success without having these kinds of opportunities?
“I don’t think that you need an employer like Louise, but I do think that having a mentor to help guide your education within specific design disciplines can be incredibly helpful. Working for Louise was like having an apprenticeship. She has a very specialized skill set—not one that every designer has, even other amazing designers. You can learn from specialists through reading their books, taking workshops, studying their work, but it’s definitely hard to beat the one on one mentorship. It’s just a faster route to improving your skills (assuming your mentor is a good teacher and you are a receptive student), but not the only route.”
When working on the titles for Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom, how much of your overall process consisted of hand lettering and how much of your process was spent digitising? Is this typical for most of your type projects?
“I still consider my digital work “hand lettering” because I’m drawing the letters from scratch. Sometimes I’m digitizing sketches by tracing them with vector points, but sometimes I’m working from scratch in illustrator or a font program. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, almost the entire process took place digitally (which is unusual for me—I usually start with pencil sketches no matter what). But once we had the style nailed down, it was just a matter of cranking out the work quickly, so he would have time to give feedback and I would have time to refine and ultimately build it into a typeface.”
Throughout your work you use really beautiful and creative flourishes along with playful ligatures, are there any tips you can share for those who are getting started with using flourishes and ligatures?
“Try to prevent flourishes from overpowering your lettering (so you can still actually read it), and try to only add ligatures where there could be natural connections between letters. Forced unnatural ligatures can really affect legibility.”
Is it best to be comfortable at lots of different styles of lettering or develop your own style?
“I think it’s really important to experiment and work in different styles, but if you want to be a freelance artist having a more defined style does help with getting work (if you don’t have a style, it can be difficult for people to recommend you for jobs or to think of you as the first person for a specific kind of work). I tend to think that I work in thousands of styles, and the medium I work within unites my work. I mean, one day I could be drawing a pretty script and the next I could be drawing a sign painted collegiate looking sans-serif. They couldn’t be more different, but because I generally always work in the same medium (and have a definite preference for certain color palettes) the work feels similar.”
What advice or tips would you give those first starting out at lettering?
“Just practice as much as you can. Don’t worry if the work that you’re doing is terrible—remember, it’s a new trend to share everything we ever do. You can make work just for you until you feel comfortable showing that work to the world. Also, learn the how and why of letterform construction, rather than thinking about what the final result is going to look like. Sometimes the limits of the project will narrow down the style for you (if it has to be two color, if it is a very wide or very tall layout, etc).”
More from Jessica Hische
This interview covers a small portion of what there is to know from and learn about Jessica. If you’d like to find out more which I highly recommend you do, Jessica’s website jessicahische.is contains a wealth of information and resources. Jessica can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.
Header photograph of Jessica Hische with thanks and belonging to John Madere.