Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn is an incredibly versatile lettering artist and has experience within a number of different styles, including chalk lettering. She has worked with some very respected clients including Wall Street Journal, Scholastic, Harper Collins and Fortune Magazine. Shauna is also a co-author of one of my all time favourite books ‘Creative Lettering & Beyond’.
Shauna works full time as a freelance lettering artist and illustrator, and despite being busy with regular client work still finds time to inspire others. Her social media accounts are always buzzing with thoughtful and inspiring content, and she even finds time to participate in the Hand Lettering HQ Facebook group that I manage. Shauna is very much a part of the lettering community, her work is fun and creative, and she really is a ‘Lettering Legend’ for all that she has done.
Shauna talks about the benefits of chalk lettering, she gives advice on transitioning from a job to full time freelancing, shares tips on creating a portfolio and more in the interview below.
If you’re unsure of what a ‘Lettering Legend’ is or how to qualify, you can read more about it in the introduction article that I previously wrote. If you’d like to read more ‘Lettering Legend’ interviews similar to Shauna’s then ‘Resources’ is the page you should visit!
An old fashioned circus mysteriously turns up in town and they give you the choice of lettering any circus attraction. Which old fashioned attraction would you choose, and what type of tools and equipment would you use to letter it?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. I would love to letter all the snack booths! There’s just something so fun about adapting the lettering to what you’re creating the lettering for. Sweets would be different from popcorn would be different from Hot Dogs. I would more than likely attempt to break out some One Shot and brushes for it, though I’ve never worked with it before, it seems like the proper tool.
I would probably look at creating some chalkboard signs too, and have them switch out daily popcorn flavors or something.
You are one of the authors of the helpful book ‘Creative Lettering & Beyond’, your part of the book focusing on chalk lettering. Are there any major benefits to chalk lettering over other styles such as brush lettering or calligraphy?
I think the biggest benefit is that it’s temporary. Chalk won’t last forever unless it’s digital (my main medium when it comes to chalk work because it’s easier to send to clients that way) or photographed. Other than that, it will fade away, brush away, and disappear into oblivion. With that knowledge in mind, it allows you to really push the boundaries and since you can always erase (something you can’t easily do with ink and nibs), you can make mistakes and not worry about it ruining your overall piece, because it can be immediately fixed.
It’s also a very universally available and affordable medium. You need chalk and chalk paint to make a board. After that, it’s incredibly cheap to continue doing the style and playing with that medium.
Much of your lettering is very decorative and ornate and every piece of work very unique. Where do you draw inspiration from for the decorative features you use, and how do you keep things so varied?
I pull inspiration from vintage resources, so a lot of French/Italian/German art deco, vintage matchbooks, postcards… the list goes on. I just love vintage lettering, and love pulling little nuances from them. I have a crazy large book collection of vintage resources and reference it all every time I get the chance. If I feel stuck, I’ll open a book I’ve not looked at in a while and that usually sparks some new ideas.
After some hard work and some great experience you were able to transition into full time freelance lettering and illustration work. What advice would you give those looking to transition, or those that have newly transitioned into full time freelance lettering work?
I actually didn’t really transition. I was fired from an agency job I moved for a few months after starting there. So it was either job hunt or jump into freelance full time. Obviously, I went with freelance. I did already have some experience freelancing outside of work for about 2 years at that point, but it really wasn’t much that I did, just a project here or there.
If you’re looking to transition, I would highly recommend you don’t dive in head first. I’ve seen many young designers think that freelance is this easily achievable thing. I’ve worked more than 40 hour workweeks since I began 4 years ago. So you definitely need to realize going in that yes, there’s more freedom to set your own schedule, but you are going to be working harder than you ever have in your life.
If you still want to make that transition, start saving money. Make sure you have at minimum six months of savings (rent, utilities, groceries, etc), plus some extra in case of emergencies. Start building your client list up early. You’ll have to do work outside of your day job, and it will be hard to do it consistently, but if you start ahead of time, eventually you will hit the point where you’ve got enough work coming in that you can quit your day job and make that transition finally.
Always make sure you have a few months of savings regardless of how long you’ve been freelancing because there will be slow months no matter what and the last thing you want is to be spending those slow months worrying about how you’re going to make rent. Instead, if you already have the money saved up, you can take that time to pursue passion projects until work comes in.
On your website you offer a portfolio review service. What are the advantages of having a strong portfolio and are there any obvious things that letterers should or shouldn’t do when putting together a portfolio?
I do, though I took it down temporarily whilst I was cleaning up my site a bit. A strong portfolio is going to get you the work you want to do. But the last thing you want to do it put ALL of your work on there. It’s good to show a variety, but if there’s a style you just do not like to do, do not put it on your site. Instead, put up the type of work that you WANT to do, and that will be the type of work you get hired for.
Is it best to be comfortable at lots of different styles of lettering or develop your own style?
At first, it’s great to explore and practice different styles to find what you like best. But over time as you do that, you will find your own style developing and you won’t need to reference other styles as often. You’ll start pulling more from your mental library and your work will begin to reflect that.
What advice or tips would you give those first starting out at lettering?
Practice, practice, practice. No one jumps in and is immediately good at lettering (at least that I am aware of). You develop your own style over time and over time your style improves so long as you continue to push yourself and don’t get complacent. The best way to learn is to look at vintage resources, sketch out styles you like to get a feel for how they lay out and how the letters are designed, and then try drawing the same letters without reference. That will quickly start to build your own style because you will be pulling from what you remember and your work won’t look like a copy, rather it will have been inspired by something and it will look like your own work.