Stanley Donwood is an artist with an array of different creative skills. He is very well known for producing all of the album artwork used by the band Radiohead. He’s had a few books published, including a graphic novel which he made in a month to win a five pound bet. Stanley has used both hand lettering and digital lettering in a lot of his work over the years, he is uniquely talented and most deserving of the title ‘Lettering Legend’.
One of the main reasons I wanted to feature Stanley is because he has taken lettering and used it within a different realm to what we’re used to seeing. Most of the work we see within the hand lettering world contains just letters alone on a page, with the main focus being the lettering, or there may be a small illustration to support the lettering. Whereas within a lot of the work Stanley has made, letters and lettering only make up a part of the final composition not all of it. He incorporates other techniques and uses alternative tools and materials to create an overall image. So I invite you to think about how you can approach your own lettering work differently, and how you can challenge yourself to use new options that you might not have previously explored.
Stanley discusses how to craft a lettering piece containing a lot of words, how he adapts to tools and more in the interview below.
A ‘Lettering Legend’ is someone who has significantly inspired others with their work and projects. For more information have a read of ‘Lettering Legends’ and to read more interviews have a look at ‘Resources’.
Update: Lettering Legends are now recognised through the Typefolk Awards platform. Visit Typefolk.com to participate in public community votes, apply to join the Typefolk judges panel and enter work to try and earn the title of Lettering Legend!
You can leave one significant message for future generations that will withstand the test of time, how would you letter and present it, and what would the message be?
“Somewhere in northern Scandinavia they built a deep level repository for extremely dangerous radioactive waste. They considered for some time what message of warning to leave to guard against its being disturbed, bearing in mind that the waste would be deadly for millennia. In the end they decided that any message or sign of any kind would only intrigue future generations, who might unwittingly open this terrible Pandora’s box. So nothing was left. That is what I would wish to leave. Nothing.”
Often with lettering the recommendation is not to use more than ten – twelve words in a piece, as it can become difficult to create a good composition. In your Pacific Coast and Santa Monica pieces you incorporated a remarkable amount of lettering, and produced fantastic pieces of art. What were the steps involved in planning and creating pieces containing so much lettering?
“I treated the canvas as real estate (as they call it in the USA) and just kept building until there was no space left. Like a city. It was not designed at all. My rule was that colours can’t be repeated next to each other. Each was based on the map of a city that had some connection with the war against terror.”
With many pieces of your artwork you could just use imagery to tell a story or portray a message to the viewer. Instead on occasion you incorporate lettering too, what do you find are the benefits of incorporating lettering into your work?
“I’ve always liked to combine words and pictures, probably because I’m not especially good at either. I used to really like work that combined the two, like adverts or comic books or packaging or magazines. And artists like Victor Burgin, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger and so on. But now I’m quite old I’m beginning to like art without words.”
You’re a man of many tools, what different tools and equipment have you used to create lettering within your projects, and what are your favourites to use?
“I don’t know. Once something starts to look kind of ok I don’t really care what it is I’m using. At the moment I’m using scalpels to make lettering, very crudely, as if I was in a hurry or was worried about getting caught.”
Do you think there are specific fine art skills that can be applied to creating lettering?
“Not really. The best thing is practice and perhaps a childhood without much money but lots of paper and pencils.”
Is it best to be comfortable at lots of different styles of lettering or develop your own style?
“I really don’t know. I suppose once you get to be ok at doing one style you can always have that up your sleeve. So maybe it’s a good idea to keep trying new things, as even if you f**k up you’ve still got the old stuff to fall back on. And if you’re lucky the new stuff will be better.”
What advice or tips would you give those first starting out at lettering?
“Doodling is the best thing.”