The Letterettes are an all female group of lettering artists based in Melbourne, Australia. The group of four is made up of Eliza Svikulis, Kate Pullen, Wanissa Somsuphangsri and Carla Hackett. The Letterettes ladies formed the group because of a combined passion for creating, lettering and illustrating. Individually they all have skills and experience in graphic design and illustration and when combined in a group those skills are even more amplified, the power of teamwork can be added into the mix too.
The group work side by side applying their individual skills in order to complete fun and varied projects. They use a range of tools, such as brush pens, brushes, tools for calligraphy, tools for illustrative lettering and more. Some of the projects the ladies have worked on recently have been aimed at supporting women, including work for a non-profit organisation to help prevent domestic violence against women, and they created work for a bar to promote National Women’s Equality day. They have also created lettering work for Disney Australia too. A little while ago The Letterettes joined Jacky Winter, a renowned agency for artists. The group host workshops and are dedicated to spreading their love of lettering. They inspire others in unique ways when combined but also on their own through other creative work that they do. Each of the four could not be thought of as anything but a ‘Lettering Legend’ and combined they are one really big legend.
In the following interview, you can learn about working collaboratively with someone, lettering in relation to gender, the advantages of working in a group and more. This interview is a little different to previous ‘Lettering Legend’ interviews, some of the questions the ladies have answered as a group and some questions they have answered individually.
You’re each granted a super power to help aid your lettering, what power would you choose and how would it help you with your lettering?
Eliza: “Ambidexterity. Equal control with both hands at the same time. How impressive would it be to paint lettering with one hand, while simultaneously painting a drop shadow with the other!”
Kate: “Time travel. How cool would that be?! To be able to catch my breath, and practice for hours without a deadline hovering over me would be magical. Although, I can already see me abusing this power. As Spiderman has taught me, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ and I just don’t know if I’m ready for that.”
Wanissa: “The ability to clone things! I would clone myself so that I can be at two jobs at the same time. I’d even clone my lettering tools and live with endless art supplies.”
Carla: “I would love to be ambidextrous. Especially when I am teaching a workshop, I can whip my pen into my other hand and demonstrate. Or even better, write with both hands at the same time!”
How did the Letterettes end up forming? Do you have any advice for those looking to meet other local lettering artists, or advice for those looking to collaborate on projects?
“Our formation happened really organically. We had each been on the live lettering gift tag / custom card circuit individually for a while, and had found we’d often turn up to the same gigs to sit along side each other anyway, having not known that the client had hired more than one letterer. It was during one of these long Christmas card gigs with all four of us present that it occurred to us we could join up officially, and manage the ever-growing live lettering demand as a team. Eliza suggested it to Carla, and hadn’t even finished her sentence before she’d excitedly exclaimed, “Yes, I’ll be in a band with you!”. Kate and Wanissa were just as keen, and before we’d all finished our shift we were already brainstorming girl group names, matching costume ideas (because let’s be honest, that’s a big driving force for us) and rates / business opportunities.
Rather than competing with each other, we decided that it’s wiser for us to come together, support each other and work as a collective.”
Years ago there were only master penmen. Being an all female group, have you noticed any trends within the modern lettering world when it comes to gender and lettering?
“We’ve heard stories of female Showcard and Ticket Writers in the 60’s and 70’s and the gender inequality they faced in the workplace. Ticket Writers’ skills were often seen as inferior to the male Signpainter skills. We’re lucky there is more equality between male and female skills in the industry these days, and we’re going to keep putting our skills out there by running workshops and choosing to work on meaningful projects that promote women’s equality. If we can inspire and empower other women to start their own lettering business, then we can all benefit in the awareness of the unique skill of lettering and calligraphy.”
What do you think the main advantages are when working in a group rather than individually?
Eliza: “Having your go-to girls to sub in / handball enquiries to, or jump on board a job with you is a huge advantage when managing the ever growing demand for lettering. More brains for brainstorming, problem-solving, errand running, and of course more hands for lettering.
Equally, having the emotional support of our fellow ‘ettes makes both our group and individual endeavours less daunting. Working so closely with other artists allows us to relate our shared experiences – with clients, pricing, materials, and everything else that comes with #freelancelyf.”
Kate: “Being able to brainstorm, and throw ideas out into a group instead of just at your dog, is incredibly rewarding. Also being able to ask for feedback on the go. Invaluable. I didn’t realise how much I’d taken this for granted at Uni!”
Wanissa: “Apart from being able to share collective struggles and deadlines, it really is as simple as having more fun when we work as a group. Nothing makes me more energised than putting on our matching uniforms and lettering away. We send each other funny cat GIFs and also know when to lend each other a hand.”
Carla: “Running your own business can be pretty isolating at times, but since working closely with the ‘ettes I have learnt so much! Not only are they there for feedback on a design, but if you are having a sh**y day you can let them know and they can take up the slack. We have a lot of fun too. Especially when you are out on a job, just having someone there to bounce off and share the workload is amazing.”
When you’re working on a group piece of lettering do you each have your own section to focus on, or do you just go with the flow? Is there more planning involved than when working solo?
“Until recently, most of our projects so far had seen us working on our own piece of lettering before bringing it together or working in a live situation next to each other. We just wrapped a project that was a true collaboration of our lettering. It did take a lot more planning and organising to come together, but we were really happy with the result. All of our lettering was mashed into a pattern with an Eliza script sitting next to a Carla casual and so on. We hope to do more of this kind of work in the future as it’s pretty amazing what we can produce with four of our individual styles coming together!”
Is it best to be comfortable at lots of different styles of lettering or develop your own style?
Eliza: “It’s helpful to first get comfortable with broader styles and understand how each of those work – scripts, casual, basic sans serif, serifs. And then techniques like shadows, 3D effects, swashes and embellishments. But once you have a basic understanding I think it’s definitely important to develop your own style, which happens organically with experimentation and experience. The ‘kinks’ and ‘flicks’ that go into a letter are often what gives a piece of lettering that human element that makes it so attractive, and what will show a keen eye the difference between your signature letterforms, and the next person’s. So it’s important to reference a broad range of examples when learning those basic letter shapes, and then trust that the more you draw (without reference) the more those individual nuances will come through.”
Kate: “Everyone has their own take on this, but I think it’s a little of Column A, a little of Column B. I do believe that, unlike graphic design where it’s critical to be versatile, lettering does lend itself to having more of a distinct style. You want to be recognisable, but also not be so rigid that you can’t adapt, because bills.”
Wanissa: “In the early stages, it’s definitely helpful to experiment with different styles. I think that one’s personal style should be something that gets developed naturally through time and practice, rather than it being a conscious decision. The ideal situation to be in is to have your own style but be flexible enough that you’re not limiting yourself from jobs either, so a good balance of both, I’d say!”
Carla: “I think when starting out lettering, it’s very helpful to study references of different styles and get an understanding of the basics of letterform shapes, spacing and contrast. Then I think you can start to experiment with finding your own style. This is something that takes a long time to develop and should not be rushed. Being versatile is important in answering a brief, but having a recognisable style can certainly help to raise your profile.”
What advice or tips would you give those first starting out at lettering?
Eliza: “In addition to what I’ve said above, I’d just remind ‘newbies’ that it’s not a race (something I often have to remind myself of). We’re all works-in-progress, and even those of us who have made a career of lettering are constantly aspiring to improve and broaden our skill set. Building up the muscle memory that allows you to make seemingly effortless brush strokes or letterforms only comes with creating those shapes over and over again. Often it can feel like you’re not improving day-to-day, but hold onto those first attempt sketches and if you’re willing to stick it out, you’ll be blown away with your progress. And once you can wield that brush marker / pencil / paint brush with ease… the satisfaction is well worth the hard work!”
Kate: “Practice. It’s such a boring bit of advice, and sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true! Draw when you can (while enjoying a balanced lifestyle, if this is what you need) and slowly it’ll come.”
Wanissa: “It’s really easy to get caught up in the idea of perfection, so when you’re starting out at lettering, don’t feel like you have to ace everything perfectly. Imperfection and lettering go hand in hand. It’s more important to enjoy yourself in the process, and the results will come. The more you can practice, the better you’ll get!”
Carla: “I keep in mind something my lettering mentor told me. Practice, patience and perseverance.”
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