Art School


Lettering Artistry with Jessica Hische

You’ve probably seen Jessica Hische’s work in a lot of places. She has designed everything from chocolate lettering to Wes Anderson movie title sequences. In this installment of Art School, San Francisco artist and author Jessica Hische takes us into her design studio with a demo on custom lettering from pencil sketch to vector paths.

AIRED: March 10, 2017 | 0:04:56

- So, lettering is a really weird profession.

I get paid to draw words and letters

and phrases all day.

There's calligraphers who write letters.

There's letterers who draw letters,

and then there's type designers who draw letters

but as a part of a system that all kind of works together,

and that's where you get your fonts from.

So, lettering's kind of like...

I'm not the engineer or architect that builds the skyscraper

that can then be replicated in Hong Kong,

which would be the type designer.

I'm more like your weird uncle who builds you

like a really special dollhouse

and, then, will never do it again.

I'm Jessica Hische and I'm a lettering artist

and author living in San Francisco.

(light eraser)

(light rhythmic music)

Well, what happened for Moonrise Kingdom was

that I drew everyone's name in the beginning of the film,

and then I made typeface to use for the end credits.

It's very rare that I get to collaborate, directly,

with another artist on a project, like that.

It was really awesome and special

to feel like it was this very artistic collaboration

and didn't feel like a cut-and-dry client project.

(upbeat percussion music)

I got started in lettering...

Well, if I had to roll it all the way back,

it would probably be me drawing all

of the popular kid's names on their Trapper Keeper.

I went to art school to just study drawing and painting,

and when I was in college, I discovered graphic design

which I was completely obsessed with.

Being able to solve problems and work on the behalf

of clients just totally blew open my world

in terms of being able to have an excuse

to create every day.

So, when I'm brainstorming,

what I first do is I do research.

When it comes to doing anything for a book,

it means reading the book.

When I'm doing editorial illustration,

it means reading the article.

I good place to start is by redoing the design

of something you already love.

Like, maybe, there's some fantasy book

that you grew up loving,

but you always hated the cover.

(upbeat instrumental music)

I get much more out of making these, sort of,

like verbal brainstorming lists.

When it comes to harmony, the first words

that came to mind were smooth, grace,

musical, nature, natural, flowing.

But the thing that's great is that

because I'm not making pretty art, at that stage,

I don't judge myself for whatever I'm gonna write down.

The only thing I worry about is

that someone is gonna discover my notebooks, later,

and think I was like a total maniac.

Everything that I do starts off as a sketch,

whether that sketch is done in a sketchbook

or on an iPad or on a piece of loose-leaf paper

or on a napkin at a bar.

Like, it just depends on how I feel that day,

and how prepared I am with my materials.

And then, once I kind of have my layout figured out,

then I'll use a more intense pencil.

So when people look through my sketchbooks,

they think, like, "Wow, you do it perfect

"the first time, every time."

When really there's like layers and layers and layers

or erased, very light sketches, underneath of what you see,


First, what I'll do is I'll lay down my baseline,

which is what the letters sit on top of,

and, next, I'll figure out what I want my x-height to be.

So, the x-height is the height of the lower case letters.

So, if I made my x-height really tall,

and I wanted to fit my words within this space,

it would mean that my letters would be really, really skinny

and if I made my x-height really short

and I wanted to fit the word within this space,

it would mean that my letters would be really wide.

So, I'm gonna do something kind of in between.

And, what I'll first do is sort of set down

a very light drawing.

So, I think one of the things

that you should remind yourself when you're starting out,

in lettering, is that being naive can be really amazing

because you do weird things

that people with experience do not know how to do anymore.

So, don't think about your lack of experience

as being a disadvantage, think about it

as being an advantage because you can make stranger art

that can be super cool, and random,

versus that has a ton of experience,

they have a really hard time breaking the rules.

I'll go in and add my thicks and thins.

I know that anyplace where a pen

would have made a downstroke, instead of an upstroke,

is likely where that thickness is gonna be.

I'm gonna scan my art

so that I can put it on my computer.

Now, I have a proper scanner,

but I haven't used it in, like, five years

because of amazing apps.

I have a perfect scan.

The biggest advice I can give you is don't let

the intimidation of actually starting down the path

to do anything be what stops you,

because it's hard for everybody.

It's hard for people with all the confidence

and talent in the world to start projects.

I'm a big, like eraser, dust everywhere person.

Just, like, that's it, cut! (laughs)


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