TDK caught up with the talented Typographer and Hand Letterer Jessica Matthews. Inspired some incredible females in the field she talks about children’s books, teaching workshops and generally getting involved in it all. And one of our favourite pieces of advice: “Your degree and portfolio might earn you an interview. Your attitude will earn you a career”. So, so true!
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? I’ve always loved magazines, books and photography and even as a young kid used to create my own illustrated books and play around with Photoshop. I didn’t know it was a career though, so I took my father’s advice and pursued journalism throughout high school, not even bothering to take art classes. It wasn’t until I took a journalism course in Year 9 that I realised I cared more about laying out my articles to make them look like real newspapers and magazines than I cared about the actual article! I spoke with my teacher and he recommended I investigate this thing called “graphic design”. I quickly re-evaluated my university options, changed my subjects to actually include an art class, and from there I never looked back.
What’s your take on internships? I believe there is so much to learn from internships and getting out into the “real world” that just can’t be learnt from inside the safe haven that is University or TAFE. Invaluable life skills like getting up every day and working 9-5, communicating with colleagues and clients, meeting tight deadlines and learning to deal with pressure and expectations are experiences you will only get from actually putting yourself out there in your chosen industry. Plus, you’re building awesome industry contacts and you’ll have some awesome achievements to list on your resume when you graduate. I can honestly say the work experience and internships I completed when I was studying were vital in helping me land a design job straight out of University!
How did you develop your style as a typographer and what tips would you have for others? One of the great things about typography and lettering is everyone has their own unique style just from their handwriting, and I think that helped me find my own style. I’ve always had quite curly cursive writing, and never had any luck with masculine-style writing – even when I wanted to try to change my own handwriting as a kid! When I was just starting out and learning hand lettering nearly two years ago my initial sketches were influenced by other typographers like Louise Fili, Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt, Lauren Hom and Gemma O’Brien as I learnt how to draw the structure of each letter, but now my work is influenced by books, packaging, textures and, oddly enough, street signs and numbers. My tip for others is to get off sites like Pinterest after you’ve learnt the basics. Websites like Pinterest and Behance can be great as a quick source of inspiration and to learn the basics (which is how I taught myself lettering), but if you’re still sitting there after a while you’ll just end up copying someone else’s style. You need to keep practising your drawing and critiquing your own work to figure out what works best for you. That is how you develop your own style.
Are you involved in any mentoring, teaching or workshops? How do they shape your practice? I’m actually involved in loads of things like this and I absolutely love it! I’ve got a passion project called Lessons of a Young Designer where I post the most important lessons I’ve learnt along my journey. I also teach workshops at Brick+Mortar Creative in Adelaide. I’ve got three different workshops on at the moment (The Art of Brush Pen Lettering, Brush + Ink Lettering, and Learn Chalk Lettering) which always sell out quickly, and I’m adding another to the mix in the next month or so. Teaching workshops wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing. I was approached by the lovely Elizabeth at B+M, but it’s something I absolutely love! It helps me really appreciate my journey and I love being able to help other people learn something new. I’m also running the Adelaide chapter of Ladies, Wine & Design which was originally started by Jessica Walsh (of Sagmeister & Walsh in NYC). It’s a monthly conversation series where a small group of six ladies get together over a glass of wine and share advice and stories, and generally just network and enjoy each others company. I love being a part of things like this (just like #TDKTuesdays) because being around like-minded creative people always inspires and motivates me.
What have been your highlights since you started out? I’ve been so lucky to have quite a bit of success since I started working as a designer and letterer. I’m super grateful for every opportunity. One of my biggest highlights was working on a collaborative children’s book series where my hand lettering work was published in all six books. They’re now available in stores. This work also won a Merit Award in the 3×3 Illustration Annual No.12 (Picture Book Show), which was ridiculously exciting. Some other awesome highlights have been creating hand lettering for Mental Floss magazine in USA, creating branding (and seeing it in real-life) for cafe’s and pubs around town such as Light Bulb Cafe, The Woodcroft Hotel and The Holdy, working with Mimco, and being shortlisted for a bunch of awards such as B&T’s 30 Under 30 awards two years in a row. My big piece of advice for young students and grads out there: grab every realistic opportunity with two hands and enter your work in competitions, especially while you’re a student and it’s cheaper. By realistic I mean don’t enter things that aren’t aligned with your brand and vision, i.e. don’t waste time entering competitions you don’t believe in or aren’t skilled in, otherwise you’re likely to get disappointed and disheartened, which doesn’t help at all. Do a bunch of freelance work, even if some of it is pro-bono for a good cause. Tell all your friends and family to spread the word about you. Basically just get yourself out there as much as you can.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? I wrote this article a while back which summarises the ten biggest lessons I’ve learnt, but I’ll give you my top five (in no particular order): 1.Your degree and portfolio might earn you an interview. Your attitude will earn you a career. I really cannot stress this point enough. I have met many talented people who had poor attitudes and terrible work ethics, and in the end, their awesome design skills didn’t matter. Nobody wants to work with a “Negative Nancy” who always comes in late, leaves early and is completely unreliable. People want to work with someone they can wholeheartedly trust to do the job. Be that guy instead. 2.A portfolio should be all killer, no filler. A portfolio filled with five mind-blowing projects will speak volumes of you as a creative. A portfolio filled with five amazing projects and five mediocre projects simply does not have the same impact. The interviewing and recruitment process is really tough, and often, the decision will come down to one tiny detail — such as a blurry image, a typo, or the whether the Creative Director could or couldn’t fault your work. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to have a single negative thought about your portfolio, it is your representation as a designer; make it count. 3.It is guaranteed that you will make mistakes. It is imperative that you learn from them. Making mistakes is perfectly fine. Not learning from each mistake is simply not okay. When you do make mistakes, avoid the terrible habit of beating yourself up about them. Take a moment to reflect on what went wrong, discuss and realise what you could have done differently, and make that change in the future. Don’t stress on it too much, you’ve got to keep moving forward. 4.Whilst studying, do as much work experience as possible. You will have the opportunity to make key contacts and references in the industry and you will have some fantastic experience on your resume, both of which will do wonders for the beginning of your career and give you a much needed head start when you are trying to squeeze your foot into the door as a beginner. Be careful with who you intern for though, as unfortunately it can be common practice to exploit naive students under the guise of “fantastic exposure” or “amazing experience”. Ensure you are constantly learning and growing where you intern, and the professional relationship is one which doesn’t take advantage of you. 5.Breathe deeply, and keep working hard. As a beginner there will be moments of self-doubt. There will probably be moments when you just don’t know whether you have got what it takes. Believe me, every one goes through this. Just breathe deeply, keep working hard and trust that you will progress through it. You have to learn to be your own cheerleader sometimes.