What I often try to look into are sources of inspiration that are slightly out of the spotlight or the norm. Which helps me have a more comprehensive set of influences to draw from and hopefully helps me create more unique pieces of work.
The following post is going to discuss how I looked at graffiti for inspiration.
The first typographer that ever made me want to get into this style of artwork was Joel Birch. When I first saw his pieces, I was blown away by his work. I felt like I had no idea how expressive and eclectic something like lettering could be.
Trying to widen my inspiration sources I was studying his work trying to narrow down what his influences would be to gain some more on my own. When looking carefully, I realised there was a massive graffiti influence in his work. I feel like his work has overall evolved and come into his own, but with a lot of the effects and embellishments, you can see his strong graffiti influences lingering around.
While strolling around on Instagram, there were some pages I found that seemed to have a focus on lettering within the graffiti space:
• Graffiti lettering handstyle
• Graffiti & street art
• Graffiti sketches
• Graffiti sketchbook
Initially, when looking at graffiti, there were a few reservations I had, mostly due to my narrow-mindedness. The first one was the illegibility. As someone coming into lettering with a graphic design background, it always bothered me how ineligible graffiti can be. There are varying degrees of this, and this is a generalisation.
The lesson I gained is just how expressive and creative graffiti is. With lettering at times, I feel the restrictions to obeying typographic laws can be very restrictive. You need to make sure the spacing is perfect. You need to make sure the letterforms are clear and consistent. You need to make sure the technical details with the ascender and descender heights are consistent. Sure, we can all agree that the functional elements in lettering help create great pieces. But the further we go down the rabbit hole of the rules, the more we start to overthink things. We lose the ability to trust our intuition and produce great work.
It’s taken me so long to feel comfortable getting creative in a lettering space because of the rules. It’s only been recently about six years in of creating lettering pieces that I’m confident in sketching and creating loose letterforms. The most significant lesson I’ve learnt from lettering is to loosen up and be free.
A lot of the decorative elements in graffiti comes from throwing caution to the wind. Who cares about legibility, being clear-cut and clean. Express yourself and explore possibilities and the results. As I mentioned with my graphic design background, my process of learning about typography fundamentals eventually became my most significant limitation. This expansive and freeing mindset of loosing up was so lost on me, that I felt my work was void of making an emotional impact on people. I was clinging to the rules so much that I thought my artwork was so stale and dull because I was trying to be too safe.
Recently I worked on a piece where I wasn't so focused on the result and just went for it and saw what happened. And it was the most liberating feeling I’ve had in a long time creating a piece. I didn’t let my overthinking about the rules get in the way and just let the process unfold in a very unpredictable way.
Whether or not you visually enjoy looking at graffiti, I feel that there’s so much to learn regarding the spirit of just being free with letterforms and seeing where things go and not clinging onto the rules so much.
One of my favourite quotes from the Creative Pep talk podcast is that creativity is a novelty first. So if we continually focus on the sedate elements, this takes away from the fun and engaging features; which is the aspect of creativity that moves people.
The most significant thing I’d want people to take away from reading this is the mindset to be expansive. To take risks, especially in a lettering context. There are too many formal rules that shape all of our work to look and be the same. Why does lettering have to be this way? If we cling to the provisions of lettering, then we will always live in the shadows of people who can use fonts because what we’re offering isn’t genuinely unique.
Don’t be afraid to break and bend the rules to make an emotional impact. Clean and stale doesn’t always win the race.