Jen Mussari


CreativeSouth Thoughts

Jen Mussari

I. Introduce myself: (rethink this)

    A. Disclaimer about unsolicited advice. Introduce myself as someone who isn't going to try and tug on your heartstrings or empower you to live an inspired life.

Right off the bat, I'm going to tell you that I am not someone who is going to try and talk you into anything . I am going to tell you some things that I've been thinking about lately; some conclusions I've come to. When I was asked to take the stage in front of you all, and I checked out the amazing folks that would be joining me in addressing you, I felt like CreativeSouth would be such a fantastic gathering of creatives that might have some similar stories to myself. I really feel lile I'm amongst peers here, and That opens up the floor for some really interesting shop talk. Most of my talk will be based on larger, big picture concepts; some thoughts I've been thinking about the current state of hand lettering as an industry. So most of my talk, while of course I will only be speaking from my own perspective, won't necessarily be all about me. But in order for you to be able to apply value to my point of view, I feel like you have to know at least a little bit about me. I mean, I'm the type of person that doesn't take advice from just anyone, and so I am often suspicious of those that offer unsolicited advice, or rules to live by... I'm always like yeah, but who are you to tell me how to live?

        - Personal journey to lettering: Dad's album covers, car emblems, band logos, deviantart, then art school. 

My whole life I've had a magnetic impulse towards a certain style due to the immersion of my childhood in vintage car culture. I grew up in SouthEastern Pennsylvania going to car shows with my dad. He also had a collection of records that I was completely magnetized to; I would stare at the lettering on the Chicago records and recognize a similarity with the Cheers logo. I was the type of kid in middle school that would learn how to draw band logos and draw them on everyone's paper-bag covered textbooks. The difference between me and most other kids though, was that I never stopped drawing. When I found out that art school was a real place that I could go to, I just about packed up my things right there. The internet played a crucial role in my life; I started putting my work online when I was 13 (really, really bad work. It's on deviantart, you can find it, but please don't). The internet continues to play a massive role in my life and I have pbserved its effects as social meia trends change my industry and community.

        - Then professionally, as a freelance illustrator, how I came to be plucking illustration pieces out of my portfolio to specialize entirely in lettering. Timeline on my freelance business and successes. NOW I AM A SPECIALIST. I have always wanted to draw letters and now I'm lucky enough that it's a "thing" now.

    B. My work
        -Lettering vs Typography
            ***SLIDE: Correction Guy "*Lettering"***
        -Show work and describe the reasoning behind creating lettering by hand
            ***SLIDES: Slides from the Buzzfeed talk***
        -Clients! Who I've worked with and why...why did Lincoln want to take the long hard stupid way and hire a hand lettering artist? Because it suits their brand and they respect craft

    C. Ghostly Ferns
        - Who (introduce individuals)
        -What: What is it, even? How does it work?

    D. Life as a freelancer
        -Make Friends not Contacts
        -What it means for me to make a living as a lettering artist. The fact that I can make a living in one of the most expensive cities in the world with this very niche industry has to say something to the current status of the industry, where lettering just a decade ago was not in demand at all.

 SEGWAY: So things are good right now. What I do is cool, hip, and in demand. So much so, in fact, that hoardes of designers are picking up the pen to get into lettering. It's almost every weekend that I'll have a friend mention that they are taking the latest skillshare class or going to a brush lettering workshop. And I think that is super cool. I highly encourage all designers to design off of the computer, whether they are creating artwork, wireframes, icons, what have you. There's a really hot "newness" to lettering at the moment that marks a kind of odd renaissance for the craft. 
But I think we all know it's not new. 
SEGWAY: The oddness of what I do for a living is not lost on me. I would not be able to be the specilist that I am today if not for the history that has come before me. Lettering as we know it today is kind of an anomaly. Sometimes we think of it as a new industry or an industry that, once in the mysterious past, died out. The idea of reviving a "lost art" inflates some egos, for sure, but we should remember that Hand Lettering has literally been around since humans realized we could draw in order to communicate. Jumping past the cave-painting years, illuminated manuscripts, and the Gutenberg press changing communication forever, I wanted to show some Post-Modern design that I feel really impacted the state of Lettering today.

[Design studios had full-time lettering artists, many of them, on staff. Or designers at the time had a varied skill set that included hand lettering capabilities. Because this was literaly the only way to do things at the time. Photo lettering comes around to make lives a little easier, and then computers change the visual demands. Lettering suddenly looks very retro-not-in-a-good-way, and lettering artists are changing their focus, dissolving the industry back into a subcategory within graphic design as a whole.] 

II. Lettering as industry: HOW IT WAS
    A. Herb Lubalin's Lettering Artists
        -It wasn't so long ago that design studios would have one or more Lettering Artists on staff full time to supplement the design process with custom lettering. Many of the lettering pieces that Herb Lubalin is so famous for were actually done by his staff. Names like Peter Carnase and Tony DiSpigna.

    B. Vinyl killed the Sign Painter Star

It wasn't so long ago that a town's signs would be entirely painted by hand by the local sign painters. Major cities would have a variety of talented masters and schools to supply the city with excuisite samples, but plenty of small towns had unique visual identities solely because there was one guy making all of the signs. A traveler with a trained eye might be able to distinguish the personalities inherent withint he signs in cities they would pass through. 

    C. Everyone loves grunge
        -Example of how trendy shit can kill off something good, then die itself.

***SLIDE: R.I.P. Everything Cool***

         -David Carson: We get this guy and a million imposters of him. David Carson’s work is so distinctly 90s that any and all of his work could be attributed to the decade. Want to guess what year the one on the right was made? A month ago. His work is so interesting because it was just so incredibly pervasive. It purged the design world. His work was largely liked by folks who didn’t like design, which encouraged young designers to engage. QuarkXPress. To me there is such a contrived attempt at subversiveness in this work. It’s like the Chumbawumba of design. We get designers unwilling to adapt. This style is a great example of how trendy shit can kill off something good, and then die itself.

    D. Lettering in fine art context
        -Ed Ruscha
        -John Baldessari
III. Lettering as an industry: HOW IT IS

    A. Lettering is everywhere again. Lettering as we know it today:
        -Hand Lettering is not new, but the current state of its popularity is contemporary.
            ***SLIDE: Milk Carton***
        -I don't know about you guys, but I don't want to see Lettering go the way of post-vinyl sign painting and grunge websites.
        -Quick history of contemporary hand lettering: Punk flyers, street art and graffiti, pop surrealism, gig posters, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno, Urban Outfitters and Mike Perry, Hand Job, threadless and a thousand tee shirts, lettering and the internet, House Industries, indie and artisanal everything. 

    B. New Lettering Artist as cowboy: ***SLIDE: Contino and Hische as cowboys?!*** There's still this Wild West feeling for the potential of the contexts where lettering can now live. There are digital spaces that can be taken over by or injected with handmade visuals to toy with or improve the way we interact with them. We are re-learning skills that graphic designers were required to have just a few generations ago in order to create their work. The limit for where lettering can go and how it can be applied is limitless. We must not let live and create work within the territories that our fearless leaders have explored for us. We can choose to overpopulate these niche areas or go forth and find new contexts for our work.

    C. Lettering Renaissance: Contemporary Lettering Artists and the potential for great work. 
        -Now that clients are turned onto Hand Lettering just for how it looks, we need to convince them of why it is actually contextually interesting and how to really push the envelope. How can lettering become even more interesting? Where can lettering live that it hasn't yet? 

IV. Problems

    A. Visual trends can change. Trends hold us back. *examples of trends that bring no value to the industry*
        ***SLIDE: Visual trends in Hand Lettering (Pay no attention to the trees behind this quote) (Does this pen make my lettering look fat?) (etc)***
        -Trends date our work. We are better than these ridiculous Instagram tropes! We are more creative than this! Your work should be good enough to be able to exist without all this junk around it, and your audience should know it too. Leaning on trends to carry your work will only date you in the long run.

            ---In an attempt to offend less, refer to the decision to shun trends as a personal choice. Instead of a call to action. It's more of a personal observation. Say things like "for me, this means..." "I've decided to..." That way I'm not just saying "these things are dumb and so are you," even though that is what I really want to say. I need to be NOT DISMISSIVE and instead inclusive. ASK my audience to join me in these opinions instead of shoving them down their throats. Being a hater is just as bad as people who have "rules to live by" because it says that there is only one way to do things, and it's "my way." "There are some gems within this latest wave of lettering trends that are actually really beautiful, and I don't want to see them go down with the trendy, artisanal ship. We need to find ways to take the good parts, shun the cheesy trends, and make lettering sustainable again. 

        -Trends allow for mediochre work. We are post-Napoleon Dynamite, but still see naive lettering. And that's fine; I think toeing the line between naive and technically sound work creates beautiful, nuanced pieces. But We are also letting "professional" lettering artists get away with drawing backwards a's, saggy script e's and Capital script "L"s that look like "S"s
            **SLIDE: Hall of Lettering Pet Peeves***
            ---Naive lettering is beautiful. Much like pornography, you know it when you see it. Letterforms are allowed to be bad: badly drawn, typographically bad... In many contexts, naive lettering can thrive. This goes for naive design (net art, for instance) and naive illustration (lowbrow) and naive art (Chris Ofili). But I truly believe that the nature of naive artwork causes it to successfully exist only in certain contexts, and not others. This is why I believe that as image makers we must know the traditional basics of our craft in order to more successfully apply our work. And in knowing our craft, we can better toe that beautiful line between bad and good, between lowbrow and highbrow, between rough and refined. To me that is where the most beaufiul work gets made.

    B. Other industries determine the value of Lettering. We need to band together: stop letting design and illustration industry determine the hand lettering industry's standards on style, pricing, and value. Just because designers don't like something doesn't mean that matters. Just because they do doesn't mean that matters. 
    C. Since so many of us are freelance professionals, we are isolated from each other, often arriving at pricing for our work, timelines, etc on our own. 
        ***SLIDE: No freelancer is an Island*** (look up the poem and quote it)

V. Solutions

    A. Diversify the visual output.
        -Encourage and support artists that have different perspectives, "signal boost" marginalizd artists
        -"like" different stuff. Extract influence from new sources. Try to spend less time looking at the work of your peers.
        -Find your personality in your own work; recognize the personality in the work of others. What makes your work unique to you and what makes their work unique to them? Instead of copying the hand of another artist, try to find your own.

    B. Create industry standards
        -Pricing  (make point about instagram famous people who do work for cheap or free because they have a full time job elsewhere)
            --- Encourage transparency with our lifestyles, location, etc.
            ---Type of work = type of pay
        -Quality******NEEDS MORE********

        -SEMANTICS. "Letterererererer" and other disagreed upon industry terms (WORDS MEAN THINGS because words are literally our work) Evaluate and acknowledge the nuances between industries. (Are nuances between creative industries like the different genres of metal bands? To the untrained ear it all sounds the same but to the people who create the music those differences are crucial. Don't go calling black sabbath math metal if you don't want to get punched. Same goes for calling graphic designers artsy folks.

    C. Create open channels for discussion. The industry benefits when we are all on the same page. But we can only arrive there by talking to one another. And it feels good to talk shop, you know? Which is why we come to things like this conference. 
        -Is it time for a lettering conference? Not IAMPETH, not TDC, not Typographica...something just for us. 

    D. PERSPECTIVES ON SUCCESS. Instagram as the end-all-be-all. The Internet distorts our perspectives on success. We believe that certain artists are successful when they post their work but we are seeing personal work that they are doing for fake clients, when they have a full-time job on the side. This is dangerous for young deisngers, say, who are in school and believe that they can make a living doing what the Insta-famous folks do.
        -Check your idols: Remember that, regardless of follower count, we are all real, meaty people participating in a craft-based industry.
        -Empower yourself to be able to move past the Instagram Blues. We must have the self confidence to not let social media effect not just how you feel but also the output of your work.

No freelancer is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every freelancer is a piece of the industry,
A part of the main.
If a designer be washed away by the sea,
Art is the less.
As well as if an illustrator were.
As well as if an app of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any freelancer's failure diminishes me,
Because I am involved in freelancing,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.