I recently had the pleasure of working with illustrator and hand-letterer extraordinaire, Mary Kate McDevitt on Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition. As the subtitle proclaims, the fourth book in our Let’s Bring Back series is “A Collection of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful Words, Phrases, Praises, Insults, Idioms, and Literary Flourishes from Eras Past.” For this alphabetical compendium, it seemed fitting to commission illustrated letters to begin each chapter, and Mary Kate McDevitt definitely delivered! The book was published last week and I asked her to answer a few questions about her process and her hand-lettering work in general. **See below for a chance to win your very own copy!
Can you tell us about your process for the sketches for Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition? I’m curious as to whether you started with the letter A and just worked your way through, or if you approached the alphabet as a whole?
I started with loose sketches, just going from A-Z to get a good range of styles and weights. From there, I moved on tighter sketches focusing on the letters one by one. I would incorporate different pattern and filagree throughout the entire alphabet. Since it’s hard for me to focus on one style, this project was fun for me to just experiment and see where the letters went.
Do you have a favorite letter to draw, and why? And is there a letter that’s typically more tricky or challenging than the others?
I like drawing “R’s” There are a lot of opportunities with the tail to swoosh out in fun ways. I’m never fond of drawing words that start with “I” I don’t like the script version of it and it’s pretty boring. When you work on one letter individually rather than having to work with words in a composition, you are really able to push the limits in terms or detail and make it as decorative as you want.
In what way did the design aesthetic and the content for Let’s Bring Back inform your lettering style for the project?
Certainly the nostalgic quality informs a lot of my work so reading through the old phrases was fun to try and illustrate them. I’m definitely inspired by historical references when working on lettering projects, so reading through Let’s Bring Back and learning some new “old-timey” language influenced the way I was drawing.
Tell us about your Handwritten Letters project. What did you learn or gain from the process of doing one letter every day?
One of the rules I gave myself for this project was only to use black ink or paint. So venturing out with more brush techniques rather than just a pen has influenced how I work. I experimented with a masque pen to work with negative space in the letters which was fun. I tried not to spend more than an hour on any of the letters so getting an idea, working quickly and working smart was something that was really helpful in the process.
Was there a moment (or project) when you knew you wanted to get into hand-lettering?
My first obsession for hand lettering started when I was hand painting Mini Goals Chalkboards in 2009. Since each was hand-painted, I was always coming up with new ideas for the chalkboards and experimenting with different styles. Once I started working with Chronicle for the Mini Goals Notepad, I became increasingly interested in working with lettering for more print projects.
Thanks, Mary Kate! Feast your eyes on some more of her lovely work on her website.
Readers, what’s your favorite letter of the alphabet to draw or write and why? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll send a copy of Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition to a lucky letter fan chosen at random.
Designer / Fan of the letter G