Letterer and illustrator Jessica Hische graduated with a degree in Graphic and Interactive Design from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, before working for Headcase Design in Philadelphia, then taking a position as Senior Designer at Louise Fili Ltd. She credits most of her lettering skills to her time working for Louise, after which she went freelance.
Jessica’s big-name client list includes Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., The New York Times, Penguin Books, Target, Leo Burnett, American Express, and Wired Magazine. She is currently serving on the Type Directors Club Board of Directors and has released several commercial typefaces available in her Web store as well as created Daily Drop Cap letter design blog, among many other Internet-related micro-site side projects.
Despite her busy schedule, Jessica took some time out to discuss her work with us and provide a glimpse into the life of a freelance letter designer.
What artists and designers inspired and influenced you when you were a student? How did working with Louise Fili influence your work after you graduated?
Louise was definitely always a huge inspiration to me, even as a student, along with Marian Bantjes and Chris Ware. Working with Louise was a dream come true, and I learned so much from her. For two-and-a-half years, it was like I was getting paid to go to grad school and learn under one of my idols. I’m positive that what I learned while working for Louise, both in terms of artwork creation and business management, will influence me throughout the rest of my career.
You’ve mentioned before that illustrating masculine script can be difficult. What differences have you noticed between more and less masculine scripts? Now, how do you approach more masculine type treatments?
I think the reason why masculine scripts are so difficult is generally they’re meant to look “effortless” and more like handwriting. One of the hardest things to do as a letterer or illustrator is to make work that feels naïve or feels casual or incidental but also beautiful. Generally, the way that I approach them is to always, always, always start with a lot of sketching. I think with more classic feminine scripts I can work directly on the computer, but when trying to capture handwriting or something similar if I don’t start by hand, drawing the word or phrase dozens of times before choosing a few to inform the final vector, it always feels forced.
You stress working with specialists and often reiterate that you, yourself, are a specialist. What do you think hiring a specialist adds to a project? What is something you would notice that no one else would? Has there been a project where you’ve worked with another specialist who impressed you with their insight?
Working with a specialist adds so much value to a project, but it’s one of those things that you don’t really understand the value of until you do it.
We worked with an architect to help design our office and I found that, in the beginning, I was always struggling with accepting her advice because I’m a visual person who loves to nest and fuss over my home decor. One day, she was in our office and I was questioning the paint color she had chosen for part of the wall, thinking it would be too dark. I actually went ahead and picked a similar color but a few shades lighter and bought a gallon of paint. Before we painted, I told her this and showed her the new color and then she said the most amazing “only an expert would know this” thing—she asked me if I had considered the color the paint would take on after the desks cast a shadow on the wall and if I thought that the lighter color that I had chosen would be better or worse in that circumstance. This totally blew my mind, and I definitely hadn’t considered it.
The things that specialists think of and the questions that they ask themselves are so different from what a general creative would ask. Sure, you can get a good result hiring someone that isn’t an expert in a particular field, but it won’t be the best result. It won’t consider the tiny nuanced things that only a specialist would think about.
You recently worked with Wes Andersen on the film Moonrise Kingdom. How was the process? What did Wes originally want and how did that change as the project went on? How long did it take?
The project took about four months to complete and was a really wonderful and very collaborative process. I think he really knew what he wanted when we first began working together, and it didn’t take long to get it into the right zone. That said, there was endless tweaking and adjusting once the alphabets had been sussed out, and we went through multiple rounds of revision on a lot of the letters and numbers. Even though there were plenty of revisions, I was happy to do all of them because I trusted his vision and knew that the requests came about because he was as much of a perfectionist as I was, not because he was trying to “get his money’s worth” like how you can sometimes feel when doing revisions beyond the original scope. It was just so wonderful to be able to work directly with him and not with an agency managing the project, and because of that, I felt more connected to the film and to the work I was creating.
What projects are you currently spending your time on? What should we expect from you in the near future?
The biggest project I have going on at the moment is a series of books with Penguin called Penguin Drop Caps. They created a classics series inspired by my Daily Drop Caps and, for 26 books, I’ll be illustrating a giant initial cap to be used as cover art. I’m so excited with how the books have been turning out so far, and it’s been an absolute thrill to work on such a huge project with an art director I love—Paul Buckley.
Check out more of Jessica Hische’s work on her website, JessicaHische.is.