Interview with Jessica Hische with now defunct design blog Visual Kontakt of Australian designer Michael Schepis. Dug up from the vaults of the Wayback Maschine.
Describe your design in one sentence.
“Jessica Hische’s work combines equal parts design, typography, illustration, brown sugar, and heavy cream.” (Thanks, Jason from the Heads of State, for that one!)
What inspired you to get into design?I always knew I wanted to go to art school, in fact I transferred high schools in order to take more art classes. When I applied to school I thought I would be a painter or a sculptor—anything but a graphic designer—mostly because I didn’t really know what graphic design was. When I was in college I took a lot of electives in different art areas, always thinking I would end up majoring in that discipline. I loved glass, I loved wood-working, I loved painting/drawing, then I took a design class. I really loved the idea of having a problem to solve, of having limits and of having to communicate clearly what I (or the client) was trying to say. I liked how in design you were solving problems, that there were rules to follow, that the point was for people to GET what you were trying to communicate (unlike in fine art, where if people get it right away, you’re probably doing something wrong). I would procrastinate from all of my other work by working on design projects (I think a good way to figure out your passions are to look at what you do when you’re procrastinating from everything else). When there was an assignment for a single poster I would do five. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
I think overall my work has become more sophisticated. The faces and people I used to draw were much more stylized and whimsical, I think now my figures are still fun but feel more thought out. My type has gotten IMMENSELY better. Type is a skill that you can only improve on with a lot of practice. Drawing it day in and day out for three years has had a massive impact on my type work.
How do you work? What is your process? Almost everything I make is made in Adobe Illustrator. All the work is done in Illustrator, even adding textures and whatnot. When I send finals to clients I send tiffs, because the files are usually too complex to hand over as is. For illustration work, I do sketches first which are REALLY rough and mostly to communicate ideas rather than a direct composition interpretation. For type I usually don’t do sketches unless absolutely necessary as most of my experimentation happens on the computer. I don’t use any fancy tricks or even a wacom tablet (I hold a pen like a child holds a crayon (in a tight fist that will only catalyze the carpal tunnel)). I use the pen tool to draw all of my type and don’t use any magic tool to make my curves. I usually work with the grid on at first, starting with a single weight line and then adding thickness or ornament later depending on what I’m trying to achieve. I make general decisions at the beginning to figure out what kind of type I want to draw (a script? slanted or upright? thick or thin? sans serif? retro feeling or more modern feeling?) and then add decoration / ornamentation after the “skeleton” is drawn.
Why did you start drawing type?
Really, out of necessity. I was broke in college and couldn’t afford to go on an awesome font spending spree and didn’t have the time to pour through the free font sites for something actually worth using. I noticed in school that my hand drawn type would make the project feel more cohesive and special, so I tried to make custom type as much as possible for projects. Now, almost everything I make has hand-lettering in it. One major disadvantage to being good at hand-lettering is that I am TERRIBLE at picking out fonts for projects. Every time I’ve needed a crazy display font for something, I’ve just made it myself because it takes me less time to make it than it does to scour the internet for something good. Don’t ask me to recommend a similar font to anything I’ve made, I won’t know what to tell you and then I’ll feel like a lame designer.
How long does it take you to make things?
Really depends on the project. Ribbon type takes FOREVER compared to other kinds of work, but for the most part I’m pretty quick. Sometimes it takes me just an hour or two to do things, other times it takes a few days.
What advice do you have for people that want to draw type?
If you want to be a good type designer, you have to make as much of it as possible and look at as much of it as possible. Buy old type books (if you can find them). Buy art history books about vintage type (Euro Deco is one I’ll always recommend — tons of great examples). Practice, practice, practice. If you have the patience to keep plugging along at it, you’ll be great in no time, I swear.
What are some of your inspirations?
I worked for Louise Fili for two and a half years, she has definitely had the biggest impact on my work. Her collection of random vintage type ephemera is astounding. I read design blogs and look at images online a lot. I love vintage packaging. I like silly roll-your-eyes-ish jokes. I love talking to strangers. I love interior design and vintage/retro furniture design. I’m inspired by other designers and illustrators all the time, by their motivation and by their great work.
What other designers / illustrators inspire you?
So many its hard to say. I have a major design crush on Marion Bantjes and a brain/concept crush on Christoph Niemann (you should reread the illustrated article he did for Print a few years back (2005? 2006?) on being an illustrator). I have a really talented group of friends that also keep my motivation high. I see work every day on sites like ffffound, the dieline, etc. that makes me seethe with jealousy. Envy can be a big motivator.
How do you chose your colors?
If you saw my apartment, you would see that all the colors I use in my work are really just colors that I like. I love warm colors. I don’t really like the color purple. I am coming around to blue (aside from warmish robin’s egg blues which I LOVE). If I could put red/orange in everything I make I would.
Which do you like best, design, illustration or typography?
Definitely typography. I don’t even know why I love it so much, it’s just a really enjoyable process for me. I like to keep a good mix of design, illustration, and type. I think I would lose my mind if i had to do only one for the rest of my life. I do like to consider myself a designer/illustrator rather than an illustrator/designer. I think if people know design is your strong suit they trust you a bit more on things like book covers. A lot of illustrators are savvy about type and what fonts would look good with their work, but art directors can be a little slow to trust artists that don’t have a strong design background.
What kind of day-jobs have you had in the past?
When I was in college, I had three internships. I worked for Quirk Books, SK Design Works and Headcase Design (all in Philadelphia). When I graduated, Headcase took me on as a full-time freelance employee. I worked on a lot of book projects there and did illustration in-house for them (their style is much more technical than mine now). I left headcase to take a position as Senior Designer at Louise Fili Ltd. I worked with Louise for a wonderful two and a half years and learned so much about design and type there. While I was working for Louise, I also had a busy freelance career, doing a ton of illustration and type work at night. I left in September of 2009 because I was ready for my night job to replace my day job.
How did you know when the right time was to go freelance?
I was exhausted, and starting to feel burnt out from work. I wanted to go fully freelance before I was so burnt out that I lost motivation to work. Also around the time I left people started mislabeling my freelance work as being Louise’s work, and I thought that it was probably the right time to branch out on my own.
What’s the biggest change you have noticed since recently making the move from full time employment to freelance designer?
The main change for me has been managing my time and emails. Since I launched my Daily Drop Cap site, I get an enormous amount of emails, especially from students wanting to do interviews. I try to answer them all, but it can take me days or a week or two to respond to some of them. When you get between 4 and 10 interview requests a week, it can get a bit daunting. I end up having to spend probably 4-8 hours a week answering emails.
Do you have a favorite client to work with?
I like working for any client that is enthusiastic and nice and allows me to have a bit more creative control. Of the clients I’ve worked with in the past, the Boston Globe and Harvard Business Review have been great repeat clients. Every experience was smooth and fun. Working with big name clients like Tiffany and Co. is also fun because my parents “get it”.
Do you think that people/clients value the craft of creating letters?
At first some don’t, they try to get the effect they want by manipulating fonts themselves, but in the end you can only get true customization by hiring someone like myself to make it really work perfectly for the project. Sometimes after clients try to do it themselves, they’ll hire me and tell me to work from what they have but make it “better” or “make it work”.
Do you think that there will be a hand-lettering backlash because of how popular it is right now?
I think certain kinds of hand-lettering will eventually fall out of favor. I think anytime you are making something that is very current or trendy feeling, it will eventually fall out of favor because people will get tired of looking at it. I think incorporating vintage type in a subtle way is a good way to avoid making things that are too trendy. My goal is always to make something that feels a bit more timeless. I don’t want my type to feel to feel dated in 10 years like much of the grungy type from the 90s feels now.
What is the biggest frustration you encounter when creating your work?
The thing that frustrates me most is when clients are very picky about things that do not matter in an illustration. There are certain changes that I understand, but when some minute background element has to move ever so slightly for no reason whatsoever it frustrates me to no end.
What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a designer/illustrator?
I think pushing yourself to experiment can be really challenging. Once you are good at doing a certain thing, you fall back on it, instead of moving forward and trying new things. You should be always challenging yourself to do new things or at least to push the envelope a little bit. If you don’t, it can be really hard to stay motivated. Time management and keeping a good schedule is also very challenging. When you work for yourself, it can be tough to not procrastinate or to spend too much time on one thing and not enough on another. It’s important to be really organized, to have a calendar of all of your deadlines, to only reply to emails at certain times of the day, and to keep a master list of jobs you are working on, what projects are in what stage, what needs to be invoiced, who needs a quote, etc. This is the stuff you aren’t taught in school, and is not second nature to many people (including me), but if you don’t stay on top of this stuff, it can really impact your work in a bad way.
How are design clients and illustration clients different?
Illustration / hand-lettering clients are far different to work with than design clients, I find that I have to sell myself less—usually by the time people come to you for work they know they want to work with you. With design you have to sell yourself as much as your ideas. There are just so many good designers (and unfortunately good designers that will work for cheap!), so convincing someone that you are the one perfect for their project can be a challenge. When working on design projects, you sometimes have more freedom to experiment. It’s not about a style, it’s about doing what is right for the assignment. If someone saw my illustration portfolio, they wouldn’t think “let’s hire this girl that works in vector to punch the type out of metal with a hammer and nail”, I would love to do that, and am capable of it, but because illustration is based on mostly on maintaining a style, I won’t get a call to do that anytime soon.
What is your main priority when starting design projects?
The main concern should always be “is this appropriate for the project/client”. Because I’m a designer and illustrator, people hire me looking for a specific style, but I think to be a true designer you must be adaptable to any project. If a client comes to you with an identity for a restaurant you wouldn’t solve it the same way you did for a book cover. I think sometimes people lose site of this and the style becomes more important than the message. We’re designers, of course we want to make things pretty, but if it isn’t right for the job it doesn’t matter how fancy you make it.
What is it like to be a young designer/illustrator in the business? Do you think being young has helped or hurt you so far in your career?
You get a lot of attention for being young and talented. There are a few competitions geared toward designers under 30 like ADC’s Young Guns competition and Print’s New Visual Artist competition. I think in the beginning, being young can be hard. Clients want cheap prices if they know how young you are, so at first it is good to disguise your age if you are doing freelance work. Once you get some momentum though and a reputation, everyone loves how young you are because you are an “it” person. Clients feel good for hiring someone that is in demand.
What advice do you have for a young illustrator or graphic designer?
When you’re not doing client work, do a lot of personal work. It takes a lot of practice and exploration to be a great designer, so do it in any way possible. When looking for a day job, decide what is important to you. Jobs at big places or advertising firms tend to pay better but the work is less creative. Jobs at small studios pay less (much less sometimes) but the work can be really creative and rewarding. Plan ahead. think of the kind of work you want to be doing and try to find the most direct path to that.
What is the design/illustration scene like in NewYork/Brooklyn?
The art scene for each discipline is fairly tight knit. Illustrators tend to hang out with illustrators, designers with designers. The American Illustration party and Society of Illustrators parties make it easy to run into other illustrators and get to know other people in the city. Design is a bit different because it is more diverse. The advertising scene is very different from the boutiquey design scene. There are events for everyone.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a graphic designer in Brooklyn?
The best thing is that there is so much to do. There is always a design or illustration event to go to and you’ll always run into people you know there. It feels almost small-town-ish, in that I can show up to an event alone and know that there will be someone there that I know and can talk to. It’s pretty hard to say what the worst thing is, because I feel like this city is the perfect place to be a designer or illustrator. Because there are so many designers here, the competition for work is very high, which can be great if you work for yourself or if you have enough chops to get a good job here, but it can be harder to stand out as a young designer for that reason too.
How has internet exposure helped promote your work?
Internet exposure has helped immensely. I get a ton of emails from clients that have found my work on design blogs or have been passed my site from a friend or co-worker. The only downside to a lot of internet exposure is that you get a ton of requests for work from people that want a logo for $200.
What is your favorite Letter?
R or K
Do you feel that your work is rewarding? How so?
I definitely feel that my work is rewarding. I live for the “great job!” emails back from clients and the actual creation process for me is usually very fun. The kind of clients that hire me also makes it rewarding. I’m almost never doing illustrations of depressing or dark topics, everything is usually fairly light-hearted but still interesting. I think the nature of the work I do makes other people happy as well. I am constantly getting emails from strangers saying how much they loved a certain piece, requesting prints of things, telling me that my work made them smile. How rewarding is that!
Do you have any words of praise to give to the letterpress process & any nightmare stories?
I. Love. Letterpress. I think what I like most about the process is the immediate satisfaction you get from making prints. Turn the crank and it is done. Letterpress makes literally anything look better. I’ve seen people letterpress scrawly drawings and it looks amazing. I think the only nightmarish things about it are the cost of plates if you want to make big things, difficult registration, and a massive swollen hand after a long day of printing (When I printed my alphabet posters, my hand swelled up and hurt so much I had to request an ice-pack when I was out at a restaurant later that night. I had no idea that just turning a crank for 7 hours could do that)
I don’t know when you can say you’ve “made it” in design/type, but I think the ultimate goal is to be able to say “I pay my bills by making pretty things”.
Why do you think people get so passionate about fonts and typography?
I think people generally love language, words, phrases, and quotes so to see a great word illustrated appropriately typographically can be beautiful. Illustrated type is a very accessible kind of art. People with no background in art or design can look at a really beautifully drawn word and appreciate it and you don’t have to be on some higher cerebral plane to get the meaning of it. I think designers get passionate about fonts because to be an “expert” in font use and recognition makes them feel as though they are “expert” designers. But like anything, just because you have the knowledge doesn’t mean you can apply it perfectly in every context. In my opinion, the really great designers are ones who have a good working knowledge of fonts (but maybe aren’t a walking font encyclopedia), and are really just good at using what they know appropriately for each project.
What fonts do you like?
I have short love affairs with certain fonts, most of them coming out of H&FJ. I had a torrid affair with Archer a few months back. I can’t stop using Gotham on everything I make (for the tiny type that isn’t worth hand-lettering). I also love Coquette, though it can be a little funky. The numbers are GREAT. Bulmer is a great text type which has an AWESOME italic. Neutraface’s italic is really good too.
Are you a serif or a sans-serif kinda girl?
Hard to say, I think generally sans-serif. Everything I draw starts as sans-serif and then I decide later if I want to make it have serifs.
What’s your opinion on Ikea changing their font to Verdana? Do you think everyone has the right to be hyped up about it?
I’m not a huge Verdana fan, so I was a bit bummed about it. I understand their reasoning behind it (wanting to be consistent across web and print media), but it’s generally accepted that you’ll be more limited on the web than in print in terms of type. That would be like saying “I can’t use this awesome hand-lettered word in my logo because I can’t get the font to work online”. That sort of thinking would really limit designers.
Why do you think Helvetica has such a cult following?
To be honest, I have no idea. I think it’s a boring font. It definitely is a very useful font, but not worthy of its cult status. Helvetica is great if you want the type to not be the focus of whatever you’re working on. It becomes invisible because we’re so used to seeing it, which is great for things like information graphics where the information is the most important part and if the type had personality it would take you that half second longer to absorb the information. I also think it’s relatively difficult to work with. It’s hard to make Helvetica look really good. The lighter weights are nice and elegant and the thickest weights can be nice for their boldness but everything in between is just too vanilla for my taste.
How does type affect your everyday experience?
I have a theory that my process for drawing type has affected my memory negatively. I work in a sort of stream of conscious way when it comes to type, only making general decisions up front and letting the type kind of evolve as I go, and I think not having to consciously queue up “inspirations” as I go along is slowly destroying my short term memory.
How did you come up with your Daily Drop Cap project?
I knew when I went freelance that I wanted to take on a project I wouldn’t have the time for when I had a day job. Originally, I wanted to do an alphabet per week, but realized quickly that my schedule was a bit too packed for this. Instead I opted for a letter per day and after a brainstorming session with friends, I realized it wasn’t just making the letters that would make it popular, it was making it more interactive and allowing people to reuse the drop caps.
Some of your work has been copied and used without permission: what is your take on sharing content and how have you handled plagiarism of your work?
I am of course very against plagiarism of any kind. I try to reserve my reactions for when it is really obvious though so I don’t look like I’m policing the internet for art thieves. I have definitely written an email or two to people that use the term “inspired by” a bit too loosely and strongly worded emails to people that don’t acknowledge their “inspiration”. I’m always really thankful when people alert me to work they see online that is either a misuse of my work (taken from other sites and used without permission with other articles (design blogs excluded of course) or a plagiarized version of my work. I’m actually thinking of letterpress printing a little “Certificate of Valor” to send to other designers and illustrators that point out plagiarists to me.
Where are you headed? What are you currently pursuing and/or what isn’t there yet that you’re interested in making happen?
I love what I do already. I want to of course continue pushing my lettering especially now that I have time to do some experimentation and try new methods. I want to make more self-authored things, lots of letterpress type related projects and products, write/illustrate a children’s book, and push my Daily Drop Cap project further and into more mediums.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Mostly playing with my cats, watching the internet (netflix watch-instantly and hulu), treating myself to pork-fat heavy meals (and therefore slowly draining my bank account), riding my bike around Brooklyn, impulsive procrasti-cleaning, and hanging out with my boyfriend/friends.