I always feel so fortunate when I ask a lettering artist/calligrapher to participate in these interviews and they actually agree to them. Everyone I have interviewed is the creme de la creme of lettering and are busy with multiple projects at once and to even get an email back seems like impossibly good fortune. I was able to get the very busy Molly Suber Thorpe to stop for a few moments and answer some of the pressing questions many of you may have on your beginning or continued journey into lettering.
If you enjoy this interview and it has been of assistance to you please do leave a comment and let Molly know! These interviews are not easy to secure and it sure does help to get more of them for the future when you show your support + appreciation in the comments. Without further ado…
//MOLLY SUBER THORPE INTERVIEW//
Where are you located?
Los Angeles, California
How did you get started in lettering?
When I was in design school I took a Gothic calligraphy course as an art elective. It was love at first letter! Calligraphy perfectly combines my passions for typography and handmade crafts, and as someone who meticulously practiced her handwriting since I could first hold a pencil, I was hooked right away. From there, I experimented with script calligraphy styles, and after awhile I developed the styles I’m known for today.
What are some of your favorite supplies (inks, brushes, nibs, paper)?
I do all of my calligraphy using traditional steel nibs inserted in straight pen holders. My all-time favorite nib is the Brause EF66, a very fine point nib which is flexible enough to create a sizeable contrast between the up and down strokes. When it comes to inks, I’m a big fan of Old World Iron Gall— a rich, black ink — and Dr. Martin’s Pen White ink. When I mix custom colors, I normally use gouache, and occasionally even watercolor. My favorite paper is white Bristol in plate finish because it’s heavy and perfectly smooth.
Can you name some of your inspirations?
I have a serious weakness for vintage lettering, from turn-of-the-century French packaging (e.g. soaps, cigarettes, shaving cream) to kitschy, mid-century American signage (think diners and old car garages). I’ve actually been known to turn my car around for another look at especially appealing signs! In addition to visual sources, I also seek inspiration from my favorite books, some of which are The Waves by Virginia Woolf, A Death in The Family by James Agee, and Magenta Soul Whip by poet Lisa Robertson.
Can you go a little into your process of how you work on a digitized calligraphy project?
A large part of my job involves doing calligraphy that will ultimately be digitized, such as designing tattoos, rubber stamps, letterpress plates, and logos. If the design is especially intricate or large, I sometimes start with a few pencil sketches, which I often refine a few times before settling on a layout. When it comes times for the calligraphy itself, I always work with black ink on crisp white paper. Then I scan the finished design, clean it up in Photoshop, and, when necessary, vectored it in Illustrator.
Any tips for newbies on how to develop their own style?
As a beginner calligrapher, you should experiment with as wide a range of styles as possible. Challenge yourself to try letterforms outside your comfort zone, and do exercises like seeing how many different ways you can write the same letter or word (like your own name). Once you get better at an array of letterforms, I find that a unique style usually evolves naturally, just from natural selection of the letters you like best.
Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?
Don’t get so frustrated and discouraged that you lose your motivation to practice! The basic principles of calligraphy are relatively simple to learn but much harder to master. Once you get past the technical hump of learning how to hold your pen and make marks without splatters or pen snags, all the rest is just practice, patience, and, well, more practice. I know full well how easy it is to feel discouraged when looking at the portfolios of more accomplished artists (it still happens to me!) but try to remember that you are looking at the result of years of practice and can’t see all the mistakes that still make it into their recycling bins….
Name one random talent you have that people may not know.
Since I was in third grade I have been an avid baker. I love making everything from fancy cakes to fruit tarts to bread. If I do say so myself, I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years!
P.S. How amazing is that script for the shoe above? I would have assumed it was vintage, Molly did an amazing job!
Miss Tristan B. is the proprietress of Besotted Brand and the writer of this delightful blog. She recently re-located to sunny Seattle with her handsome husband and two pups, they are expecting a baby girl in December. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.