1. How did you build your “personal brand?”

    When I graduated college, everyone wanted to set up a studio under a different name than their own. They wanted to be treated as an agency rather than an individual. This is really useful if the kind of clients you want to attract are the kind that want an agency behind the work, but I really enjoyed building a personal connection with clients. I think being accessible and putting myself out there has helped clients feel like they know me before they make first contact, and maybe made them more likely to contact me over someone with similar work hiding behind an agency name. Illustrators and lettering artists most often operate professionally under their own names so it just made sense as well.

    As far as my “brand”—it’s really just me. I try to be as true to myself online as much as I can so that if you meet me in person you are hearing the same voice you’ve read online for years. It’s a lot of work to be anything other than yourself. The “brand” has evolved over the years based on who I am as a person and what interests me. I used to be known for my love of cats and whiskey, and maybe for cursing too much online and on stage. Recent followers probably know me best for sharing parenting horror stories alongside client projects.

  2. What's your lettering process like?

    All of my work begins with a sketch. I used to sketch entirely by pencil (and still do from time to time!) but lately I’ve been sketching in ProCreate on an iPad Pro. I still treat it like a pencil and paper when I’m starting out—working in all black and white and using the “6B pencil” brush. Depending on the client, a “pencil” sketch can be enough, but I have been creating color comps for most of my commercial lettering and illustration work these days. For logo projects, I always present final art to the client, never sketches. This means my sketches for logos are usually much more rough and for my eyes only. Once the sketch is approved, I bring it as a jpg into Adobe Illustrator to begin drafting the final vector art.

    I don’t use a lot of fancy tricks in illustrator, mostly just the pen tool. After a few years of working intensely with the program it has become more natural for me to work on the computer than by hand. I don’t use a Wacom tablet, just a mouse or the trackpad on my laptop. Depending on how tight my sketch is, I'll either trace it directly with the pen tool or use it as a guide to begin working. For some lettering work, I start with a mono-weight “skeleton” at the center of the letterforms (I work this way for scripts, always starting with a single line), and for other lettering work I start by drawing basic shapes like circles and rectangles and combining and making adjustments from there. If you want to see my process in action, this Skillshare course is probably the best way to see it.

  3. What's your favorite font?

    You shouldn’t have a favorite font! If you have a favorite font it probably means you’re using it inappropriately. It’s easy to do, especially if you spend a few hundred dollars on an awesome typeface—you want to use it on everything in order to “get your money’s worth”. While you shouldn’t have a favorite font/typeface, I think you can definitely have a favorite foundry or designer that you pay attention to and keep coming back to. There are a ton of contemporary type designers whose work I admire: Hoeffler & Co., Tobias Frere-Jones, Commercial Type, Kris Sowersby, House Industries, Okay Type, Oh No Type Co., Sharp Type, MCKL Type, Mark Simonson, Hannes Von Döhren, Type Together, Mark Von Bronkhorst, Ale Paul, Underware, Process Type Foundry…too many to name!

  4. What advice would you give to a young designer?

    Be nice to people. Being a nice and genuine person will get you so much farther than your portfolio will. When you’re applying for a job, the first thing an employer thinks is “Would I mind spending nine hours a day with this person?”. If you try in whatever ways you can to brighten someone’s day, to be fair and respectful to everyone, and to grow your network without being “networky”, you will be a rockstar.

    Also, have a plan, but be willing to deviate from it if awesome opportunities arise. While it’s important to think about your future and what you want to be doing in 5 years, don’t let that plan be so concrete that you ignore opportunities around you.

    Practice, practice, practice—it takes an incredible amount of training to be a great designer. You have to first train your eye to see your own mistakes and the mistakes of others, then train your hand to be able to correct those mistakes. If you don’t feel like you have the opportunity to learn and practice at your day job, do personal work and side projects. Side projects can do so much for your career and you can make something you actually care about.

  5. How did you build your online presence?

    My online communities have always started as a reflection of my “real life” communities. I joined Twitter in 2008 and more than half of the people I followed and interacted with at that time were people I knew in person and saw frequently—studiomates and work friends made through design community events, conferences, etc. Back then Twitter was mostly people who worked in some way “on the web” so that site represented my web design community of friends. I gained followers through association with all those early Twitter power users and also because I try to be a pretty fun person to follow—I post about silly thing, I share work without a pretense for selling you something (most of the time), and I share good resources when I stumble upon them. Being myself online (rather than a hyper-curated version of myself) has served me well and I think is the source of most of my success. My community grows based on things I'm interested in or people I interact with due to proximity or work. My Twitter world is so much more Silicon Valley focused than I could have ever imagined it would be, which is a by-product of living in the Bay Area and the fact that most of my friends here are connected to tech in some way. I’m a little addicted to Twitter because I feel like it’s the only social network where I can be my true self most of the time and don’t feel compelled to use it as a portfolio site.

    Instagram is a whole other beast. I joined in 2011 when people used it to post brunch photos and not much else but in the years that followed it evolved into a full on portfolio website. I tend to use the Instagram main feed to post about projects and curated work experiences and the Stories feed for personal updates and "ugly" in-progress work. I still try to be myself on Instagram as much as I can but the signal you put out about your professional life via Instagram is incredibly important in determining what kind of work comes your way. If I post too much personal stuff in the main feed, client requests start to die down. If I spend a few days posting a lot of new work, I see an immediate uptick in job inquiries. Finding the right tone is really difficult, because no one wants to be sold to 24/7. I post less than a lot of folks I follow because I worry about overloading or turning off my followers. I also generally turn down influencer work because it can feel disingenuous if it’s not your whole vibe.

  6. What do you do when you're not working?

    I have three children, and spending time with them occupies most if not all of my non-work time. I tend to carve out free time for myself during the work week (when I have childcare) rather than on the weekend. During these occasional moments of freedom, I picnic at Lake Merritt, visit my favorite shops, get coffee with friends, eat queso at Tacolicious, or accomplish all of the random tasks I've been putting off forever. I'm a very extroverted person so when I get time to “myself” I usually want to spend it with other people I miss and care about. I used to fill all of my free time with work, and I do still work in the evenings from time to time but only when I have something really exciting brewing. Over the years I've drawn a much harder line between my work and life—work used to take over everything.

  7. How do you come up with font names?

    You kind of can’t go wrong if you name typefaces after wine, women, or food. I tend to name my typefaces after things that they remind me of. Ultimately though, you want to give it a name that showcases some of your favorite characters. Buttermilk got it’s name because it felt like a creamy dessert, and because I wanted to use the t_t ligature.

  8. How important is style?

    To a letterer or illustrator, style is incredibly important. When you are hired as an illustrator, you’re hired to work in a style that your portfolio proves you excel at. The person that hires you is most often not the end client—you’re hired by an agency or a publisher that is working for a client. The art director has to use work that you have created in the past to sell you to the client; they’ll pull pieces from your portfolio that they like and show it along with their idea for the campaign. The client gets a very clear idea of what the end result will look like before you’ve even put pencil to paper. As an illustrator, you slowly evolve your style until your portfolio reflects the work you want to do and are interested in. As a letterer, you work within a number of typographic styles (for instance, blackletter and script), but your portfolio should still feel consistent. An easy way to accomplish this is to work with the same medium or same few mediums. You can work in as many mediums as you wish, but the more consistent your portfolio is the easier it is to sell you to a client.

    Graphic designers do not need to have a style. In the past few years, a new kind of designer has emerged—the designistrator: a designer that is also an image maker. Designistrators tend to have a style because they are illustrating or lettering for their design projects. Not all graphic designers need to be designistrators. I believe that if you are a graphic designer (not a designistrator) and you have a “style” it means one of two things: the kind of clients you are working for are very similar from project to project, or you’re doing inappropriate work for some of your clients. While graphic designers don’t need to have a style, it is important that their work is consistent. Consistency is is not style. Consistency is showing time and time again that you know what you’re doing—that you understand nuanced typography, that you can generate good appropriate concepts, and that you can curate and delegate well when necessary.

  9. What's the difference between Lettering and Fonts?

    Lettering is essentially illustrations of letters, words, and phrases. As a letterer, when I’m hired to draw the word “holiday” I don’t first draw the entire alphabet in the style I wish, then position the letters to spell out the word. I draw the word as a unique image. This means that in a lot of lettering, if you rearrange the letters it would look pretty terrible—the art is meant to be seen and used in that specific configuration and that configuration only.

    Typeface designers work very differently. They have to create a system of letters that can be endlessly rearranged and work together. Display typefaces are usually less elaborate than text typefaces (though they look more elaborate, by and large text typefaces are much more difficult to make). Type designers have to make typefaces that even the least design-savvy person can work with and set beautifully. They create software that you can essentially own a license to forever, usually without ever needing to update it. I try to advocate for typeface designers as much as I can because most designers don’t stop to think about the work that goes into making fonts. They make what I do seem easy!

  10. How did you become a letterer?

    When I was in college, I was too broke to buy decent fonts. I knew that I could either approach every project with my limited number of typefaces, spend days digging through terrible free font websites to find anything even remotely acceptable, or “draw my own fonts” (I say this in quotes because it’s a complete misuse of the word font—a mistake I made all the time when I was younger). I noticed that the more I “drew fonts” for my own projects (the more I lettered titles and logotypes and headlines for fake magazines) the more my work started to stand out from my classmates. Everything felt more personal and more cohesive. Plus I loved to do it! My student portfolio ended up having a fair amount of lettering in it which was ultimately why Louise Fili ended up hiring me after I graduated.

    While I was working for Louise I really fell in love with lettering. All day every day I drew words and phrases for her. I lettered for logotypes and book covers, magazine headlines and pretty packaging. While working for Louise I would work on freelance illustration in the evenings. More and more I started to incorporate lettering into my freelance editorial illustration work—at first just as a component within the illustration, and over time I would offer conceptual solutions that were entirely lettering based. Clients started to notice the lettering work in my portfolio and I began being hired just to do lettering.

    The real lesson I learned was that in order to do what you want for a living, all you have to do is find a way to show people that you do it. If you want to be a book cover designer but don’t have a single book cover in your portfolio, the chances of you getting hired to design book covers is very low. You have to put the pieces in your portfolio that reflect the work you want to be doing.

    Lettering takes a ton of practice and I was able to learn under one of the best, but ultimately if I didn’t take the initiative to make lettering a part of all work I was doing, I wouldn’t be a letterer now.

  11. What inspired you to become a designer?

    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 and 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.

  12. Where did you go to school and why did you go there?

    I have a BFA in Graphic Design from Tyler school of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia. I mostly went to Tyler because it was a good school that I could afford and they accepted me with a pretty unimpressive portfolio of student work—just the standard self portraits, wonky ceramics, and elaborate drawings of shoes (my high school art teacher sold me pretty hard to Tyler’s admissions counselor). Tyler ended up being the perfect place for me. The classes were small, at the time the art school had its own campus which made for a very amazing “real art school” experience (naked performance art in the middle of the campus, human-sized hamster wheel “sculptures”—it was awesome), and professors really encouraged experimentation and image making for your projects, unlike other more conservative programs. I don’t think I would have had as good of an experience at any other design school and I should thank my professors every day for how much they changed my life.

  13. How do you pronounce your last name?

    If I were a real German I would pronounce it “Hish-ah” (first syllable emphasized), but since I’m American and we have our own way of pronouncing foreign words it’s pronounced “Hish” (just like “fish” but with an H). Most importantly, there is no “r” in Hische.