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In The Not-So-Wild

I have been wondering where handletterers get their inspiration. I love the work of Mary Kate McDevitt, one of the premiere lettering artists that I have learned of so far. It’s colorful, loose, fresh and fun. But, I can’t say that I have shared the same experiences. Hence, not always being able to reproduce what to me feels like an authentic vintage style. Yet, handlettering lends itself to commenting on an era long gone. How do I cope with that and getting any of the richness of history into my work? I can always google things. But sometimes armchair exploring isn’t enough.


So, I went in search of some that wasn’t on my screen. What I found was that inspiration for working on a hand lettered piece is literally right around the corner. The first state has an area called Old New Castle. It’s where some of the past tries to retain its voice.

Isn’t that a lovely sign? I love how the barrel is an actual form coming out of the sign. The shape of the sign also appealed to me.

Found a beautifully weathered, ancient wall painting.

Architecture may have been a strong influence on lettering. Look at that swirl in the corner.

I see similarities between it and swashes and ornaments. I also believe when I hear or read about terms like brackets or arms that I can see that letters are built or constructed things and I can accept their similarities with architectural structure and history.

The patterns in these railings below could be used for ornamentation.

There’s more of the same in these door mats and wood work.

I found patterns in the pavement that could be used as borders some time.

Then, I noticed how the brick motifs got repeated in the benches.

That was pretty cool. But, I kept it moving.

This wreath reminded me of some of the more organic forms I have seen in some beautifully lettered illustrated pieces.

When I saw this horse lantern with the stars, I could almost hear a horse-led buggy coming behind me.

But, then I saw this across the street…

More stars.

By now, my curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder if there were any more repeated motifs or symbols around me. Did the builders of this little place actually keep taking certain motifs and perpetuate them throughout the the little town? Did these relics somehow seep into the conscience of those who would then build our communication tools? I don’t know. But, it was an interesting concept. And it was a great game!

See the basket?

See the basket weave bench.

See these curtains?

Then, look at the shape of these signs.

Oh. Here’s another horse.

It was happening everywhere.

Do you remember that tavern sign? Suddenly, I saw a barrel right under it.

I started seeing French curves cut out of signs and triangles in doorways.

At some point, I found an old church…with some strange inspirational qualities. This gets a little weird, but I got really interested in how the tombstones, ornaments and such were designed here.

An 1800’s font?

These forms also reminded me of the signage I had seen leading up to this church. All the different styles of letters were remarkable and would make great studies themselves. The little ornaments, scrolls, fruits, etc., that were sculpted to enhance them were so masterfully created too.

That wreath came back to me somehow when I saw this one.

I began to see the clean lines in the hand letterers work and all the hard edges of the architecture.

Looks like graffiti artists aren’t the only ones with a penchant for crowns.

This one was a favorite.

I mean, lettering styles and inspiration are everywhere. How do we even cope with this information coming at us all the time?

I’m not too sure.

But maybe letterers use things that are familiar to us, but present it in fresh ways that make their work effortlessly melt into our conscious. It’s just a theory.

I decided to take out my pencil and sketchbook, sit down out there and do a couple quick sketches of some of the things I saw and tried adding a few of them into another memory verse project.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Drawing any conclusions?

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