Culture + Typography: Hand Lettering in Urban Spaces

“The beauty of hand lettering is its flexibility and adaptability. It can be found in so many forms and so many different types of media that it appeals to almost every audience. From whimsical to elegant, and old school to new school—there is hand lettering inspiration out there for everyone.” – Denise Bosler, printmag.com

Hand lettering is indeed spreading across every aspect of the professional design world, but it has been a ubiquitous part of impromptu design and urban art since the dawn of written language.

In her book, Culture+Typography, Nikki Villagomez dedicates a chapter to the cultural significance of hand lettering, exploring a broad variety of intriguing examples.

Villagomez is a nationally recognized speaker on the subject of how culture affects typography. She is a graduate of Louisiana State University (geaux tigers!) with a BFA in Graphic Design. After working as a designer in New York City for several years, she moved to her home state of South Carolina where she became a fulltime freelancer. She is the founder and former president of the South Carolina chapter of AIGA. She has been an educator teaching Graphic Design and Typography at the University of South Carolina and the University of Akron. Currently, Villagomez is Graphic Design + Creative Studio Manager at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP (DHG) in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In Culture+Typography, Villagomez takes readers on an inspirational journey with hundreds of side-by-side travel photo comparisons. Each image features examples of typography in culture, along with cultural and historical commentary to go with the image. Villagomez explores how design choices can be informed by the language of the cultural surroundings, and she delves into type selection, color usage, and more.

Check out some of her photographs and commentary from her chapter on hand lettering below:

Culture + Typography: Hand Lettering in Urban Spaces

words and photos by Nikki Villagomez

You can find beautiful examples of hand lettering in virtually every city and with a greater abundance in cities where the general population isn’t thriving economically. The picture on the opposite page is the outside of the Krog Street Tunnel, which links Cabbagetown and Inman Park neighborhoods. This tunnel is known for its constantly changing street art. Cabbagetown is located on Atlanta’s east side and was founded in the late 1800’s.

Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, GA

The lettering on the door and the illustrations were such a treat to discover. The dancing taco with his white gloves and cowboy boots combined with the Hand Lettering really convey an inviting feel and evoke the culture of the region.

San Antonio TX

San Antonio, TX

Hand Lettering artists typically fall into one of two categories. First there are the artists who make an honest attempt to stay as close to the letterforms as humanly possible by either utilizing a stencil or possessing a ridiculously steady hand. For example, the picture below is the finish line for the Boston Marathon.

Boston, MA

Boston, MA

boston2

This massive sign spans the width of the street. It is obvious this artist paid close attention to color, spacing, and craft with the letterforms. However, there is nothing in particular about the letters that is unique to Boston. On the other hand, there are the artists who let their personalities shine through the letterforms they are crafting, which can give the sign a life of its own.

Atlanta2

Atlanta, GA

Atlanta4 Atlanta3

The artist who crafted Edgewood Tires [above], must have been influenced by flames, or angel wings. The creative elements added on to the E and T makes what could have been a straightforward hand lettered sign especially memorable.

cleveland

Cleveland, OH

And just try to imagine this door in Cleveland set in Helvetica. The hand lettering offers a glimpse of the establishment’s personality and its approach to food. Similarly, your typographic choices can convey so much about your own project’s message. Studying hand lettering is a great way to find your next breakthrough idea.

Cleveland, OH

Cleveland, OH

When artists inject an element of playfulness or an added detail within the letterforms of hand lettered type you can find some great sources of inspiration. This entrance sign in Cleveland [above] is especially memorable because of the flourish at the end of the word Push. Sure, one can make the case that the word entrance suffers from mega tight leading and forced uniform width, but I find all is right with the world when my eyes land on the perfect flow of the letters in Push, which ends with the graceful curl of the h. This a great example of how paying extra attention to detail can give your letterforms additional personality.

Richmond, VA

Richmond, VA

Here is a hand lettered sign found on a restaurant wall in Richmond. The p/arrow combination is such a great solution that probably would not have happened if this was set on a computer. That little arrow makes this such a memorable sign and a fantastic example of being creative with your letterforms.

Richmond, VA

Richmond, VA

richmond va4

Right in the middle of downtown Richmond is this gem. This building dates back to the late 1800s as the Richmond Dairy Company. In 1999 the building was gutted to become apartments and luxury lo s now referred to as the Richmond Dairy Apartments. What makes this building unique is the three milk bottle structures on the corners. Of course, not even giant milk bottles can distract attention from the beautiful black script lettering hanging on for dear life. Such a great fit for this building and what it once was. The carefree, flowing letters speak to the consistency of milk more than a stiff, structured serifed type would.

Read more in Culture+Typography by Nikki Villagomez, now available in MyDesignShop. In the meantime, check out more examples of found hand lettering from the book:

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse, NY

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

cincinnati oh

Cincinnati, OH

nashville tn

Nashville, TN

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