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Designer Spotlight

Martina Flor on lettering and her career

March 21, 2017 by
David Sudweeks
David Sudweeks

David Sudweeks interviews Martina Flor on establishing herself as a lettering artist, and on which experiences led to her success so far.

What was one of your first lettering jobs and how did you land it?

Martina: My first serious lettering job (in terms of the size of the client and the exposure of the piece) was a cover I did for New Statesman Magazine, a pretty popular political and cultural magazine in the UK. I think what led to this was a domino effect triggered by the decision to move to Berlin and become a lettering artist. That meant putting my portfolio together, clearing out all the things I did before but didn't want to do anymore and printing business cards with the title letterer.

I began slowly, doing small jobs and teaching workshops, and then I started a project with calligrapher Giuseppe Salerno called Lettering vs Calligraphy which helped me tell the world that I was a lettering artist and showed them what I could do. The project brought a lot of attention to my work as well as helped me build a substantial portfolio and more confidence in my skills.

Martina Flor. Photo © Jules Villbrandt
Martina Flor. Photo © Jules Villbrandt

At this point I went ahead and actively looked for an agent. I met Handsome Frank, who I've been working with since. Three hours after signing with them, I got the commission from New Statesman.

Seems like a straight line right to that important commission right? But it wasn't. In the middle, there was a lot of hustle, back and forth, questioning and lots of hard work.

What experiences taught you the most important lessons?

Martina: I discovered my interest in typography later in my career as a designer. As I started my studies in type design, I quickly noticed how behind other students I was. I had no strong background in typography nor much experience drawing letter shapes, whereas all my classmates had a lot, some of them had even already published fonts!

I’ll always remember one of my classes with Peter Bilak, one of my teachers at the time, who said “anyone can learn to draw letters.” As simple as it sounds, that was illuminating to me and continues to have an impact even today. I remember working really hard to learn, do better and level up with the rest of the students, working extra hours and finding joy in that. I remember looking at my grade when I graduated and seeing I was among the best of the class. It was a rewarding feeling!

Later on when I was trying to establish a career as a letterer, I again worked day and night to achieve it and build a portfolio that'd stand out. I remember coming up with excuses to create new work. And now, after I’ve a built a reasonably strong body of work, I see myself working hard to improve the art and create new, challenging ways of creating new artwork.

In my experience, working hard has payed off incredibly well, and I believe that especially when it comes to drawing letters, producing work and practicing creates tangible results in the quality of work you do.

And you just published a book. What’s it about?

Martina: My book is about letter design. I wanted to do a comprehensive guide to hand lettering that provides you with tools to get you started with letter design.

It trains what I call the ‘typographic eye,’ or your skill to find relationships between the anatomy of the letters and do your own critical analysis. It provides the basics of letter design and an effective technique to sketch and create lettering pieces, going through notions of structure, flourishing and working in different styles. I walk the reader through the process of taking his or her sketches into well-drawn digital lettering. I also speak about professional work, and lastly, about standards—perhaps the most important statement in the entire book. I feel that in a time where lettering is booming and is everywhere we need to sit down and think about what makes a good piece of lettering, so I took the opportunity to do that too with this book. Whoever reads it, will walk away with practical tools but also the mindset to create great lettering work.

What projects have you started lately?

Martina: My most recent self-initiated project is Martina Flor Goods which is a first attempt to make my artwork into products of different kinds. My work mainly takes place in two-dimensions only. It's an interesting exercise to think of a concept, create art for it and see it turn into physical stuff. This is also a great opportunity to work with collaborators, so for almost a year, I’m working with a product designer and could not be more happy with all the creative input I get from this dialogue.

I also keep on working on my long-term side project which is my workshop series. I've been teaching workshops and online classes in lettering design for years now, and I'm planning new ways to improve and professionalize it more. I feel it’s time for me to make the jump from hands-on short workshops to a more formal approach toward lettering design education, and I’m trying to figure out how to do that.

What motivates you?

Martina: Looking back at something I did before and saying that I can do that better now, makes me feel that my work is improving and that’s motivating. Motivation to do new things for me comes from the belief that there’s something that hasn’t been done before that needs to be done.

So for instance, I did my book The Golden Secrets of Lettering because I felt that there was nothing on the market that would approached the topic from a design perspective and would give practical tools to those starting out in letter design. Something similar motivated my series of workshops here in Berlin and later in other cities in the world.

The typefaces I designed, Supernova and Wonderhand, came about because there weren’t any fonts to fulfil those specific uses. It wasn’t just about the formal qualities, but it was a good, new idea that needed to be executed. With the line of products I’m working on now, it’s the same: I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of lettering that I’d seen in marketable products. So I decided to give it a shot and try to create some myself, as challenging as it is, and as unknown a field (product making) is to me.

Whenever I take on a commission, I do it with the expectation of creating something totally new, not only to the creative world but also to me and my body of work. Making something new that hasn’t been done before is the greatest motivation behind my work. And of course, the process should seem to my eyes like an interesting oath to transit.

Thanks Martina! I’ll be looking out for the new editions of your book, and wish you the best success with everything else.

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