Script lettering has seen a major resurgence in recent years. Hand lettering classes are selling out. There are nearly 6,500 script fonts available on the free font site, dafont.com. Calligrapher and script-lettering guru, Seb Lester (@seblester), has over half a million followers on Instagram. So what does all of this mean?
Calligraphy is cool, people!
But, why now? I would like to argue that this resurgence may be connected to two phenomena: the increasing speed of technological advances and the decreasing speed of technology users. Allow me to explain.
Technology is speeding up
It’s no surprise that with each passing increment of time, technology becomes better, faster, and cheaper. This same phenomenon has not escaped the font technology world. It’s easier than ever to create your own font, including converting your own handwriting into digital type. Web services such as myscriptfont.com allow you to upload your handwriting, instantly turning it into a font file. In fact, Buzzfeed wrote an article about this service entitled “Turning Your Handwriting Into A Font Is Stupid Easy”, that visually details the four steps from start to finish, asserting that “it take FIVE MINUTES”. Free font creation services, paired with the worldwide-democratized distribution hub known as the Internet, have resulted in a plethora of new, exciting, creative fonts available for free.
In her most recent research project Typographic Test Form: Investigating the performance of free fonts, Natalia Lumby identifies that although new designers are encouraged to use paid-only fonts, free fonts are appearing in commercial work and this is not necessarily a bad thing. She draws our attention to the free font ‘Caviar Dreams’ on a book cover and ‘Bebas’ in a corporate brochure template. There are many fonts which are 100% free for both personal and commercial use, which alleviates the need to pay licensing fees when purchasing paid-for fonts.
Furthermore, Lumby’s research reveals that designers primarily look for free fonts for use in decorative applications (i.e. titling, display type, decorative work) versus for using as body text. Keyword analysis reveals that “calligraphy” is by far the most frequent keyword used to identify the most popular free fonts, which helps to support her decorative application theory.
People are Slowing Down
Becoming ever more popular are a variety of intentional lifestyle choices that reject our technological hurriedness. They are gaining popularity through communities both in-person and online and examples include minimalism, the slow food movement, and most notably, maker culture. Maker culture or “DIY culture” has individuals creating new devices, objects, and works that are both technological (3D printing) and traditional in nature (metal and wood working). Fantastic “maker spaces” have popped up all over North America, including spaces like “Makeworks” in Toronto that houses both tech and traditional-focused facilities. Specifically, “The Shop” is housed within Makeworks and it is a hands-on space for traditional makers. One of the classes The Shop offers is a script-lettering workshop that frequently sells out.
This back-to-basics type of hand lettering and the desire to put pen (or nib and ink) to paper is very appealing to lovers of type. In the class that I attended at The Shop, there were artists, marketing professionals, designers, and type educators among the vibrant crowd. Everyone was there because they wanted to take a break from their everyday hurried lives and learn more about script lettering in the process. Slowing down and learning the mechanics of each stroke, including the varying pressure needed to create the perfect letter, is a noble pursuit. In this class, individuals from all types of design-related backgrounds believe that slowing down and crafting letters by hand is as relevant a practice as ever.
Graphic Designer and Professor of Communication Design, Denise Bosler, makes clear that “the beauty of hand lettering is its flexibility and adaptability”. Bosler makes the argument that typography and hand lettering have two different skill sets – namely arranging type and drawing letters, respectively. Hand lettering is therefore an entirely different approach to using text in design and it’s an approach that appeals to many audiences because it is so flexible and adaptable in nature.
Script lettering is making a comeback in a major way by harnessing the power of technology through its open-source creation and distribution, and at the same time, rejecting traditional digital typography with it’s hand-drawn appeal. Whether soaring ahead at the swift pace of technological advance or slowing down to savour the curves and strokes of each letterform, script lettering is everywhere – right here, right now.