Friends of Type and Title Case in front of a packed house at Butchershop Creative to talk all about the lettering artist’s journey and the new trails he’s blazing in the world of design. The evening was recorded live for my podcast, Making Ways, all about the unexpected paths to a creative career. Our conversation was far-reaching. Erik gave everyone a closer look at his process for lettering, his perspective on staying engaged creatively, and the community relationships that fuel his life—not only as an artist but as a citizen of San Francisco and the larger global community.
Since our interview was part of San Francisco Design Week, here are a few takeaways aimed squarely at illustrators, designers, and all other creatively driven minds. Read on for Erik’s inspiring perspective.
On process: Constantly recreate the wheel
You might think that having worked in the lettering game for nearly a decade, Erik has his creation process down pat. Not so fast. By design, Erik is always recreating the wheel––pushing himself into unknown territory for every project and deadline. Likening his work to a “blue-collar trade,” Erik explained, “Only by doing will I get better. . . .The more I apply myself, [the closer] I’ll get to a place where I’ll be comfortable. But I understand that being comfortable is like a slow death.” He elaborated on how he applies this concept to his process: “Each thing I do I [take as a] challenge [to] the project [that came] before—either changing up a lettering style or using color in ways that I haven’t used color [before] or using [new] software. . .or techniques—you know, just being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable as a creative is what gets the best work out of me.”
Besides the challenges he sets for himself so he doesn’t fall back into old creative habits, Erik also lets time gang up on him. However, there’s a method to the ax-wielding, deadline-looming madness. Erik said, “I put ideas on paper and walk away, letting them just kind of marinate in my mind and not really putting myself in a position where I’m over-pressuring myself. . . .I give myself the last day to really fine-tune. . .the final artwork that I’m handing to the client.” Erik has hit on a strategy that works for him, although he did note that one byproduct of the process is an “excruciating time crunch” right at the end. Of course, there are ways that Erik could go about easing some of this creative and scheduling tension, but that would go against the point of his whole pursuit.
Ultimately, Erik’s process is aimed at ensuring a long career. He said, “I always want to be fresh, and I always want to apply myself and try new things. That makes going to work every day exciting. And I realize that if [my work takes on] a repetitive nature then I’m going to get stuck in this kind of systematic approach to how I approach my work, and I don’t want to ever feel that way.” Erik then recalled an interview he had seen with David Bowie on Charlie Rose about 10 years ago. What struck him most was Bowie’s unapologetic response when asked about his shifting creative focuses: “I have no loyalty to style whatsoever.”
You can find David Bowie’s the quote at minute 16:00 of this video:
On motivation: Stay close to your curiosity
When I asked Erik about the advice he gives to emerging artists and creatives, he went beyond typical career insights and honed in on what drives imagination forward. He encourages creatives to “never let go of the curiosity that got you to the place where you decided to commit to being a designer or a creative person. It’s your outside curiosities that give you a unique voice and a unique approach. . .from how you use color or how you illustrate the fit of a person’s face to how you use type when you’re typesetting a magazine.”
On community: Be open to connection
Alongside his projects for huge clients like Google, Facebook, Nike, The Gap, and Sprite, Erik has his feet firmly planted in his community in San Francisco’s Mission District. After Erik shared a story about getting to know the owners of his favorite local coffee shop and eventually helping them out with their menu and brand (in exchange for free coffee), I asked him why building community and connection is so important to him. He revealed a personal reason behind his efforts to stay engaged and focused on people: “[Connection] fuels the soul. There was a moment where, when I first started working from home, I had no human interaction. The only person I would see was my wife. She would come home from work, and I’d be unable to speak—it was a problem. I became a hermit, and I was so focused on work that I actually forgot to go outside, and I became socially awkward. It wasn’t until I got my studio [Title Case] with Jessica [Hische]. . .that I made the decision that. . .I wasn’t going to be the person that doesn’t engage my community, because I live in a beautiful place and I know that life is only as good as the people you surround yourself with. So I [try to] engage with people that I really care about and always stay open to having a conversation with a stranger. You never know. That conversation might become a [part] of your next work, or it could [lead to] a new lifelong friendship.”
That’s just a glimpse into our conversation for Making Ways during San Francisco Design Week. You can listen to the entire episode here and subscribe to the series on iTunes here. Thanks to Erik for joining in and being so open in sharing his experiences and insights. And thanks to everyone who made it out for our first live taping at Butchershop Creative. You can find the adventures of Erik and Friends of Type on Instagram, and get the latest on Making Ways podcast there too. Be sure to connect and let us know what you thought of this episode.
This article first appeared on AIGA’s website. Find the link here.