Sign painter & type enthusiast Daisy Emerson talks shop
London based Daisy Emerson is a full time Illustrator, sign writer, hand-letterer and type enthusiast.
She studied Art & Design at Central Saint Martins and then Book Arts at London College of Communication. Her clients include Facebook, Google, Carnaby, Michael Kors, Donna Ida, Adidas and John Lewis.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience of working with type? When did you first get into lettering?
I have always been really into lettering, I remember being able to do lots of different handwriting styles when I was younger, always trying a new style or way to put words onto paper. I recall constantly doodling words and letters and drawing on everything. Fast forward to a few years ago and I was freelancing as a Creative Producer in a Design agency. I was trying to do my illustration on the side with not a lot of direction when I attended a sign writing workshop. I always loved to paint so actually realising I could paint letters was when I knew sign writing was something I had to pursue – I really fell in love with it.
What is it about playing around with different paint styles / materials and unusual surfaces that particularly appeals to you as a designer?
I’m always looking for new ways to execute my work, whether it be painting onto different surfaces such as marble, brass, wood or a leather jacket. It’s also healthy I think to try new ways of approaching your work, I find I can get quite bored easily so it’s nice to be able to try out different things. I’ve been hand making a lot of the signs I paint and experimenting with different paint finishes which is interesting at the moment. More recently I was customising a load of denim pieces for a Topshop campaign, which was a nice change from painting signs!
I like my lettering to still retain a hand drawn approach. It’s hard to be original but it’s also really cool if you can nail your own style.
Briefly talk us through one or two of your techniques for creating hand drawn lettering and signage?
If I am going to create a piece of hand lettering I will always just start off with a hard pencil and some tracing paper, I find it easier to draw onto tracing paper when I’m sketching as there isn’t such a contrast between the pencil and the white paper. I’ll refine the sketch and then I’ll outline it with a black lettering pen. Typically I’ll then scan it and tidy it up in Illustrator. I still like my lettering to still retain a hand drawn style so I won’t refine it too much. If I’m going to make it into a sign then I will increase the size and then transfer the lettering onto the wood ready to paint.
Lettering continues to gain popularity, how do you keep your work fresh and new?
– I think now with the ever growing social and creative platforms such as Instagram, it’s easy for everyone’s work to be influenced by each other, therefore keeping things new and fresh is always a pressure. I think to define a style is the thing you have to try and do first of all, I like to think I do this with my colour palette which I’ve been told is quite recognisable (always a flash of pink in there!) I will use a noticeable style of lettering to compliment this too.
Instagram is a really good platform for me to gain new work, it can instantly connect me with brands and clients in a very informal way.
How do you typically get clients?
Instagram is a really good platform for me to gain new work, it can instantly connect me with brands and clients in a very informal way. It’s also amazing for networking so the kind of content you post can help introduce you to new clients quite organically, I feel like it’s a great way to manifest the kind of work you want to get…if you’re posting lots of content which is mural based then people will find you employable for murals and larger work, if it’s more sign based then people will commission you for one off signs and so on.
Should young designers follow trends or aspire to set their own?
I think to a certain extent it can be good to try and be aligned with some trends but whilst maintaining originality at the same time. Everything tends to look the same now as everyone is essentially copying trends from Pinterest and Instagram. It’s hard to be original but it’s also really cool if you can nail your own style. That said, it definitely helps your work gain popularity if you focus on a current trend and try to incorporate it into your work.
Can you share a favourite project you’ve produced in the last 12-18 months – what did you enjoy most about the creative process and working with the client?
I was asked by adidas to make a piece of content for them as part of the EQT sneaker launch last year, so I made a stop frame animation piece at home in my studio. I really enjoyed the creative process of this project as it was something totally different to what I usually do, it involved sign painting but it showed the process and in a totally new context. I really love producing content and I wish I had more time to create more video pieces and process content for my own Instagram. I feel like it gets a really good reception as people love to see the progression of your work from start to finish it would seem.
Another project I recently loved was when I painted a huge backdrop for my wedding photo backdrop. This was my favourite project recently as I had completely free reign on the creative process, (although at times this was actually more stressful!) I sign painted a huge ombré canvas with the words ‘It was all a dream’, this was then surrounded by tropical foliage and leaves. I worked closely with a florist to make sure my idea was brought to life as well as a photo booth company. I definitely really enjoy the styling part of some projects and this is something I really want to try and continue with. Coming up with an idea as a whole and creating an experience is so much fun and hugely satisfying, especially when you see others appreciating the experience also.
How do you typically approach a brief?
I’ll usually do some image research on online to gain some ideas and get my inspiration going. I then start to think about the composition, I usually have a very vivid image of how I want something to turn out in my head, it’s just then getting it down and out of my brain. Sometimes it takes me a few days for it to click, I don’t like to rush my work as planning it is very important to me. I make a lot of my signs myself too so a lot of the work is the preparation for me too, this is the part I am not so keen on but preparation is key as they say! I’ll try and also define a colour palette and mock up the concept digitally before I paint it onto a sign so no mistakes can be made.
Best piece of advice for designers, students, graduates looking to create their own lettering style but unsure of how to get started?
Practice lots and try and define your own style! If there is anything in particular you think you would like to get into then research it and try and find a workshop, learning the skills to refine your talent or your passion is a huge help. Also have fun with your work and be experimental. Find something original to establish you as a brand and roll with it. Learn how to take a decent picture of your work and start uploading it on Instagram, you’ll soon start building a following and a network of likeminded people.