Martha Ericson of AG’s Lettering Design Group, Part 2

My series with the lettering designers at American Greetings continues. Martha Ericson shares her thoughts about the designs she creates. Enjoy!

Your name and title?

Martha Ericson, LTG Designer

What’s your educational background, i.e., college, professional school, high school, apprenticeship, etc.?

B.A., Comparative Lit; letterpress printing, many workshops in calligraphy

Who or what inspired you to pursue calligraphy or hand lettering?

An exhibit of Sheila Waters’ prints combining LTG and illustration in a D.C. bookshop

Martha Ericson work3

Was lettering for a greeting card company a pursuit?

Yes, once I realized it could be a steady income for a single parent

What was your job or career before you became a lettering artist for American Greetings?

I was variously a French teacher, political activist/community organizer, cook in a vegetarian restaurant, editor, and then got a job in a calligraphy studio in Washington, D.C. After that, I pretty much have stuck to lettering for the last 25 years.

What’s your approach/process to creating a lettering design for a greeting card?

Umm…get it done? Try to meet the planners’ expectations and respond to the finishing/design requirements. If I’m left any creativity, well, then the sky’s the limit.

Productivity: how many finished designs do you create per day/week/month/year?

I probably average between two and three a day, if it’s uncomplicated black and white lettering. Flourishes take longer because of cleanup time. Full-color art, with design time and graphics for release, usually takes me between 1.5 and 3 days per design.

Every member of the team has a signature style, how would you describe your style? How much latitude and range do you have?

I usually get assigned the traditional/formal-with-a-contemporary-twist jobs, since I have the most formal/traditional background on the team. I like the harder, more complicated designs. I can do almost any style, but I’m kept pretty busy with the aforementioned.


Preferred tool(s) and medium?

For everyday work, I use Moon Palace or Best Bottle sumi, all kinds of nibs, brushes and tools, and either Arches Text Wove (it helps me control the line), or Strathmore 90# drawing paper for easier styles.

AG creates proprietary typefaces for use on its products. How many typefaces have you designed? Talk about the development of your favorite typeface(s). What’s your part during the typeface design process? What’s the timeframe to create a typeface?

I have created 4, but only one (Pearlie) has been digitized. If I had 2 weeks’ dedicated time, I could do a creditable one. I like coming up with the characters, then the anal-retentive part of figuring out how to fit them together. I hate italic/joined typefaces with careless joins.

What other lettering and design opportunities are presented to you at American Greetings, i.e., signs, annual report, logos, etc.?

There are always concepts, logo concepts, signage, various kinds of handlettering, illustration, graphic design projects coming at you, though lately, the sheer volume of straight lettering jobs keeps us crazy.

What keeps you going throughout the day, i.e. music, video, books on tape, silence, etc.?

Silence, mostly, tho’ I’m addicted to NPR when I’m doing tedious cleanup on the computer. Sometimes though, oddly, I find it very difficult to concentrate on anything else when music is playing.


Where or how do you “recharge your creative battery,” i.e., books, blogs, music, art, exercise, meditation, prayer, hobbies, interests, etc.?

I get recharged lots of ways, but I’d say mostly I like to move my body to counteract all my professional immobility. I have a big garden, I exercise, I read a lot, I dance, I love my bike, and lately I’ve been playing with a Japanese folk art printing technique, which has been tons of fun.

Do you create art outside of AG? If so what types of work? Have you exhibited, if so, where?

I work in my kitchen studio, and I have a computer set up in another room. I have been consumed by single parenthood the last 10 years, but that’s starting to change.

Who or what are your influences or muses?

Japanese print artists, esp. Kiyoshi Saito. All the amazing calligrapher/teachers out there. Woodblock printts. My kids. The natural world.

How has the computer impacted your approach to calligraphy and hand lettering?

Not much. It’s a wonderful tool to add to the kit, nothing more.

Any advice to young designs and illustrators coming into the job market who have an interest in lettering/calligraphy?

Seek out a mentor/teacher. Choose carefully what you copy. Discipline yourself to learn the basics before you get crazy/loose/inventive. Lettering done by artists with no understanding of the fundamentals of letter design is rarely interesting. Look at everything: all the basic tenets of good design apply to lettering.


Thanks Martha!

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