Stephen Rapp pulls back the curtain…

…on type design. Stephen allowed me to share his process for creating one of his type faces, Raniscript. It started with sketches of hand drawn letters. To see more work please visit his Stephen Rapp’s website.

I included an interview with Stephen before he left American Greetings last year. It’s posted below the thumbnails.


Your name and title?

Stephen Rapp… Lettering Artist & Type Guy

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

BS in Media Communications

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

After seeing an exhibit of calligraphy back in 1989 I decided I wanted to try it out. Couldn’t stop after that.

Was lettering for a greeting card company a pursuit?

Not immediately. I used to look through greeting card racks and pick out lettering that I liked, so it was definitely an influence. My first chance to do lettering for cards was through meeting Angie Durbin at Camp Cheerio (a calligraphy camp). She was recruiting for Current Greetings at the time and asked me to submit samples.

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

House Painter.

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

I start by sketching the lettering in pencil on tracing paper directly over the card mock-up. Once I nail the layout and know the style I’m using its pretty straight forward. Sometimes I letter at the actual finished size and sometimes I work larger. This all depends on the lettering style and scale.

Productivity: how many finished designs do you create per day/week/month/year when you worked at American Greetings?

This year I did 219 finished jobs down from 279 the year before. Also this last year I was strapped with an array of font duties which included digitizing new fonts and setting up a new font management system for the studio.

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

I used to do a lot of ruling pen lettering and casual pointed pen scripts. These days I’m mostly doing pointed brush lettering and a lot of drawn lettering and modified type designs. I’m pretty good at copying styles I see so I get called on to match other peoples styles a lot when the work load gets heavy. There is it seems less freedom these days in terms of making our own decisions on a lettering style to use.

Preferred tool(s) and medium?

Pointed brush (Scharff 3000 #3) and sumi ink.

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’ve designed 11 proprietary fonts and also do the digital work for other studio fonts. Rough Draft Pro was the first in-house font that I got to explore OpenType features with. The basis for this was an antique handwriting style I had been lettering for cards. I used a fine pointed brush instead of a pointed pen because I could get more of the subtleties of texture with it. Its not the biggest font I’ve ever done, but I did get the chance to program a lot of features like contextual alternates and ligatures. Outside of American Greetings I have developed a growing number of commercial fonts. One of my designs “Montague Script” won in the script category of the Type Director’s Club in 2009.

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

I get the occasional logo design and such, but most of my work is production.

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

I listen to music a bit, but when things get busy, I sometimes just need the silence.

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

I’m always looking for interesting and inspiring work. Sometimes that’s through books, often through blogs like Lettercult and We Love Type, and sometimes just being out and about in the world.

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

I haven’t done any art pieces for several years, but I have been pretty active with type design.

Who or what are your influences or muses?

I’m probably most influenced by the people I work with. I also get inspired by a lot of contemporary type design.

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

These days I feel as though I spend way too much time on the computer. This can be good or bad. The computer makes it fairly easy to get forms that are hard to achieve solely through hand work. That can either make you lazy or it can serve to train your eye to do better on the manual end of a job. I strive for the latter.

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

Immerse yourself in both traditional and contemporary work. As the saying goes “you’ve got to know the rules before you can break them”.

What are the five things we don’t know about you? (Lettercult asks this questions during every interview.)

My son knew way more than me about electricity than me by the age of 7.

I never quite gave up my hippie ways from the 70’s.

I once went to a therapist for vocational counseling. I frustrated the guy to the point that all he could say was just enroll in college and take anything.

I’ve played traditional Irish music on wooden flute for about 25 years.

I’ve never had good handwriting and now that I letter constantly in different styles I seem to have no style whatsoever.


2 thoughts on “Stephen Rapp pulls back the curtain…

  1. First of all, your work…your designs…your origniality are wonderful Just terrific. This message is from someone who has always been fascinated with letters, words, designed logos, etc. It’s not my nature to practice, and practice and practice that would require even mild success. With that said, let me tell you of a real disappointment…I mean a REAL DISAPPOINTMENT of today’s young students. I draw, over the course of a year, literally 1,000s of sketches of people ( on request ) and before I sketch them I hand them a little clip board for them to write the name that they want on the sketch ( Bob, or Bobby, or “Bubba”, for instance ). Sadly, this generation always PRINTS their name…they do no WRITE their name. They simply are not learning how to WRITE. The art of calligraphy is dying right in front of us. I’m truly glad that you simply LOVE the act and art of calligraphy. Keep it up. Bill Crowley


    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I know what you mean about the younger generation’s handwriting. It’s not emphasized and with handheld devices for typing, there is no motivation for doing a lot of handwriting. One positive note though is the whole DIY thing with design these days where handlettering is becoming more and more appreciated again. It’s not the same as hand written personal letters… a rare thing these days, but will help keep writing alive at least.


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