Technical rigor informs the letters of Dan Lee

From a referral I was introduced to Dan Lee’s work. Wow! With a disciplined hand and a curious mind Dan skillfully builds and crafts letters from the blank page. I really enjoy his work for the depth and breadth of technique and artistry. Dan took time from his daily grind to answer a few questions for Lettering Guy.

1. Your name and title/business name?

My name is Dan Lee, and my (currently-hibernating) freelance business goes by Dan Lee Design Studio. My freelance work is mostly on hold while I pursue full-time work with an awesome in-house design team at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

2. Do you have a specialty or special style that makes you relatively unique? If so, what?

I am a huge fan of adding flourishes, swashes, and hand-drawn filigree to words. I’m also disproportionately drawn to creating serif fonts and variations of block lettering. Also, I’m a sucker for experimenting with crazy ligatures and really unexpected letter connections.

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

I’ve been doing freelance graphic design and illustration work ever since high school (when I first realized people were willing to pay!). I graduated from Drexel University in 2014 with dual Master’s & Bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Engineering. That’s the culmination of a long and interesting journey, which I won’t go heavily into right now!

I do though want to quickly mention some of the factors that led to that decision. I graduated high school right around the time of the recent global financial crisis, and had very little faith, as a high school senior, that a career in design was a viable possibility. On the more positive flip side, I also wanted to pursue a degree that challenged the technical side of my brain. I knew I had capacity for science and math; I figured that in the course of pursuing a secondary education, I might as well at least attempt to maximize that capacity.

I was fortunate to score a scholarship that allowed me to graduate without student debt, so I felt the freedom to pursue the degree to completion while also holding my future career open to other possibilities. After graduating, I became solidly convinced that a career in chemical engineering was not for me, and started pursuing design. (Again, this is a bit of an oversimplification but I’m trying not to write a mini novel, haha.)

I don’t regret the choice to get a degree in engineering. (At least not when I think about it optimistically!) The rigor of technical study, and training a critical-thinking mindset, are elements of my engineering background that definitely come into play in graphic design work. Plus, it’s afforded me the ability to think analytically about all kinds of concepts, processes, and situations in everyday life, which generates wonder and appreciation for almost everything around me.


4. Preferred tool(s) and medium?

HB 0.5mm mechanical pencil — the Pilot H-327 is my personal favorite — on dot-grid paper (Baron Fig, May Designs, and Rhodia books have great dotgrid notebooks. Shameless plug!) is my favorite combination. I also love using my Wacom tablet to do lettering directly in Photoshop, because CTRL+Z.

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

I try to surround my workspaces with lots of colorful, organized stimuli — photos I like, old lettering work, Funko Pop figurines, book covers, posters, etc. I find that “organized clutter” creates the most comfortable environment for me to make art and brainstorm ideas.

I also find that simply thinking about anything to the point of wonder really inspires me creatively. I get “recharged” when I think about everything from the intricacy of biochemical processes, or the cultural history of a sport, or the structure of a beautifully-crafted poem. As a Christian, I’m constantly marveling at the wonder of God’s handiwork reflected in the complexity of the universe, and the capacity of people, made in His image, to create.


6. Tell us something about you that might surprise or delight us.

I’ve DJ’ed a bunch of dance parties and weddings as a side-side “career,” and have some experience in the fine art of getting err’body grooving. I’ve since retired, but I will gladly tear up the dance floor if you invite me to your wedding reception.

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