When I traveled to Tokyo I was surprised to see the sweet, almost childlike artistic style of public safety graphics. While walking and riding throughout the city I understood why the style is used generally. They’re distillations of old murals and ancient art in the shrines and temples that dot the city. They’re homages to the past. I saw that same quality in Reiko Hirata’s work. Her work is infused with the culture of her native country, Japan, yet blended with the graphic style of vintage Western culture. It’s a true delight of artistry!
1. Your name(s) and title/business name? City and country location?
My name is Reiko Hirata (First/Last). I’m a graphic and motion designer with a strong passion for letterforms.
“Letter or Die” is a name of my hand lettering showcase (as well as various social accounts and soon to be open online stores), which started as a personal project through my daily exploration and experimentation of letterforms.
I am a Japanese expat who currently resides in Milan, Italy.
2. How would you describe your lettering work?
I’m still developing my own style: as a designer, versatility is pretty important for me in order to create something functional and possibly unique for every client.
I approach personal projects in the same manner. My work is based on my research, exploration, and/or experiment of letterforms. I love constant changes and varieties, however I do have favorite styles, so I guess I will establish some sort of signature styles of mine, eventually.
3. Preferred tool(s) and medium?
I got bunch of pencils, mechanical pencils, lead holders, technical pens, brush pens… etc., some of which I haven’t even used yet, but I can’t just stop buying (collecting?) them…
It doesn’t matter which one I use, as they are just tools, but I do often pick up Blackwing pencils (pearl and 602) to start sketching. I always go with analog tools for sketching and inking: I love working manually with traditional tools like pencils, pens, ruler, and plain paper, but I am really tempted to get an iPad Pro right now!
To finalize the work, I go on to digital: Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop for refining, vectoring, coloring, and/or adding texture (which could also be prepared manually).
4. What’s your educational background, i.e., college, professional school, high school, apprenticeship, etc.
The answer is going to be long… It has absolutely not been a smooth ride!
After high school, I graduated from college with an English major. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in design and art. Unfortunately in my family I have not found any support, because art was not considered as a valuable profession.
I end up working as an office assistant at the a pharmaceutical company for six years, constantly having doubts about my future and career. I decided to give myself a chance by taking short term courses in graphic design and advertisement: there I’ve learned the basics of design software which led me to try more learning in the 3D and animation field.
At that moment I had the chance to move to Los Angeles, USA to attend a professional school to learn 3D animation, motion graphics and video editing. After a short experience in the visual effects field, I started to develop a specific interest in title design for films. At that point I had the technical knowledge, but I felt the need to seriously learn the culture behind graphic design.
For personal reasons I then moved to Milan (Italy), where I graduated from the Istituto Europeo di Design with a major in visual arts/graphic design. While at the art institute, I kind of knew that I was a “print girl”, but I had some sort of obsession or ego to stick with the video and animation field instead.
After I worked for a tv network as a in-house designer for four years, since the summer of 2013, I have been working as a freelance designer remotely from my studio.
In the early 2014, I discovered the world of hand lettering, and immediately fell in love with it.
My curiosity and passion towards letterforms started in earlier, actually: I had a basic Japanese lettering experience back in Middle school, making posters as an after school activity. I’ve always been fascinated by hand-painted signs.
More recently, I’ve been a font nerd. One thing that kept me sane and gave me hope while in dark places was just looking at beautiful typefaces.
Discovery of hand lettering was like, after all these years, finally the puzzle was solved. By doing hand lettering, I rediscovered the beauty of manual production and craftsmanship as well.
5. Where or how do you “recharge your creative battery,” i.e., books, blogs, music, art, exercise, meditation, prayer, hobbies, interests, etc.?
First of all, I need to be happy and positive, possibly relaxed psychologically. In order to be so, I would: take a nap, spend time with our dog (my psychologist), enjoy a cup of American coffee while listening to music, or watch stand-up comedy to have a good laugh. Traveling is definitely stimulating, especially when I face different culture, and broaden my horizon. Browsing books, blogs, websites inspires me for sure, but not necessarily limited to Design or Typography field. As a matter of fact, when I work on a project, I look for inspiration everywhere else but in the specificity of the project itself.
I constantly observe: I pretty much get influenced by things I see or hear, consciously or unconsciously. Small meaningless things could be a big inspiration.
6. Tell us something about you that might surprise or delight us.
I have a couple of plans for the near future: one is learning to play the guitar in 60 days with Rocksmith on PlayStation; the other is that I’m about to move yet again to another country to be inspired and to learn a fourth language. Stay tuned!
Instagram and Twitter
@letterordie (Hand lettering related)
@reikohrt (design related, personal)