Is it possible to pursue a career doing something you love? Hand lettering artist Lauren Hom has proved it’s possible.
After discovering her career in advertising was not what she imagined, she leveraged her side passion in hand lettering to create the job of her dreams. In this interview Ian speaks with Lauren to discover her inspiring story, learning how she became a full time hand lettering artist, what her process looks like, how she works with an illustration agent and more!
Lauren Hom is Known for her bright colour palettes and playful letterforms, and has worked with companies including Starbucks, Google, YouTube and TIME Magazine. She’s also been recognised by Communication Arts, the Art Directors Club, the Type Directors Club and the Webby Awards, and is also the author of the popular blog (and now book) Daily Dishonesty.
- Hom Sweet Hom
- Daily Dishonesty blog and book
- Lauren Hom on Instagram
- Flour Crowns
- Hand Lettering Tools and Resources
- Training course: The Art of Lovely and Legible Lettering
- Adobe Sketch
- Adobe Capture
Lauren Hom Interview Transcription
Ian Paget: When researching for this interview, I came across a blog of yours from a few months back called “Dear Burnt Out Art Director,” where you shared a really honest story about finding your dream job. And you get to a point where you felt really drained and uninspired. Can you tell us more about this time, and how you were able to get out of that situation?
Lauren Hom: Absolutely. Wow, I have to take myself all the way back to 2013. Yeah, like I mentioned in the article, a lot of people don’t know this, but I did not major in art, or illustration, or even graphic design in college. I majored in advertising. Not the marketing side, but just creative advertising; I wanted to be an art director at a big ad agency, so I kept my head down, and I was doing that in school. And that’s what I ended up doing. I graduated, and about a month later, I got a job at a big ad agency, and it was great.
And I think after about, I don’t know, three or four months, I started getting a little bit worn, but I had believed from what I had heard from older peers and teachers that as a junior anything, as an entry-level employee, you were supposed to just work hard, and you were going to get the grunt. And if you just kept your head down and worked hard, you would be able to move up in the organisation. And that’s just what I thought was required in order to be successful in the advertising world.
So it was fine for the first couple months. I don’t know, after maybe six months working more weekends than I wanted to, and staying late … at first, I had told myself, “Oh, maybe I’m just not hardworking enough. But I don’t think anybody wants to work 60 or 70 hours a week if they don’t have to.” However, I find that even now, as a freelance lettering artist, sometimes I do work 60 or 70 hours a week. But it’s different, because I enjoy what I’m working on, and I’m passionate about it. And what had really gotten to me about advertising was we were put on all these pitches, and all these briefs, to come up with ideas and design campaigns, and none of them ever sold through. And I didn’t realise that was going to be such a deal breaker for me, to put in all of this work and never see, I guess, any of the fruits of our labor.
And so after about six months, I hit my breaking point when I, think you might have read in the article, that we had been working on a pitch. Worked multiple late nights, and I came home – I hadn’t gone grocery shopping all week, it was 2, 3 in the morning, and I ate cold ravioli on my kitchen floor, and kind of had my “aha” moment where I was like, “Huh. If it’s like this six months, what’s it going to be like six or ten years in?”
And I had heard from a very wise friend, I think not too long before that, that all you had to do was look to someone five or ten years senior to you in the position to see what your life would be like at the job. I realised that I didn’t want that, and I realised it wasn’t because I wasn’t a hard worker, or that I was weak. It was just not the right fit, and that was the hardest, I think, thing to stomach for me, was that I had just made the wrong choice. And that’s okay, and there was something I could do about that.
So I think backtracking even more, this is kind of what I talk about now a lot, and what I teach, is I had been lettering before that just as a hobby, just for fun on the side. And it turned into this Plan B life raft from advertising that I didn’t think I would need, but ended up being the reason I was able to transition out of my job that I was so deeply unhappy at so quickly.
I think when people hear my story, they’re like, “Oh, you left your job so fast and were able to transition into a thriving lettering career.” And people don’t realise that I had been lettering, I think, for a year and a half before that. So I had set myself up with a foundation for another career. And it’s tough, because I know, I think with time constraints, it’s unreasonable for everybody to have a solid plan B all the time. But I think as creative people, we’re always dabbling in things, or tinkering on a side project. And I just remind people, don’t discredit those things, ’cause they not just could, but they will come in handy later down the road. You just don’t know when and what you’re going to need it for.”
Ian Paget: Absolutely. I think your story is really inspiring. I actually wasn’t aware that you didn’t study art or design; I mistakenly assumed that’s how you were able to get your marketing job. So it’s incredible to think that you were able to get to a point where you could work in hand-lettering full time. So can we dive into that? Going back to those early days, what did you do to learn hand-lettering, so that you could get to a point where you were good enough to be hired for it?
Lauren Hom: Yeah, well I guess all of my life, I had been drawing words. I just didn’t know there was a term for it. So I was the kid in grade school who people would be like, “Oh, she has good handwriting. Can you write my name, can you doodle on my notebook?” So it started kind of humbly. And then from there, I just kept dabbling in it. But again, didn’t know it was a career. And I went into advertising in university.
I was required to take one typography class, and that’s where I think my interest in lettering and type peaked. I was like, “Oh, there are people who do this full-time.” That was typography, so it was more type setting, and things like that. But one of the first assignments we got in that class was actually more lettering based, which kind of set the foundation for what I do now. Our teacher had us draw all 26 letters in the classic Roman capital style on these big, 3 foot by 3 foot piece of paper, so we could learn all the nuances of letter forms. And I remember in class, completing the assignment the fastest out of everybody and realising that I had knack, I guess, for drawing type. And I think that’s when my interest in it really peaked, and so I kept doing it on the side, even though I was full-on in the advertising program.
And I took a communication design class with Gail Anderson, who’s amazing, and I knew I wanted to stick with advertising. It was an interesting time, ’cause I had invested two and a half years into advertising, so more than half of my university time. And it felt like a bad time to try something else, and start with another major. So I was like, “I’m going to stick this through, I’ll just dabble in type on the side. That’s cool.” So I took Gail’s class as a way to hone my design skills, but also work more with type, because she was a graphic designer who just worked with a lot of type. And I thought she’d have a good eye for that.
And I remember maybe a month or two into class, she pulled me aside and she was like, “I think you’re in the wrong major. I think you should study design.” And I kind of laughed it off, saying, “Oh, but I’ve already put almost three years into advertising. And I’m going to stick with it.” So she and I, we get together about once a year. And we joke about that; she just kind of knew.
But what had happened right after that was because I loved doing type so much on the side, outside of my advertising curriculum, and I wasn’t really able to use lettering in my advertising projects – I was in my communication design projects, but ad stuffed stayed ad stuff – I ended up starting a blog on the side called “Daily Dishonesty.” It was a Tumblr blog, back in 2012, so this was at the very start of senior year of college. And it was really just a simple Tumblr blog that I started posting these images to. And the idea for it came when me and my roommate were drunk and joking around, and I realised that she and I lied to ourselves all the time. But in innocent ways, so things like, “Calories don’t count on the weekends.” Or, “I’ll just have one drink tonight.” Just little things that, we were 21 years old. Little things that younger kids lie about.
And I would use that, or use those phrases, as prompts for my hand-lettering. And just hand-letter the phrase, and upload it to the blog, and within a few months of running that, it caught a good wind of the Internet. And I had amassed a following of a couple thousand people, which turned into 10,000 people. That was really motivating to me to be like, “Oh, look, here’s this audience starting to form around my silly hand-lettering project.” So that was really just meant to be a funny thing for my friends to check in on, and a way for me to catalog all of these phrases in one place.
And I think that mentality, which has really set the stage for all of the marketing that I do, comes from my advertising background of thinking in campaigns. We never really created singular pieces in advertising; we always had to think of a bigger idea for the campaign, and then execute multiple pieces under that. So with that as my foundation, I think that that’s how something like Daily Dishonesty started, where I was like, “Okay. Bigger idea, little white lies, and I’m going to execute it hundreds of different ways under that one idea with hand-lettering.”
So fast forwarding, I was running the blog all throughout my senior year of college, while I’m doing portfolio and all my finals, and preparing to get an advertising job. And by the time I graduated, I had actually been in contact with a literary agent who had found the blog online, like stumbled across it as anyone stumbles across something random. And we had ended up working together, and we sold Daily Dishonesty to ABRAMS, which is a big publishing house in New York. And the same week that I graduated college, I was also signing a book deal. It was a little bit surreal, because it was completely unrelated to my studies. And it just seemed like this, “Oh!” Lucky thing that I stumbled across. But it was also the first inkling of validation that this could be a profitable thing that could be a job.
But even after that, I think as a recent graduate, if you’ve spent four years studying one thing, it’s really hard, even if you’ve had success in another thing, to completely pivot the other way. It felt like a waste of my studies, so that’s why I ended up going into advertising. And I figured that maybe in 5 or 10 years, I would come to a fork in the road, and maybe I would have to choose if I kept hand-lettering on the side, and picking up the odd freelance client here or there. Then I would have to choose between that, and then advertising, but it happened, I guess, within 6 to 9 months. So the process was expedited.
Ian Paget: It’s incredible. I know this will be inspiring to so many people.
Lauren Hom: Thank you.
Ian Paget: So when you did make your mind up that you wanted to leave that job, I know you had your blog, and you had that book deal already, which is amazing in its own right. But how did you go from having that job to becoming a full-time hand-lettering artist? What was that transition like?
Lauren Hom: The transition was actually very slow and gradual. I think that, again, after six months, I realised I was unhappy and needed to make a change. But I didn’t end up leaving the job until about nine months in. So in that three month period, that’s when I really started getting the gears going on my transition. So it ended up, because of Daily Dishonesty, I had built this really powerful portfolio piece. I had the credibility from the book deal, so I had my footing already, I supposed, in commercial hand-lettering, because all of that. It was totally unintentional, but that is what had happened. And what I started doing after I had my epiphany, eating cold pasta on the floor after six months, I decided I would transition my portfolio, which at the time, I believe, was just laurennicolehom.com. I decided I would make a lettering portfolio instead of having an advertising portfolio.
So I had already had Daily Dishonesty in my advertising portfolio, just as a cool thing I’ve done. And I started transitioning all of my advertising work out of my portfolio and putting in self-initiated hand-letting pieces. I had a couple freelance things that I had done over the years, but nothing major, I would say. I think the biggest project I had in my portfolio prior to leaving my job was a student project. Actually, not a student project, but it was a campaign that YouTube had done with students to celebrate … I can’t remember what anniversary it was. But it was something of that sort, where I got to design a poster, so I had that in my portfolio.
So I just had a hodgepodge of lettering things I had done over the last year and a half with no particular focus. But Daily Dishonesty was definitely the highlight of all of that, so I started shifting my portfolio. I tried to take on more freelance lettering work. I had gotten a couple projects – not even a couple, I had gotten, I’d say a handful, maybe 10 or so over the last year and a half because of the circulation Daily Dishonesty had around the Internet. It just got eyes on my work, and people were like, “Oh, can you do something for me in that same style? But for the stationary line I’m starting?” So I had dipped my toes in freelance. And so I started ramping that up, just saying “yes” to more things, because I was taking on a couple projects on the side here and there, even though I was working in advertising. But once I realised I wanted to leave, I stopped caring as much about my advertising job, and just dedicated more time to lettering.
At that same time, I was working on illustrations for the Daily Dishonesty book. I had to make additional illustrations to the ones that were already live on the blog, because when it comes to blog to book content, they want to make sure that there’s incentive for your current leaders to buy the book, so there’s new stuff in there. So I was working on that too.
I started reaching out to illustration agents as well. And that really stemmed from I had seen a bunch of other designers online who seemingly were working for themselves, and freelancing, and thriving. People like Jessica Hische, Dana Tanamachi, Jon Contino, Dan Cesareo, Jeff Rogers. I remember just perusing their portfolios, and I noticed there was a trend amongst all my favourite, seemingly most successful designers, that all of them had illustration agents. And me, being 23 at the time, I really didn’t put much more thought into it other than, “Oh. Most successful illustrators must just have agents, so I should get an agent.” That was really just my thought process; no one had told me it was hard to get an agent. No one had told me how to get an agent. I just figured, “Huh, I’m just going to email all of their agents.” So I went through my favourite 20 or so designers’ websites, clicked on all their contact links, saw who was representing them, and sent emails to all of their agents, just with a brief introduction.
I had learned from my literary agent, actually, the woman who helped me sell Daily Dishonesty, how to pitch Daily Dishonesty to media sites. And so I used that same model of, “Here’s my one paragraph pitch of, ‘Hi, my name’s Lauren. I’m an art director who’s looking to transition into illustration. Here are the things that I’ve done. Here’s my work.'” And I attached five low-res jpegs of my work to the email, and just sent that out to a bunch of agencies.
I think of the 25 or 30 I reached out to, I heard back from 3 or 4, and set up calls with all of them. I ended up signing with the same agents that I have now. At the time, they were called Reach, but now they’re Satellite; they consolidated, they were two sister agencies. But now they’ve consolidated into Satellite, and we started working together on a trial basis. Because I was so new and didn’t really have a footing in freelance illustration and lettering – I had done the odd project here and there – but they wanted to kind of test out how it would be working together. And this is while I was still at my agency, or at the advertising agency. So we did the trial run, it went well.
And so by the time I was ready to fully leave the advertising agency, I was fully signed with an illustration rep too. So there was a lot of overlap that happened, and I think that the misconception is, “Once you’re unhappy at your job, you quit, and then you figure it out as you go.” But I actually had that three month overlap of, “Okay, I’m going to keep my day job, even though I really don’t like it, just to buy myself some more time, I guess, financially too.”
And more than financially, I would say emotionally; that was a bigger hurdle for me to jump than the financial part. Because I was fortunate to have started Daily Dishonesty and had gotten the book deal from it, I had $25,000 in my savings account. Which for me, at 23, was a ton of money, and I knew that could float me for quite a while, ’cause I was living fairly inexpensively. So the financial part wasn’t even the hard part for me, it was emotionally getting ready to leave a job I had just started nine months ago, and to give my parents … they weren’t terribly worried. But they were slightly concerned, after putting their daughter through school, that she was going to make a career pivot this early. But they trusted me, and they told me to follow my gut. And I won’t say that that they weren’t worried, but it ended up working out, and now they’re totally on board. But I think it was a little bit concerning to have their daughter leave a job so soon.
So there was that three month overlap, and that is how I transitioned, I guess, more comfortably out of my job. Yeah, I remember the day that I quit, or the day after I quit, I woke up and realised I did not have to go to work. And there was this calm feeling. And I did realise too that it was kind of amazing, just all the events that led up to that, ’cause me starting that hand-lettering blog, Daily Dishonesty, was really just on a whim, for fun on the side while I was in school. That was the reason I was able to leave the job so quickly and so seamlessly, because had I not started that, I wouldn’t have had a lettering portfolio built up. I would not have had any notoriety, or anyone attaching my name to lettering. I wouldn’t really have anything else. I wouldn’t been all advertising, and perhaps I would’ve just gotten a different advertising job after that. So that one silly, little idea, and that one simple Tumblr blog were the catalyst for what I am doing now, like completely.
Ian Paget: It’s really amazing, isn’t it? And I think it’s a great example of how you can work your way into any area of graphic design you want. You being able to work on your passion, but you transitioned from a job that you didn’t particularly like, in a really nice way. I think a lot of young designers hear stories like yours, and they think that they can just basically quit their job, and from day one, without actually doing any work, have clients become a big name. But obviously, it doesn’t work that way; you have to work up to it, as you have done, on the side. And I think the way that you’ve done it is really inspiring, and I hope people listening will learn from your experience. Can I ask you about the illustration agent you mentioned? I’ve never worked with one myself. So what is it they actually do? Do they get you constant work?
Lauren Hom: Well, I was actually talking with my agent the other day about this. I think that the role that an illustration agent plays has changed over the years. I’d say greatly, with the Internet being around now. I had always understood it as an agent – and this is kind of how I work with my agent. I’m sure other agencies vary slightly, but I very much see my illustration agent as the business arm of what I do. They handle everything from the inbound request, to sending the estimates and negotiating. Setting up project management, so the timeline for the project, and communicating, “Do you need help?” Not necessarily solely communicating with clients, but aiding in the communication with clients. So let’s say a client maybe asks for a revision that is a little bit out of the scope of what we had agreed on. My agent would then push back on that. So they’re just monitoring the project as it does; I guess in the simplest of terms, they can play bad cop when needed.
And then they do the final invoices and follow-ups, and all that kind of stuff. They do a bit of client management as well, sending holiday gifts and things like that. I guess that’s a little bit more traditional, but I think a misconception about an illustration agent is that they get me all of my work. The entire time I’ve had an agent, I have felt very responsible for bringing in the majority of my work. But it’s only because prior to having an agent, I realise that the generator of leads for me was my passion projects at Daily Dishonesty. And so that’s why I’ve been, over the last, gosh, six years, continued to make personal passion projects that will then generate leads. I’m sure a lot of people have said it, but making the work that you would like to get hired for. And that’s the role that passion projects play in my business.
So the biggest change was when I signed with my agent, I changed my contact information on my website to, “If you’re interested in working with me, email my agent instead of me directly.” So they field all of those incoming requests. I’m not positive where all the leads come from; I’d say maybe 15 or 20% of the projects that I do come from my agent, and what I mean by that is they also have connections in the industries – editorial, advertising, all those things – where they might have a relationship with an art director, or creative director, who comes to them and says, “Hey! I’m working on this campaign, I need a hand-lettering artist who works in sketchy, hand-drawn style. Who do you have?” And then they’ll pitch, of the 30 artists on our roster, they’ll hand-pick a couple of us who might be a good fit for that. And so I do get work that way, but I’d say the vast majority is work that’s coming in directly for me, from people who are either following me online, or have seen my work on a design blog or something. That kind of stuff.
Ian Paget: Yeah, it sounds a little like they’re going all the hard stuff that most designers don’t like. Like sales, and account management, and admin. How does it work in terms of paying an agent? Is it a fixed fee, or do they take some kind of percentage of your sales?
Lauren Hom: Yes, so the way – I’ve talked to a bunch of other friends who have agents, ’cause it’s always good to just see, “Hey. Is my situation the same as yours?” It’s good to get a feel on that. The way that agents typically work is we pay them a percentage of the total project fee. So I’d say industry standard is anywhere between 20 and 30% percent. Which when I first told my parents, they were like, “Don’t do that. Why would you give away almost a third of your income to somebody else?” But my gut feeling on it, when I first signed, was it that it was worth it, because if it was working for all my favourite artists, why wouldn’t it work for me? That was the first thought. And then I really liked that it was a mutually beneficial relationship where they’re incentivised to negotiate higher for me, because their commission is dependent on it. And I don’t have to pay them unless I’m also making money on a project.
So I saw it as a very mutually beneficial relationship, and I’ve greatly enjoyed it too. Because one thing that I will always tell people if they’re interested in getting an agent, or wonder if it’s the right path for them, is, “It really depends too on how much you dislike doing the admin stuff.” And for me, I greatly, greatly, greatly dislike it. It brings me so much sorrow. I’m so bad; even sending an invoice, which is the next step to getting paid, I will drag my feet on. And that’s not good for business.
And so what my agent has allowed me to do, and what paying them that 30% of my income has allowed me to do, is it frees up my creative head space and my time, which is, I would say, much more valuable than that 30%. I would not trade that for anything. It’s allowed me to teach workshops, and teach online classes, and to work on personal projects, which then generate more leads for commercial projects. So I can’t imagine working without them, now that I kind of have the system down they have.
If, for some reason, I didn’t have an agent, I do feel confident that I could manage my own business. I just don’t want to, and that’s one thing too that I’ve had to learn over the years. It’s okay to outsource the work that isn’t in my specific zone of genius, or isn’t the work that I really, really want to do. Because as I get busier, and time gets more scarce, I realise it’s just a business thing, to outsource the stuff that I’m either not good at, or isn’t the best use of my time. ‘Cause everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, and I think most creative people want to use those hours creatively. And so that’s what I’m striving for.
Ian Paget: Yeah, absolutely. It really sounds like a win-win situation. And it’s no different than employing an assistant, or an account manager. So I think it’s a great idea.
One of the topics I’d love to talk about with you is your hand-lettering process. I’ve found from interviewing different designers in the podcast that everyone works in a slightly different way. So can you share with us your process, and if possible, dive into the nitty-gritty details? ‘Cause I know listeners will really love that.
Lauren Hom: Okay. So my process has changed, I think, a lot over the years, because of technology. So when I started hand-lettering, because, again, wasn’t an illustration major or anything, I didn’t have any fancy supplies. I started hand-lettering with a pad of graph paper, a Sharpie, a pencil, and that was really it. I just kind of used what I had at the time, and I had a computer that had Photoshop and Illustrator on it. And I was fairly well-versed in those programs to begin with, so really, my process was developed from seeing stuff and lettering styles that I liked. And then figuring out how I could emulate that same feel with using the tools that I had. Back in 2011, 2012 too, I didn’t even know about the wealth of tutorials and resources online. I don’t think there really were as many six or seven years ago.
Now, you can look up anything you want. It’s incredible. And it really is amazing, and I hope that it turns more people into artists and graphic designers, ’cause it de-mystifies the process a bit. But it also was really helpful for me at the beginning, to just figure out how to do it in whatever way I could. So I was doing my lettering, I’d say, all by hand at first, with again, markers, paper. And then I would go to the library at school, scan it in, and then finish it up in Photoshop by extracting the black and white type out of the paper background, and then manipulating it in Photoshop. But really, with no crazy Photoshop techniques; it was just painting each part, layer by layer. I painted all the shadows by hand, and it was really illustrating in Photoshop. I had my little Wacom tablet that I rented from the school.
So that was my process to begin with. And that really was my process for the first three, I’d say, three or four years of my career. And then I got an iPad about a year and a half ago. And now, I’d say I split … it’s kind of half and half. I still love drawing and painting on paper, and there is a certain line quality and margin of error that doing stuff completely by hand on paper allows for. That can be really nice. But because I travel so much for work, having my iPad to do 100% of the project on is a real time-saver, and just really convenient too. So I’d say yeah, most of my work is done on my iPad now. But for specific projects, if I’m home and it requires more of a hand touch, I’ll do things on paper and scan it in.
But yeah, the process really is starting off sketching by hand, just with the pencil, and then going over that in a black marker, or going over it with an ink brush in my iPad. And then usually, I’ll take it into Photoshop after that regardless, whether it was started in Procreate or Adobe Sketch, or on a piece of paper. And then I will go ahead and add all the colour and the dimensionality, and texture, in Photoshop, just because that’s where I’m the most comfortable doing that.
Ian Paget: Yeah, this is great. I think what I’ll do is make sure to share one of your videos in the show notes, because I know it’s quite hard to explain this type of thing. And it’s much easier to see it, so if people go and check out the show notes for this episode, I’ll make sure to add a video in there. Anyway, you mention you’re using an iPad within your process. Is there any particular apps that you’re using that you would recommend?
Lauren Hom: Yes, I’d say that my favourite apps for drawing are Procreate, Adobe Sketch, and Adobe Capture. Adobe Capture is really great for vectorising things quickly. Technology is pretty cool; you can take a picture of a drawing you’ve done and it’ll quick vector it, and then you can go ahead and toy around with it on the computer. Oh, another one is AstroPad, which is pretty cool. It basically turns your iPad – it mirrors your desktop screen on your iPad. So it turns your iPad into a mini Cintiq tablet. It’s a little bit laggy sometimes over WiFi if the connection isn’t great, but I found that that’s a really cool way to combine both of those surfaces. And then yeah, I’d say those are my main ones. The brushes in Procreate and Adobe Sketch are just different; Procreate has more capabilities. Sorry, yeah, Procreate does have more capabilities, in terms of being able to add effects and manipulate type, and control over the brushes.
But I really have been gravitating towards Adobe Sketch in the last year. So when I first got my iPad, I was using it exclusively with Procreate for the first, maybe, four of five months? And there’s just so many things you can do with it that I tried drawing by hand again, just in my sketchbook after that period, and I realised that my hand and my eye had gotten a bit lazy, because I couldn’t just pinch and zoom, and resize things, and nudge things over like I normally could. And I was like, “Oh, no! I still want to maintain a certain amount of capabilities with my eye and my hand.” So now I try to kind of do 50/50, still sketching in my sketchbook and on paper, just to keep sharp.
But Adobe Sketch has been really nice because it doesn’t have as many capabilities, in terms of how you can manipulate the brushes and your drawings. So it’s really more like a true digital sketchpad – and their watercolour brush is incredible. It actually bleeds onto the paper like real watercolour would bleed, so that’s been really cool. I did hear last year that Adobe is coming out with a Photoshop particularly for the iPad this year. So I’m really excited to try that whenever it comes out.
Ian Paget: I really need to get myself an iPad. I keep seeing people using them, and so many are recording their processes and posting them on Instagram. Which is amazing.
Lauren Hom: I love that part too. Yes. But the one thing I will say about that is now that most people that I see on Instagram now, and just online, are using an iPad, and they’re recording their process through the apps. And it’s incredible to see the bit by bit process, and I do agree that iPads and any technology, any kind of tablet, can streamline and speed up your process. I still love doing stuff by hand, and still love following people who are just recording them on paper too. I think that there will be, I don’t know, like with anything, whenever there’s a lot of one thing, there’s a resurgence or a desire for the nostalgic, old thing.
Ian Paget: And talking about the process, I see online sometimes you’re doing these huge murals, where you’re actually painting on a wall. Can you talk through how you go about doing that type thing as well? I assume that you are planning it, as you would on your iPad and in Photoshop and Illustrator, but how do you go from that to having it on a wall, or whatever?
Lauren Hom: Yeah. So I got started with murals, actually, through chalkboards at first. I was doing chalkboard menus, then big chalkboard signs for restaurants in New York City. And with those ones, I just eyeballed it, and I would measure things out by hand. Not even transferring my sketch, but look at my sketch, and then just try to draw it on the wall. So that was really great for me to kind of train my eye and my hand again to have a natural intuition about where things should go.
But as I started working in much larger spaces – so I think anything that’s bigger than 8 feet by 8 feet, I’m definitely going to … actually, no. Probably bigger than 5 by 5, I think I would use a projector, or use some other kind of way to just transfer the direct design on the wall. The two ways that I’ve done it are just doing my drawing on the computer, and then plugging it into a projector, and then projecting the design on the wall, tracing it with chalk or pencil, and then going ahead and painting over it. And then the other way that I’ve done it is you can take your design and you can cut it up, grid it up, and then get it printed out on large sheets of paper, then tape it all together and then I think you can use … what is it called? It’s like a transfer paper that has charcoal or dust on the other side that you can then put behind your drawing, and then poke little holes through along the lines of your drawing – that will transfer it to the wall.
So I’ve done both of those. Projectors are the, I think, most convenient way to do things, but you can really only use them if you have 1, access to an outlet to plug your projector into. And then 2, the clearance away from the wall to be able to project it. If you’re painting something in a tighter space or a hallway, you just might not be able to project it, ’cause you can’t get far enough back. So both of those ways I’ve done, and for convenience … and most of the murals I paint are indoors. So I like being able to project things, ’cause it just makes the process a lot quicker.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I would highly recommend listeners who are not already familiar with your work to go and check out your work on Instagram. ‘Cause it’s really amazing.
Lauren Hom: Thank you.
Ian Paget: I want to ask you as well about the resources on your website, because I found you have things like tutorials, and homework, which is perfect for those who want to learn more about hand-lettering. Can you tell us more about that? I’d really love for people to go and check that out.
Lauren Hom: Oh yeah, absolutely. So recently, I started a creative resource library, where like you mentioned, I have tutorials and resources for people who want to do lettering, but also just anyone who incorporates type into their work, or is looking to go freelance, or start getting more eyes on their work. So yeah, it’s just a page. I update it once a month with a new tutorial or a new resource, and it’s got lettering tips. My favourite video in there, actually, is a video where I tackle tricky letters.
So my least favourite letters to draw are S’s, N’s, M’s, and W’s. Those ones gave me the most headache when I was starting out, so it’s actually an excerpt from my larger hand-lettering class that I have online. It’s only about 12 minutes, so it’s a little medium-sized video where I just go over my entire process of how to draw those letters with ease, and how to make them look correct. Because one thing about type that’s cool is that there are some basic rules to follow to make type look more professional and just more correct. And I think I had to make a lot of mistakes early on when I was lettering to figure out, “Oh, that looks kind of wonky.” Or, “That looks wrong.” So it’s basically every resource in there is just from my six or seven years of experimenting and seeing what works, what doesn’t, with lettering and with marketing, and all that good stuff.
Ian Paget: It’s brilliant. I think what I’ll do is make sure to include links to all of this in the show notes, so that people can easily find them.
Lauren Hom: Amazing. Oh, I think you also mentioned … oh yeah, my Homwork. So it’s a play on my last name. I do send a weekly “Homwork,” but really just started as I did not know what it was going to turn into. So at the beginning of 2018, I thought it would be fun to start a weekly homework challenge, or a Homwork challenge. Because the number one question I get, outside of actual lettering questions, is, “How do I come up with ideas for what to letter?” I realise that lettering itself, and practicing letter forms, was not the issue a lot of people were having. ‘Cause like we talked about, there’s so many good resources, free resources online, where you can kind of piece together answers to your questions when it comes to technical lettering things. But people really struggle with what to letter, other than song lyrics or motivational quotes.
And with my advertising background, I actually found that that is one of my hidden talents. I didn’t realise that until many, many years in, but I am good at coming up with interesting things to letter, and ways to show off different parts of my personality, and really differentiate myself in the lettering world. Not through my lettering, which I do think is good, but with my ideas and the concepts behind what I’m lettering, kind of like Daily Dishonesty. And so my weekly Homwork challenge, instead of lettering challenges that just give you a phrase or a word to letter for that week, I will give creative prompt that gives you an idea of what to letter, but you have to put your own personal spin on it.
Lauren Hom: And I really started it just of fun, and I thought I would do it for maybe 10 weeks or so, and then call it a day. But I think last week was our 60th week of doing it. So it’s been going on for over a year, and the reason I kept it going was because the response was so phenomenal to it. There are 25,000 people who are signed up for this weekly Homwork, and I cannot believe it. I think there’s almost 50,000 submissions.
If you go to #homwork on Instagram, you can see the stuff that people submit. I didn’t even realise, by using Instagram and a hashtag as the way for people to submit their work to the challenge, instead of emailing it to me or whatnot, it kind of created this interesting online classroom, where in design school, everyone gets an assignment, and the whole class works on it, and you put your work up on the wall, and you talk about it, and you critique it. It kind of turned into a version of that, where people can now log onto Instagram, and go to the hashtag, and see what everyone else did with the brief, and how they interpreted it. And it’s been really amazing to see.
Ian Paget: That’s amazing. I’m definitely going to go and check that out. Anyway, since we’re on the topic of Instagram, I was looking through your feed, and I came across something called “bread on your head.” What is that about?
Lauren Hom: Yeah, so again, another example of me and my ideas. As I’ve progressed in my lettering career – I still love lettering, I’m really grateful to do it for a job – but I think I still like to experiment in other areas besides lettering. My creativity expands past that. So those pictures of me, for those of you who have no idea what we’re about, if you scroll a couple weeks, or maybe a couple months into my Instagram, there’s a whole slew of photos of me wearing these headdresses, and crowns, made out of bread, and crackers, and cookies and all those yummy things.
The series is called Flour Crowns, F-L-O-U-R crowns, and it was really just the same way Daily Dishonesty started. It was a silly idea that I had, I kind of chuckled about it in my head. And then something in me was like, “Huh. That’d be really funny to bring to life and make an actual thing, and give it a name, and launch it as a series.” Which is kind of my MO, so I bought a bunch of colourful paper backdrops, and went to the store, bought a bunch of bread, and I brought it to life. It really was as simple as, “I had a silly idea that I wanted to see made in the world.” And it has nothing to do with lettering, it really has not furthered any lettering progress, or any new leads for that.
But it, in a way, I think people at first, people were asking me, “Aren’t you worried that you’ll alienate some of your lettering followers? Because they’re used to seeing lettering.” And I thought about it, and I was like, “Yes. Some people may unfollow me because they’re used to seeing lettering from my feed. And all of a sudden, here’s a picture of me with croissants on my head.” But then I thought about it, and because all of my projects over the years, even though they’re lettering based, they’re also based on humour, and just my personality. And so I figured the people who ended up staying and engaging with it were my true fans, and I was just curious too see what would happen too. And yeah, like I said, it was really as simple as, “This is a funny thing that I want to make and show to the world.” And it was a good creative exercise for me to do something that wasn’t lettering.
And I did start it too with the intention of … I’ll tell you the backstory of this. So my literary agent, the same one who helped me sell Daily Dishonesty, I’d say once a year, she’ll email me and say, “Hey! Do you have any new ideas for books? We should talk.” And we did a journal together about three years ago. But I haven’t done anything else since then. And maybe two years ago, she emailed me asking for ideas. And so I sent her a bunch of food and lettering ideas, ’cause I wanted to make a cookbook. I wanted to do all these food projects, and she had emailed me back saying, “Hey, these are all really great ideas. However, I can’t sell these into a book. I can’t sell these to publishers for you, because you’re a hand-letterer, not a chef. People don’t know you for food, and they don’t even associate you with food. Therefore, I don’t know if I can use your audience as a viable way to sell something to a publisher that had to do with food. I can only really sell lettering and humour for you.”
So I was bummed, but it was valuable feedback. And it’s very true too. Like I mentioned before with the blog to book kind of content, anyone who has an online following, or has a blog, or whatever it may be, publishers want to see that you have an engaged audience in that category already, and that’s a huge selling point if they’re going to publish a book for you. So in the back of my mind, I think I did start my Flour Crowns project to just, not to become a chef or a food author, but just to start turning the tables a little bit more towards, “Hey! There’s Lauren Hom, she’s the one who does lettering and that weird bread series.”
So it was really just as simple as that, it was a “just for fun” project, and I think it also allowed me to get a little bit looser with my Instagram page. It’s kind of turned things in a slightly different direction, where people follow me for lettering now. But they also now, hopefully, follow me for me, and I’m just kind of like their weird Internet friend. And I’m 100% on board with that.
Ian Paget: I think it shows a lot of your personality. Because for this interview, I made sure to check through everything of yours. And when I came across that, I just thought, “What is this? Is that bread in your head? What the hell?” And it led me down a bit of a rabbit hole as I found a website for that too. And I think it’s great. Because you’re selling courses and products, since people buy from those, they know, like, and trust. I think it works in your favour, because it seems fun and a little bit weird. I know that the courses will be too because of that.
Lauren Hom: Thank you. Yeah.
Ian Paget: Anyway, we are near the end of our time. So I want to ask you one last question. If you could travel back in time and offer your younger self just one piece of advice, what would that advice be?
Lauren Hom: Oh, one piece of advice? I was going to say that I would travel back to me when I was questioning whether I should leave advertising and tell myself that it was going to be okay. But then I thought I would take it back, because I think some of that uncertainty about not being sure if it was going to be okay was really motivating for me. So I don’t want to kill my fire. If I could go back in time and give myself one bit of advice? I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’m thinking way too into this question, but I wouldn’t want to change any part of my story, ’cause all of it, even the bad stuff and the stressful stuff, was so valuable and critical to what I’m doing now, and how I approach my work.
But yeah, I guess if I could go back, I would tell myself to believe in my capabilities and to follow my gut. Which I ended up doing eventually with my advertising job, but to follow, not only my gut, but my creativity. I think that being in tune with, “Hey, this kind of work feels good to do,” and then pursuing that. And not thinking of it as frivolous, but thinking of it as, “Oh!” An inkling of, “I should move more in this direction.” Because I think growing up, my parents were very hardworking, and I always did well in school. But I very much bought into that classic belief that things that are easy and fun aren’t actual work, they’re just fun. And I wish I could go back in time, maybe even to my childhood, and tell myself that earlier, that you can have fun with what you do, and it can be very serious work.
I actually am in the process right now of writing a talk that I’m going to be giving this summer, and it kind of outlines just how much I’ve built a pretty serious career out of doing silly work. And I wish someone had told me that earlier, that work you get paid for, and work that you can build a career upon, doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be a struggle. It can be quite fun, actually, and very grateful that I get to do what I do now.
Ian Paget: I think it’s really nice to see that you’ve been able to create a dream job doing something fun, and turn it into a very successful business too. Your story is really inspiring Lauren, thank you so much for sharing it with us. I hope someone will listen to this and think, “You know, if Lauren’s been able to do that, then I can do that too.”
Lauren Hom: Well, thank you. I hope that they believe that too, because when I started lettering and doing Daily Dishonesty, I was just as lost as any 21 year old could possibly be, in terms of what my career was going to look like, and what I was doing to do. So if silly, drunk 21 year old me could start a lettering blog, I think that it’s very possible for anybody. ‘Cause it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money too, to start doing personal work. It’s really as simple as drawing something and taking a photo of it, and uploading it onto the Internet, which is pretty incredible.
Ian Paget: Yeah, it’s really amazing what you can do now, isn’t it? Well, Lauren, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been really fun chatting with you.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks
I’m incredibly thankful to FreshBooks for sponsoring season 4 of the Logo Geek Podcast! FreshBooks is an online accounting tool that makes it really easy to create and send invoices, track time and manage your money. You can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.