Lettering artist Justin Poulter on working for National Geographic, Little White Lies & moving into Print Club London's studio space

We unpick Justin’s array of lettering projects and how he hopes to set up his own studio in the year ahead.

South African illustrator and lettering artist Justin Poulter is now based at Print Club London in East London. After working for three years in illustration and design studios, Justin made the move to freelance four years ago.

Inspired by the scope of expression in typography, along with South African painted signage and comic titles, Justin has gone on to create an array of lettering projects for clients including illustrations for a Los Angeles brewery and exploring the ugly and beautiful for Little White Lies.

Recently signed with Jelly London, Justin dreams of setting up a studio, or to find people to collaborate with this year. He’s also hoping to make use of the screen printing facilities at his new studio space.

We ask him about his passion for lettering and latest projects.

Miriam Harris: How did your passion for hand lettering begin?

Justin Poulter: "My initial introduction to lettering was in high school when I got into graffiti. I did a lot of drawing and painting during this time instead of school work. When I got to first year of university our class was briefed to paint perfect times new roman and then in the same week briefed do a typographic experiment inspired by music all my hand. This is when I began to see how expressive typography could be used in design and illustration."

MH: What inspires you, and how can we see that reflected in your style?

JP: "I mostly find inspiration for lettering and illustration out on the street. I love signage especially hand painted signage. South Africa has a very unique style of hand painted signage and this became a huge inspiration for me when I began developing my own style of lettering. Another typographic inspiration for me are comic book titles although admittedly I’ve never been much of a comic book collector. The few I did come across over the years however, have definitely made me consider different ways lettering can be emotive and expressive."

MH: What’s important to keep in mind when starting a lettering project?

JP: "When beginning a lettering piece the thing I always consider first is composition. Making all the words fit comfortably into the space I have to work with while still being able to create emphasis where necessary can be a bit like putting a puzzle together. I work this out with very rough sketches and then tidy them up, looking at things like legibility and style as I progress."

MH: Talk us through your creative process for hand lettering, including software and tools used.

JP: "I usually begin roughly on a piece of paper just working out the order of words in block letters or my own handwriting. I then use Procreate with the Apple Pencil on the iPad to do most of the sketching process, creating new layers and resizing elements until it works compositionally. Once I’m happy, or the client is happy with the sketch I take it into Adobe Illustrator and draw it neatly mainly using the pen tool. Finally, if necessary I’ll open up my vector drawing in Photoshop and apply textures."

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MH: Tell us about your three most recent projects.

JP: "My three most recent projects have all been quite different. In December last year I finished a project for a Los Angeles based craft brewery where I was commissioned to create illustrations for two new beers which will be launching in the coming months. These illustrations are featured on the cans, the six pack boxes and a bunch of other marketing materials.

"I have a project currently on illustrating and designing a book cover for the historian and author Christopher Lloyd as well as a large ongoing project with a US based vitamin and protein supplement company."

MH: What was it like to create an entire colouring book for National Geographic?

JP: "Illustrating the colouring book for National Geographic was an great experience and a milestone that I’m particularly proud of. Besides researching and learning about all sorts of amazing sea creatures, I found the challenge of working on a long term project to be a quite enjoyable. Getting almost free reign and way more time made it quite a different experience to what I’m used to with advertising clients."

MH: With your project for Little White Lies, how strange was it to illustrate words that usually aren't considered beautiful?

JP: "This project was a funny one to work on. I had just moved to a new shared studio and had to have these words very large on my screen for the first week. It was a great task like you say to portray something ugly as beautiful, also to work purely in lettering with no accompanying illustrations. Would love to do more typographic work like this."

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MH: What are you hoping to achieve in the year ahead?

JP: "My dream is to set up a studio, or to find people to collaborate with. Im hoping to make some bigger steps in this direction in 2018. Mid last year I moved into the studio at the Print Club in East London.

"This year I’d like to learn more and make more use of the screen printing facilities here. Besides that I would love to work on a longer term project again like the National Geographic book."

MH: What advice would you have for an illustrator wanting to hone their skills in lettering?

JP: "Keep your eyes open to as many influences as possible and draw as much as you can. If you are not getting client work and want to, then self initiate work with the clients you want in mind. Think of a project or and idea and then fully commit yourself to it."