Daniel Coull is a freelance designer, specialising in lettering and branding based in Cape Winelands, South Africa.
"I spend most of my time crafting skills either by pencil, pen or mouse. Working with brands who are like-minded in their appreciation for independent crafts and old-timey traditions. I spend my free time connecting with nature and the outdoors, gathering inspiration for the next project."
Dan reached out to say how engaged he was with the lettering and type community down under... He said then "Still feel like I’ve got a long way to go, so I do what I can to soak up as much knowledge as possible." And I totally identified. I have been working in design for over 16 years now and I still feel I have so much to learn - in fact the more I learn the more i realise I dont know - which sounds like a bit of a cliche but in my experience is totally true! So I instantly identified with Dans hunger for knowledge and curiosity for his craft! I jumped onto his website to see more of his work...
Dan's Creative curiosity has obviously served him really well to date. He graduated from Vega School of Brand Leadership with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Brand Communications, winning Best Student Portfolio in the final year.
The projects Dan profiles are packed with well crafted hand generated leterforms, logos, illustration and lettering.
One piece that really resonated with me was 'Rise' an editorial lettering submission for Rise fanzine. So I excitedly flicked Daniel an email to ask him to tell us a little about the process behind the piece with a few questions as threads for our conversation...
Can you tell us a little about the magazine and how the piece came about?
RISE is basically a local music fanzine. It’s more than that though, it goes into issues such as ethics, progressive ideas, DIY mentality, and probably more importantly, activism. I think RISE was started as a way of giving the youth and forward-thinkers a platform to speak and be heard, as well as broadcasting the music scene news.
I heard that the new RISE issue was being put together, reached out to them and asked to contribute a lettering piece. It was an opportunity for me to get involved and practice lettering for something editorial based, which is something I could see myself doing more of, hopefully.
What was the brief?
The brief itself was somewhat open-ended. The idea was to use a lettering piece in an emotive manner as a supportive element/intro to an essay. I was given the sentence ‘Tolerance of the Intolerance is Cowardice’ the style and interpretation was left up to my expertise.
What was your process?
I always start by doodling. For me it helps to clear my mind by getting any initial ideas down that may tie into research later on. From there, I spent a bit of time looking for inspiration. Apart from having a heavy tone, the phrase had some preconceived connotations, which gave me a feeling of where I wanted to take the piece. Before the project, I had been learning early calligraphic scripts with the Pilot Parallel pen. I’d be lying if I said that it didn't have an influence over the direction. I'm mostly used to doing brush work so it was a welcome change.
I stumbled across some work of Dürer, which I hadn’t seen before. He was deconstructing blackletter forms mathematically and it completely blew my mind. I’ve always respected him as an artist, but when I found out he had dabbled in lettering, that climbed another level. I think that’s what really pushed me to take the direction that I did. I looked at Renaissance calligraphy, Gothic illuminations and German blackletter work. I paid particular attention to the way that letterforms were crafted, and had beautiful inconsistencies. The tools they used created an unpredictability like ink pooling, bleeding and weathering of the ink itself. It all seemed fitting for the phrase.
Did you start with paper/pen/pencil or vector/pixel.
I started out with the Pilot Parallel pen, by writing the phrase out over and over, varying the styles, mixing and matching letterforms from different calligraphic scripts. The great thing about those early styles, is they’re like dialects of the same language so you can mix and match. The final piece is based off the Early Gothic script, which is more rounded as opposed to the insanely sharp and angular shapes seen in blackletter.
Once I had the basic style and composition down, I then burned through a few pages of tracing paper looking for the ‘perfect’ attempt. Calligraphy has a lot to do with the mind and mood. You can always distinguish between attempts made completely uninhibited versus those made while thinking or trying too hard. Sometimes I do take bits and pieces from certain attempts, but more often than not it tends to look incohesive. Matt Vergotis is a phenomenal letterer who uses this Zen approach. In the end I opted for an all-in-one attempt.
When I got that lucky one, I scanned it at 600dpi, using Photoshop to adjust levels and contrast, and warp any lazy letterforms. Then I took the scan to Illustrator and used live trace. I’ve developed a few live trace settings that I always use to achieve a hand-drawn authenticity. Either that, or I’ll use the pen tool for super crisp letterforms. Normally that’s never enough for me, I’ll still go in after the live trace and clean up points, adjust the kerning and letterform x-heights with the help of a few guides. I didn't go overboard as I knew I wasn't making a typeface. It’s easy to over-craft so you’ve gotta be careful not to remove aspects that give the lettering that human ‘mistake’ quality.
The last step of the process was applying texture, which is usually the part I enjoy the most. This is where you can really bring your digital piece back to looking analog and believable. I make my own textures for each project, a lot of them actually come from my scanner which over the years has worn down and picked up a fair bit of dust, combined with some old ink spots. All of the above combined with the original scan made for some cool textures to really capture the atmosphere.
I think Dan's work is great and highly recommend you check out his Dribbble, Instagram and website - and/or connect with Dan via twitter... (I am also a fan of the modular and mathematical Dürer work - you can check some of his thinking over here).