Creative Guide: Hand draw letters that advocate for change with Studio Nari
As part of New World, our collaboration with Today at Apple, we’re bringing you a series of step-by-step Creative Guides which allow you to complete a project, guided by a leading creative.
As part of New World, we’ve worked with five artists, designers and photographers on a series of Creative Guides, designed to teach you tangible skills in an engaging and hands-on way. In these Guides, you’ll have the chance to follow along the stages of a project step-by-step. Whether you’re interested in learning more about poster design, how to create imagery in AR or the process of composing portrait photography, at the end of each Guide, you’ll have completed a full project and will have new skills to take into your own creative practice.
Caterina Bianchini is an award-winning graphic designer who has carved out a niche through her experiential and high-energy design style. She began honing her craft at some of London’s top design studios, before moving on to building the creative team at UK music pioneers Boiler Room. This soon led to the formation of her own branding studio, Nari, which to date has collaborated with high-profile clients such as Nike, Apple Music, Vogue, Selfridges and Somerset House. It has also helped to form many new brands from across the art, music, fashion and cultural sectors.
For her Creative Guide, Caterina is going to take you through the process of hand-drawing letters which embody what change means to you. You’ll then use these letterings to design a poster that advocates for change. In total, there are six steps in the project:
Step 01: What does change mean to you?
Step 02: Research and moodboard your theme.
Step 03: Create a concept tree.
Step 04: Sketch your letterforms.
Step 05: Tweak these letterforms to express a feeling.
Step 06: Design your poster.
The Guide is also designed to be flexible timewise – you can spend an hour, a day or a week. It’s up to you how in-depth you take things. We’ll be sharing some of our favourite responses to the Creative Guides on It’s Nice That towards the end of New World, so make sure you share whatever you make during this Guide on social media. Use #CreativeNewWorld and #TodayAtApple for a chance to be featured on It’s Nice That, and make sure to tag @studionari as Caterina will be keeping an eye out for your work too.
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Some of Caterina’s work to date: Studio Nari: Selfridges & Co Together typeface (Copyright © Studio Nari, 2020)
What you need to complete this Guide
This Creative Guide is designed to be completed on an iPad and is even better with an Apple Pencil. If you don’t have an iPad, you could also complete the project on a Mac using Adobe Illustrator, or even using a simple pen and paper. Below is a list of apps you’ll need to complete the Guide – most of which are already installed on your device, or easy to download if not.
Notes is the best place to jot down quick thoughts or to save longer notes filled with checklists, images, weblinks, scanned documents, handwritten notes, or sketches and is available across iOS and Mac.
Keynote makes it easy to create stunning and memorable presentations, and is also available across iOS and Mac.
Procreate has everything you need to create expressive sketches, rich paintings, gorgeous illustrations and beautiful animations. It’s available to purchase on iPad from the Apple App Store.
Apple Creative Pro Tips
Throughout this Creative Guide, you’ll find tips and tricks on all the technical aspects of Caterina’s brief from our Apple Creative Pro. Just like when you visit your local Apple Store, they’re on hand to offer guidance on how to get the most from your devices. Keep an eye out for the Apple Creative Pro Tip box as you’ll find advice on everything from using grids and guides in Procreate to switching between the pen and eraser while using an Apple Pencil.
A preview of some of the work you’ll get to create during this Guide.
Caterina’s brief asks you to draw letterforms that express what change means to you, and eventually turn that into a poster. But before we go anywhere near Procreate, you need to first figure out what that word signifies to you. Grab yourself a pen and paper or work into the Notes app to get some initial thoughts down, following the process Caterina outlines below.
If you’re working on an iPad with an Apple Pencil, you can draw perfectly straight lines between words and ideas just by holding down your pencil for a little longer after drawing your line, you can do this for other shapes too. And, if you like your notes to look a little neater, use the leftmost drawing tool labelled with a capital “A” – this will convert whatever you write to typed text.
Caterina Bianchini: I always begin a brief with three simple questions: What is the brief asking? What is the aim of the brief? And finally, what do you want the outcome of the brief to be? These questions allow for a solid foundation for any project and ensure you have understood the brief.
For this brief, in particular, we are working with the theme of “change” and what it means to you, so naturally, I also asked myself: What does change mean to me? I answered this through a mindmap, as there are many different meanings of the word “change”. This mindmap acts as a springboard to further develop ideas and incite research.
I focused on the word change itself – sometimes the most simple starting point allows for the most interesting research threads. I examined the meaning of this word in a literal manner and began to think of change and its many facets. Change has the potential to be something in nature, something psychological, something physical etc. But I decided to focus on one insight that I thought encapsulated “change”, this was “metamorphosis”.
When you’ve solidified what change means to you, it’s time to dig into some in-depth research. If you’ve chosen something related to a social cause, it could be a good idea to look into some key figureheads of that movement. Or if you’re interested in the changing of the seasons, get to know some of the science behind this. These are really just ideas, though, and it’s up to you to go as niche or as broad as you like here. Just remember that this research is the foundation of the rest of your project from here on out, so it’s important you find enough to inspire you.
If you’re using an Apple Pencil, you can continue to use this whilst researching. You can handwrite anything into the search bar of Safari and it will automatically convert it to text. This is possible with most text entry boxes on apps and websites.
CB: Research is incredibly important; it is at the core of every project I work on, whether it’s a brand identity, campaign, shoot, typography or poster work. I will often come across some insight through research I had never considered for the project that might make me start thinking about it from a different perspective. Research should be something that feels natural to the brief, so this is where I would look back on my mindmap and pull out interesting keywords that I want to explore further.
“I will often come across some insight through research I had never considered for the project that might make me start thinking about it from a different perspective.”Caterina Bianchini
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Some of Caterina’s typographic research.
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Caterina also researched protest posters, as they are often used as a catalyst for change: Danny Lyon: NOW, 1962-1964 (Courtesy Magnum Photos)
It’s now your chance to start visualising your ideas through a moodboard. Caterina creates three different moodboards targeting different parts of this project, but you can stick to one if you like. Using Keynote, Pages or even Notes if you prefer, you can easily create something that communicates your ideas, dragging and dropping images from Safari and beyond.
CB: I find moodboards really helpful for developing the previous research into a visual starting point. They usually take three formats. Firstly, the moodscape, which is very abstract and general. It is based on how I envisage the project feeling. The second moodboard is a research board, this doesn’t necessarily have to be one board, it can be a few. It’s more focused on the brief and how I am planning on answering the brief visually; what I will take reference from in order to create. For this brief, I decided upon the protest poster as it is often used as a catalyst for change. The third board is another research board that references the brief but is more refined and usually targets the outcome of the brief – in this case, typography.
Generally, moodboards should always be more about a feeling you are trying to portray through the work rather than just referencing other interesting designs. If you focus on this feeling you are more likely to create something unique and if it does end up overlapping with a design trend, it will be unintentional.
“Moodboards should always be more about a feeling you are trying to portray through the work rather than just referencing other interesting designs.”Caterina Bianchini
Now that you’re somewhat of an expert in your chosen theme, you can create what Caterina calls a “concept tree”. It’s a unique part of the Nari process, that the studio developed, and which features as part of its workflow on every project. Here, Caterina tells us more about what a concept tree is, and how you can go about making your own.
CB: The final step of research and development is the creation of the concept tree. This becomes the base layer for every project; it acts as a root for the creative approach and encapsulates everything you’ve explored up until this point in a very simple structure that can be referenced as you begin to create.
CB:It is composed of three levels. The top is the overarching concept. The second is the “behaviourals” – if this thing you are creating was a human how would it behave? What would its personality be? The third is the graphic application – how do the “behaviourals” interpret into a graphic system? The concept tree acts as a vital reference point from the beginning to the end of a project, helping with creative block, project development and the final output.
When you’ve completed your concept tree, it’s time to decide what message your poster is going to share. Pick a word or a phrase from your research or even directly from your concept tree that embodies your theme and tells people what change means to you. Make a note of it as you’ll be using it from Step 05 onwards.
CB: On one of my initial notes I wrote the thought “Change is Growth” so I’m using the word “change” and will try to show different ways in which it feels like there is a connection back to growth. Reference your research and development [to choose your message]. What does change mean to you? It could be a full saying or a singular word. .
With your creative direction decided upon and a whole load of research under your belt, you can begin to actually create your letterforms. In this project, Caterina is asking you to work in an intuitive way, rather than sticking exactly to the rules of typography, so don’t be afraid to experiment here – whether you’ve got type design experience or not.
Using your word or phrase, begin by creating rectangles or boxes for the number of letters you need to create, and then carve each letter out of this shape. If you want to, you can create a whole alphabet, as Caterina has. Take into account everything you have learned up to this point and allow it to inform your design, sketching until you feel happy with the basic shapes you have created.
Caterina has created a simple template for you to carve your letterforms from, if you’d rather have a starting point. Import the jpgs into Procreate then, under the Wrench icon, tap on Insert a Photo. Then you can work into these images or draw over them in a new layer.
CB: Through my research, I decided I wanted to create something that feels bold and expressive. I see it sitting more within the sans serif family so it has a nice visual link to some of the vintage protest poster designs. However, I want it to have more of a display aesthetic, I want it to feel like it is a hybrid, a font with no previous connotation given – imagine a maverick font inciting change! It is important to me that there is a feeling of growth and development in whatever I build and that there is a moment of transformation to link back to the overarching concept of metamorphosis
“I want it to feel like it is a hybrid, a font with no previous connotation given – imagine a maverick font inciting change!”Caterina Bianchini
Below, Caterina talks through how she works with negative space during this phase of the project. If you’d like to give that a go, you can use the selection tools in Procreate to carve out negative space in your fonts. Different selection modes will give you different results. Rectangle and Ellipse are great to cut out complete shapes, and using Freehand allows you to create custom selections. Once you’ve selected the area to cut out, you can erase this area freely.
CB: Depending on what sort of lettering I am creating I will begin to sketch out the letterforms in different ways. For this particular font, I have decided to create sans serif letters, so I begin mapping each of the letters out in a box format. This allows me to have a starting place for each of the characters, almost like a blueprint.
There are two ways I would usually begin to build out letterforms, either through the application of negative space to carve out each letter or by using shapes to build the individual letters. Here, I have used a mixture of the two but more predominantly used the idea of applying negative space to create each character. Working into each block, I add the negative space to create letterforms. What I end up with is a basic A-Z. This set of characters acts as a base, the starting point from which I will begin to develop forms that feel intricate and more connected to the overarching concept.
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Caterina often works with negative space to build characters
Now that you have a set of basic letterforms, you can begin to really inject personality into them in order to express a feeling. For Caterina, this means imbuing the idea of metamorphosis into every letter but the possibilities are endless and how you choose to portray your concept is entirely up to you.
CB: Now I will begin working into the base. I usually design a graphic shape that I then apply across the letters in different ways to cut into or add onto the characters. This shape can be anything, so take a little time to play and see what feels best – it’s a very simple way to add character whilst maintaining flow and balance across the full character set.
“I settled on a shape that allowed me to embed the idea of a seedling or a cocoon into every character.”Caterina Bianchini
For this font, I settled on a shape that allowed me to embed the idea of a seedling or a cocoon into every character, which was really important to represent the overarching concept as well as the idea of progression and growth. The second element was the “moment of transformation”, in which each character transforms from one thing into something completely different. I will explore how it can be applied to each character, and begin to develop the application of it: Should it be more minimal? Should it be placed at an angle? Should it be accentuated? Always refer back to your concept tree to make sure what you’re creating is rooted in that original research and development and has a consistent concept thread running through it.
To create neat shapes inside Procreate, start by drawing out your shape in one single stroke, then without taking your Apple Pencil off the iPad, hold it one place, and you’ll find your box will snap to something a little neater. You can edit this further by dragging out the blue circles that appear on the corners of the shape. This is possible with straight lines and curves too.
CB: Once I have pushed the concept to a place that feels right, I will work on my final draft ensuring the alignment and flow of the entire font are working. Knowing when something is finished is subjective, but for me, it is about striking a balance between form and play. I usually like to push whatever I am creating so it has strange moments throughout. It has parts that feel a little off or contrasting, as this creates that moment of interest or a graphic pause, which gets people thinking. I also ensure not to push something too far that it loses its consideration and becomes gimmicky though.
The final stage is artworking. I will usually go through each character and ruler everything up, making sure all crossbars are aligned (if they are supposed to be), as well as ensuring that there are no inconsistencies in thickness or the application of the shape. I’ll look for any odd pen points that need to be straightened out, and begin to look at the kerning between each of the characters.
Once I have artworked the font I will begin to play with it, test it out, and see how it can be used with colour and texture in a way that explores the concept further. This is where I get a true understanding of the personality of the font and how it works in compositions; almost like mini posters for the letters.
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Caterina plays with some simple compositions, understanding of the personality of the font.
Finally, it’s time to use the letters you’ve created to produce a poster. As you’ve mostly been working in monochrome up until now, you should begin by creating a colour board. Similar to the moodboards you created in Step 04, this helps to set the tone of your poster and it should reference your concept and research – you could directly take colours from your research in fact. Keep questioning every creative decision you make. If the answer is because it relates back to or supports your concept then great. If it’s just that it feels “right”, then that works too.
CB: A colour board is something that allows you to explore colour combinations before you begin to apply them to the final piece you are creating. It allows you to explore the feeling you are trying to portray through the use of colour: Is it uplifting? Do you want to use complementary contrasts? Are the colours sourced from art or nature?
Caterina's colour board
Once you’ve got your colour board solidified, it’s finally time to compose your word or phrase and devise your poster. Iteration and instinct are the keys here so don’t get hung up on creating the perfect composition straight away – keep sketching and you’ll get there.
CB: When creating a poster I treat each composition like a page in my sketchbook, pushing and playing with the font. How far can I push this before it becomes completely illegible or unrecognisable and if I do that, does it work? I really love this part because it is just about having fun, expressing yourself through the font. Think about the purpose of the composition and how you can show the original concept through it. At this stage, it feels as though the font and I are getting to know each other and are seeing how we work together. You begin to understand how to use it, why you are using it in and its limits. Don’t be afraid to push and explore unknown territories – even if it doesn’t get used, you have to at least explore the idea.
“How far can I push this before it becomes completely illegible or unrecognisable and if I do that, does it work?”Caterina Bianchini
Once I have several compositions I’m happy with, I will explore how I can apply colour to the poster. I will reference my colour board, although sometimes I don’t; I will just apply the colours I feel work. Once I have a feel for the composition as a whole, I might begin to explore adding more gestural elements, like random lines that reference a burst of energy or little dots to make the poster feel more textural.
The final step is adding texture to the poster. I have a set of textures that I have been using since the very beginning of my career designing posters. I would suggest that anyone interested in poster design makes their own bank of textures than they can then overlay onto the final artwork. Again this is quite subjective but I always like my posters to feel hand-printed, like you want to touch them, like they have been printed in real life and then scanned back into the computer. I think this adds a human touch to the design.
Looking ahead, Caterina is keen to see what you have produced and has shared some thoughts on what she hopes you might take away from this Guide.
CB: I hope people can understand that not all lettering has to be complex, sometimes a very simple idea can create something unique and beautiful. I want people to understand the importance of research and development in a project and all the ways it can be used throughout the entirety of a project to create work that has meaning and depth, as well as being visually pleasing. Lastly, to have fun. Don’t be afraid of things that don’t look that good or “right” – play, explore and through this you will begin to artistically develop.
Whether you landed on one perfect poster or have a whole series to add to your portfolio, we’d love to see what you’ve made during this Creative Guide. We’ll be collating some of our favourite responses to the brief in an article towards the end of New World, so make sure you share your work on social media. Use #CreativeNewWorld and #TodayAtApple, and also tag @studionari, for a chance to be featured on It’s Nice That.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.
More from Creative Guides
Try out our other Creative Guides. We’ll be publishing five in total throughout New World, across a range of disciplines from leading creatives.