Skillshare Talks | Martina Flor on Cultivating Creative Side Projects to Grow Her Lettering Business | Martina Flor | Skillshare

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Skillshare Talks | Martina Flor on Cultivating Creative Side Projects to Grow Her Lettering Business

teacher avatar Martina Flor, Lettering Artist, Author & Educator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

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      Martina Flor Live at Skillshare


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About This Class

This short video is part of the Skillshare Talks series that shares footage from live conversations with our teacher community.

Join the Skillshare team at our NYC headquarters with Martina Flor - a lettering designer, author, educator, and creative entrepreneur. Through this talk, you will hear how Martina built a thriving career in lettering. She shares how investing time in creative side projects helped her improve her craft, land her clients, and strengthen her brand. This talk with leave you with both inspirational and actionable steps for pursing your creative passion as a career.

Meet Your Teacher

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Martina Flor

Lettering Artist, Author & Educator


Martina Flor combines her talents as both a designer and an illustrator in the drawing of letters. Based in Berlin, she runs one of the world's leading studios in lettering and custom typography, working for clients all over the globe such as The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, HarperCollins, Monotype, Etsy, Adobe, Mercedes Benz, Lufthansa, and Cosmopolitan, among many others.

Martina Flor earned her Master's in Type Design from the esteemed Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, The Netherlands. Since then she has dedicated a large part of her time to teaching lettering and type design. She has published two books in several languages, The Golden Secrets of Lettering and The Big Leap, and launch... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Trailer: Getting better through practice is something we say very often. But instead of getting better through practice, I like to get better through making. Once you find that thing that you can do well and you like doing, I think the hardest part of it is to actually get better at what you do. It doesn't change anyone's life if you do a sketch that says, good morning my love, but it does if you turn that into a postcard and you send it to someone. This is how I came with a certain site project of mine called leather collection. What I normally do in this class is to share my work process and to explain very clearly what I actually do very intuitively. 2. Martina Flor Live at Skillshare: Thank you everyone for being here really. I flew all the way from Berlin to New York. I work and live there and I'm about to give you the talk that I wish someone had given to me when I started with the lettering. As I started, I didn't know that lettering was a discipline of design. I would have loved someone to explain to me what lettering was, how to work with it, and especially how to get better, how to improve. I'm going to share with you some stuff that I learned through trial and error along the way. My work is basically to draw letters, to give written language a form. What I really like about it is that, lettering works always with two counterparts of the same message, the content, the texts, and it's shape. I can be very extra swift, when I speak about love, or I can say my favorite bad word in a very delicate way, I can be very festive and say something with confetti and everything, and I can be very loud. By shaping these letters, I can tell you stories. I like to illustrate the power of storytelling through lettering with book covers. Because I feel that book covers have this power of telling you what the story that is coming afterwards in 300 pages, 500 pages. It's having that power of telling you in one image what you can expect from that book. What you expect from this book is rather different to what you expect from that book. The shape of those letters set the tone for the message. I can help to find awkward when someone says nowadays that lettering is the new thing because it's really been there for a while, we just have to raise our heads and look up. There's letters that tells us how cool and modern a car is, at least back in the 50s. There is letters that tell us, they speak about the magnitude of a place and they fit with their application. Some letters work with what they have in hand, in this case tiles. But lettering has been out there for a long time to tell us stories. By looking at the sign, I can almost picture how the bread they make test. I can picture that the baker works on each bun with a lot of care and I can imagine how he puts a lot of attention into creating each one of those bread. I can almost imagine how good the bread test. By looking at the sign, I can actually picture how good that bread is. That is the power of lettering, to communicate much more than the literal meaning of the words. I realized actually the power of my work when I moved to Germany. The shape of the letters gave me hints. I could understand a little bit what those stories were about. I could understand where tradition was important. Where I could eat a good German sausage. Or I could understand when someone was trying to give me an indication in this case, even when I wouldn't understand the text, I wouldn't just go ahead in this case. I could understand also when something was made to last forever. I call this one sausage lettering, and it pretty much helped me understand what the store is selling. The artisans creating those signs at that time were probably using different techniques than the ones I use nowadays. They were probably creating those designs by hand and they would be later executed in metal, neon, or wood. I'm going to tell you a while ago I got a commission from a Spanish publishing house to create the cover of a classic Alice in Wonderland. In this case, the title of the book is what I am going to work with. That's my raw material. At a first glance, there's things that are not so important. Usually the connectors or the prepositions are something that you can leave on a second level, or I can draw a smaller. I normally start by sketching some ideas in little timeline sketches. What if I use my handwriting with a lot of flourishing? That would be an idea. What if I use more conventional letter shapes to make everything look a bit more serious, like a notebook or an encyclopedia? Another idea would be, what if I combine both universes in the same composition, the handwritten and the conventional letter shapes? I try these in various small timeline sketches. In this case, I would go on with that idea on the right. I would normally take a piece of paper where I would mark some guidelines and there I would start adding, my letters would seat on those guidelines and then I would start deciding upon details how these terminals are going to look like, how the serifs are. I normally do a number of sketches where I try different solutions and I change stuff. Then these hand-drawing turns into precise shapes. I bring this into my computer, I scan it, and then I start picking up those shapes with vector points. This is the magic moment where that 2d design turns into a real product. There's the sketch, this is what I use myself to test ideas with the client. That sketch is what I would send to a client to see if we are on the same page with the design. When that hand sketch is approved, then I will move on to the digital drawing. The decision of becoming a letterer for me at least came before having a big portfolio of work. I grew up in Argentina, I studied graphic design and then I moved to Europe to study type design. During this year of studying type design, I found in drawing letters, something that combined two things that I really like, which were design, and on the other hand, illustrations. I thought that drawing letters is the perfect combination or the perfect marriage of those two disciplines. After my studies in type design, I moved to Berlin and I've decided to become a lettering artist. I also clean up my website from all the things that I had done before, but I didn't want to do anymore. Those were the two big important things that I did to kick off my career as a lettering artist. One thing you should know about Berlin is that it's a city all about typography. There's really a very big community of people working with type and doing fonts. Things like legibility, functionality, clarity are really essential topics in that community. As you may see, these are things that my work doesn't necessarily pursue. My work is sometimes the opposite, it's very expressive, it's very colorful, it's about telling a story. The story I want to tell about something. Type designer, colleague of mine calls my work contemporary baroque. I always wonder if he means in a good way or in a bad way, but it's true, the work oftentimes is layer of information, so the letters come after the correlative elements, the shadow. When I moved to Berlin, I wanted so much to become a lettering artist and work as a lettering artist that I had to come up with excuses to train my skills. The first skills I came up with is lettering versus calligraphy. This is a project I started together with Giuseppe Salerno. He is an Italian calligrapher. We would upload a letter per day or every two days, and we would create that letter according to a keyword. In this case, it's sexy s, on the left, I would execute the letter with lettering, that means by drawing, and on the right he would do it with calligraphy, that means by writing. You would go to the website, you would normally vote for lettering, and then you could see how the battle was going. I think that the voting part of it is what a little bit attracted a lot of people because we created letters in so many different ways. It was not about following a style, but it was about telling a story, telling that keyword that was triggering our work. We were using photography, sometimes the letters were an illustration. We were trying so many different stuffs sometimes, it was hard to recognize a lettering, it was really on the edge. Sometimes calligraphy was written without ink. The fact that so many people were watching, really spiced up the battle between us. Because every time I uploaded a letter or I created a letter, I wanted to wipe the floor with just a bang, and he wanted to do the same with me. Although we were very good friends, this friction reflected in the comments of our website. I would say to him,"Nice 'n' Giuseppe. Is that as dynamic as you can be? He would reply, " Not bad, your dynamic vectors", but my ruling pen is faster than turning on your computer and opening your illustrator. Here's a comment for one of the followers, "The lettering design person is killing the calligrapher over and over. The calligrapher got no flavor at all. Peace." "I cannot resist the organic feeling of a real stroke clashed between paper and ink." This battle that started as a game between him and me, became an amusement for others, but also it became a very essential part of the work we did. My work became much more expressive because I really wanted to do better for all the people watching, really. This first side project that I did taught me to keep on this little side projects for yourself to share what you do in an interesting way. Once you find that thing that you can do well and you like doing, I think the hardest part of it is to actually get better at what you do. Getting better through practice is something we say very often, but instead of getting better through practice, I like to get better through making. it doesn't change anyone's life if you do a sketch that says, "Good morning my love." But it does if you turn that into a postcard, and you send it to someone. This is how I came with a second side project of mine called letter collections, where I set myself the goal of creating 100 postcards. I send the postcards to friends, colleagues, strangers, people I admired, celebrities. This is how I sent postcards to [inaudible] which is someone I really admire, and I feel that in a way he motivated me to follow a creative path in my life. Ringo Starr because Beatles is the band that I listen to when I have hard days at work, and even to Lionel Messi because I love football, and also because I really admire when someone is so good at what he or she does. I also send postcards to family, and friends, and even to my own baby before he came to the world. You must be wondering whether Lionel Messi or Ringo Sarr got the postcard, me too. A lot of people who were getting the postcard, will get back to me on Instagram, or will send me a picture through e-mail. This feedback kept me going for the next one. The typical scenario of a friend of yours coming to you say like, "Can you please design the invites for our wedding? You just do whatever you want, " and it's like, "No, you tell me what to do." Because going through 100 rounds of changes because of our friendship is much more than I am willing to do. Having a brief is really essential, as well as having a deadline. it's really important. You need when you are going to be done, even if it's not done. Because the truth is that it will never be done. You will look at what you did today, you will look at it tomorrow, and you will find room for improvement. So you need to know when you're going to be done with it, even if it's not done. An essential part of it is to share it. It's important to show it to the world, and to let your work have an impact on the community. Let me stay for a moment in this word, because it really had an impact I I feel, on the work I do nowadays, and I want to close this short talk with the story of how I started teaching. The first workshop I organized I thought I offered was in Berlin. I had just moved to Berlin and I didn't know anyone in the city. The first workshop I offered was for free. I thought, well, if it's free and it's bad, people won't complain and it will also give me the opportunity to have the room full of people and trying myself at teaching, which I never had done before. At least I had never done lettering, so I thought, okay, I'm going to try myself at this. This first workshop I offered was really successful. No I felt that people were happy. They were happy and I felt something for the first time that I think it's what keeps me teaching nowadays. Which is like I felt that the people were leaving the room with a certain degree of enlightenment. I felt that they were leaving feeling that they knew or they had learned something that they could use for their creative work. Teaching to very different profiles of students pushed me to create very simple ways of explaining very complex concepts of typography. For instance, I came up with the solution of grouping letters in simple shapes. You have narrow shapes that belong to the group of the squarish letters, you have shapes that are rounded, you have shaped our triangular and that helps you keep consistency between the shapes. So how to find the idea of spacing between those two letters, for instance. The principle says that the space within the letter should be similar to the space between the letter. If this is water, you should be able to fit the same amount of water between the letters or how to deal with letter proportions by comparing it with the human body. There's letters that have longer upper part and short legs or longer legs and shorter body. Or how to deal with distortion. Comparing distortion with gravitational force, or how to approach a certain lettering style, for instance, 3D topography. If you have your lighting source coming from underneath, the letter shapes will look scary. If you have the lighting source coming from above, they will look more natural and friendly. These ideas is what I came up with by teaching to different people and different profiles of students. But at some point, going to different cities with my workshops became really worksome and very expensive for me and for the students as well. This is when I decided to set up a [inaudible] classes. I started with the class. I discovered that there was a very easy way to reach new audiences and virtually traveled to all those cities where it was very hard to travel with my workshops. But the thing is that one class trigger the other one or inspire the content for the next one and for the next one and it keeps these inspiring content and also getting feedback from students and seeing where they have issues or where they have questions then triggers the next class. What I normally do in these classes is to share my work process and to explain very clearly what I actually do very intuitively. It's really amazing how the explaining things that I do very intuitively explaining these in steps, how that made me gain confidence in what I do and understand my own process. Without even noticing, it organized my process in a way that push me to actually create a book. Creating a class has the same structure of gradient book where you explain what you do in steps. First I do this, then I do that, then I do this. Those steps then become chapters of a book. I publish a book. The book also shares or speaks about my process I thought or I should make a book that I would have loved to have when I started with this. That would give me all the information I need to get started with this. You don't only need to follow a certain process to gray lettering, but you also need to understand how the logic behind letters shapes were and how to approach different lettering styles, and how to draw with vectors if you want to vectorize your drawing and how to add color to it. That little idea of offering worship for free just to try out. Daring, just as trying myself a teaching, lettering, how it had multiplied in a lot of different things. Workshops and classes and books and how that idea of sharing what I do has inspired others to learn lettering and to keep learning of the way I do things. Hopefully this little experiences that I've shared with you today will help you make your own way to lettering or whatever you like to do. Thank you everyone for being here.