Susie Brown

Artist | Calligrapher | Letterer



Mrs Brown's Kitchen Cards

I design greeting cards, and I am very fond of good food, so this seemed like the perfect time to design a box for some seasonal fruit and veg cards.

Inspiration came from searching for vintage packaging on the internet, plus a couple of vintage tins I own, photos of packaging and advertising from museums and a great book I got in a second-hand bookshop on old enamel signs that used to be used in railway stations. (I've just checked on and you can still get this for about £1 - it's "Street Jewellery - a history of enamel advertising signs" by Christopher Baglee & Andrew Morley.)

I also looked at some modern packaging design which draws on vintage styles.

I picked out lots of elegant lettering styles, with delicate flourishes, ornate borders and illustrations. I also noticed how wordy some of the advertising claims are, and might try to imitate that in the copywriting. Now heading for the sketchbook to try and capture some of these details.

Capturing the details

I sketched a few of the details from my inspiration boards to home in on what had drawn my eye to the images in the first place. The first thing that struck me was how amazing the details were. It was only when I started to look closely at some of the borders etc that I discovered how much was in there. I hadn't even noticed the border pattern on the peachy coloured tin on the first board until I started to sketch the lettering style.

Next I'll plan out the dimensions, layout and colour ideas etc of the box labels (the 'client' brief), and hopefully begin to make some decisions on the next steps for the design.

'Client' brief

I mindmapped the sort of questions I would need to ask the 'client' (ie myself). But I also reminded myself that the client doesn't always know what she wants until she sees it ;) so I didn't let myself feel too constrained to stick exactly to the brief. As always, decision-making proved difficult, but I decided the best way forward was to keep it simple.

The botanical style of illustrations I mention in the mind map are from a couple of lovely books I have on the shelf. The second one is the fragile original edition printed in 1889 which I found in a dusty corner of a second-hand bookshop.

So having made some decisions (for now), it's time to start thinking about the fun bit: the actual layout and lettering.


I had a look at the vintage ads I'd collected, and looked at the kind of language that was used in the Edwardian and Victorian era. A lot of it seems hugely wordy, and a world away from the subtle advertising slogans used now.

Some of the extravagant claims made on product packaging reminded me of the kind of language used in a TV show I watched as a kid - The Good Old Days - which recreated the old British music hall theatre of the Edwardian/Victorian period. Leonard Sachs was the MC, and was famous for his OTT intros to the performers (An example from YouTube if you're interested

So I brainstormed some ideas to see what might be useful for my project.

I'm now getting a bit clearer on creating the hierarchy of copy for the box label. So I'll draw that up next.

Layout ideas

I played around with some rough layouts and began to think about how to connect what I liked in the research images with my own label.

At this point, I think I like the brand "Mrs Brown's Kitchen" to be what you see first, and I sketched out my own version of the monogram, which could feature as a kind of stamp.

In the process of sketching, I came up with the line "A feast for the eyes" which could be a kind of slogan.

I started to experiment with versions of the kind of lettering and borders I'd liked in the research images. And I'm thinking about trying a version in black & white only, with just the illustrations in colour.

Any thoughts or feedback on the direction I should take this would be very welcome.


I put together a landscape layout (thanks Myra for the suggestion) and looked at the label design from the point of view of the customer. They need to know more about the fact that this is a box of greeting cards than about the Mrs B's Kitchen brand.

So with that in mind, I changed the hierarchy of the layout and roughly sketched out the elements. I'm going to work on refining this into an inked version and see how it looks.

Another pencil sketch - getting closer to how I want it to look. As soon as I see it in a smaller version on screen, I can see what needs adjusting: centering some of the text and altering spacing.

Update 26th November

I did an inked version of this layout, scanned it in and cleaned it up in Photoshop, then live traced it in Illustrator to see how it looked.

What I learned was

1) I need to do the circle 'stamp' separately and make it larger to do the lettering properly. (I think this applies to a lot of my lettering - I tend to work small and so can't get the level of detail I want.)

2) I need to do the shading in the border of the circle on a separate layer if I want it to be a different colour from the triangles.

3) The feedback I had on the final line was good (thank you Tracey) - it definitely needs rearranging to look balanced.

4) I now have a colour palette in mind for the final version.

It seemed very time-consuming, but it was well worth the effort to try this out ahead of the final version.

I looked at how I could rearrange the elements, and went with adding some extra flourishes. I re-drew the 'stamp' on a larger scale so I could scale it down when I was happy with the lettering. The shading with the stippling didn't really work when I scaled the circle down to where it needs to be on an A5 label.

I scanned in the redrawn layout, and then played around with a couple of colour schemes in Illustrator. This one was based on the strawberry watercolour I've included.

I may re-draw some of the elements (the CHE in KITCHEN isn't quite working yet, the K in the stamp logo above looks a bit thin to me, and I'd like to try doing the 'A veritable cornucopia line' with a dip pen to get proper thicks and thins on the letters) and then when I'm happy with it all, take it into Photoshop to add some textures.

I also decided that I'll need to design a label for the back of the box of cards to show the buyer what they're getting, so maybe I'll recycle the elements I removed (like the banner and '4 delicious designs' for that purpose.

Update 1st December

I played around with a different colour scheme (inspired by clementines this time) and added some textures.

I think the 'greeting cards for all purposes' needs to be bolder, and maybe add a few more flourishes at the top? Feedback is very welcome.

Update 3rd December

I decided to make the final lines much bolder, so I revisited the reference material I'd gathered to look for a suitable style to use. The first example I'd found, on the blue tobacco tin, looked like a great candidate. I had several attempts at lettering the new wording: 'greeting'on one side, and 'notecards' on the other. (The word 'cards' was too short to look balanced.) I added some dark pencil on rough watercolour paper as the texture. Then I redrew the flourishes in the top half of the label.

I will probably redraw the last few letters of 'notecards' and faff about (technical term) with the textures a bit more. I had to sacrifice the illustrations for this layout, but that may not be such a bad thing, as I haven't yet made up my mind on the style for the cards themselves.


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