Matt Vergotis is a letterer and type designer based on the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia. In his work he specialises in logo, brand and identity design – outside of work he is passionate about surfing. Matt shows that being left-handed isn’t a problem if you want to produce great lettering. Read the e-mail interview below.
Can you briefly outline your career? How did starting out on your own come about and are you ever looking back?
I’m a self taught graphic designer. I’ve always had a preference for identity work and conceptual advertising which I worked on through various careers on the Gold Coast, Sydney and in London before going out on my own in 2007 and specialising in Corporate Identity.
Originally it was stepping out of the office environment in Sydney where I creative directed the branding for an international recruitment firm. I moved back to my home town on the Gold Coast where I worked remotely and over time that company got bought out by a big corporate and then gobbled up by an even bigger corporate. This became a serendipitous chain of events that led me to stepping outside of my comfort zone to do my own thing. Am I ever looking back? Nope! Right here, right now. Being freed up to be my own boss has opened doors to specialise in areas I want to go and with that has come growth. Three years ago I hadn’t picked up a brush pen, now I get to draw letters for a living and indulge in new visual identities as they present themselves. My previous job didn’t give me that variety, so I am loving where things are at right now.
I read you’ve always been good at drawing – what sparked your interest in lettering specifically?
The lettering thing all came about three years ago when I landed a client that was a clothing label (David Michael). One of the greatest things I love about my job is that it gives you the opportunity to explore different styles as different clients and different values present themselves. For this particular client I wanted to explore a hand lettered style signature and whilst I had done this sort of thing in the past, I look back at it as amateurish now. Through social media I was beginning to notice and identify more and more sexy typography work that began to inspire me. So for this project I really wanted to push myself and try my best to capture that same creative craft look aesthetic letterers embellish in. After illustrating the logo (no brush pens at this stage) and mimicking the transitions and stroke variances, I published the logo on dribbble and the presentation on behance and received positive feedback from well respected letterers but more importantly, received a string of follow up clients all requesting lettering style logos after seeing it posted. So you could say the lettering flood gates were opened thanks to David Michael and I was hooked from then on. It also reacquainted me with drawing. Prior to that my drawing skills had been kind of hibernating since school, apart from thumbnail sketching for logos.
What is your typical process when creating a piece of lettering? How much happens by hand VS on the computer?
Equal parts magic, I say. The ratio is 1:1. I enjoy both stages as much as the other. If you’re talking lettering that’s untextured or that has silky sexy smooth curves, then it takes just as much attention to detail and skill to get those curves looking immaculate in the vectoring stage as it does laying down the brush pen. This’ll sound fruity but I really enjoy getting intimate with those curves, balancing nodes by the smallest of margins in order to strike that desirability. No matter how refined your sketch is, there’ll always be so much room for improvement when vectoring… and it shows. Beautiful lettering can be butchered in the vectoring process if it’s not handled with that passion and attention to detail.
So basically my process starts out with writing a name with a pencil or favourite brush pen. It’s better to start with a pencil because you free yourself up to concentrate on the letterforms and not the stroke variances from thick to thin. From there I discover motifs or letter relationships that can be played around with to make up ligatures or an interesting composition. It also builds a little muscle memory so when you do jump on the brush pens you end up getting results quicker. After that I’ll write a name over and over and over. I find it very therapeutic and I often fill up pages with very similar attempts. Then it’s a matter of either identifying one solid attempt that’s as perfect as I can get it, or taking certain characters from certain attempts and marrying them up to make the perfect composition. Then I scan it and embark on the O.C.D vector path work.
You often get people asking which pens you use – how important do you think it is to have the right ones? Which pens do you use and where do you buy them?
How is that? Without fail I’ll get asked several times per post – even when I do mention it in the caption. People just froth on brushpens. I’m stoked people want to learn and are eager to try the same pens but if you’re asking me how important it is, then really for people starting out it’s probably a good thing to take a step back and not jump straight into them. What’s important for people starting out is getting comfortable with letterforms first. Go back to cursive writing and practice writing words over and over and getting use to finding that flow and fluid movement. From there pushing certain ligatures or terminals and getting a little expressive with mono-weighted strokes. I created stacks of brushpen style logos before I ever owned a brushpen. My tools consisted of a 2H led pencil and an eraser and that was it for the first year of me specialising in this field. There comes a time when you do want to get the results organically with the brush pens and I have always favoured the Zebra Fine Disposable hard tip brush pen. I also love the pilot parallel pens and an old gritty ruling pen that I have. When you do start getting desirable results it is important to explore different pens as every pen wields its own secret power. Sometimes it takes a while to unlock what works for them but when you do, you find you get varied results from one pen to another which keeps things interesting and also opens up your repertoire. I get them from jetpens.com
Do you have any side projects? How important do you think it is to have side projects?
Side projects give you the opportunity to explore avenues client work may not offer you, so if you’re keen to grow as a designer then it’s a great way to scratch any creative itches you may have.
Any week now I’m going to release my follow up font called “Museology”. It’s going to be a family of 4 weights with their respective italic partners, so 8 all up. Anyone that’s followed my work or have read other interviews from me will probably be yawning right now as it’s been an on going side project for the past 2 and a half years. There have been plenty of lulls along the way for various reasons but now I have decided to really pin my ears back and make a push for the finish line. I only need to create the italic lowercase letters of a couple of weights and then I’ll be close to releasing the family. The problem with taking a long time to fulfil side projects is you grow so much in that time as a designer. My knowledge of typeface design now is 10 fold of what it was back when I started this project, but Museology has its place and whilst it may not reflect where I’m at right now with typeface design, I’m still very proud of it and I can’t wait to tick this one off the type nerd bucket list. Creating a font family really is a mammoth undertaking. Creative itch? More like a full body creative rash.
I’m also in the process of putting together a storyboard for some video tutorials that will be going on Skillshare and my website.
I’ve also got bubbling around my brain the idea to do more illustrative/ artwork pieces. Something where I can bring together my love for typography and surfing.
Are there other lettering artists/graphic designers/other visual artists that inspire you? Where else do you draw inspiration from?
I follow so many designers on instagram and dribbble that my feed is full of gorgeous type work. I’ve always admired Sergey Shapiros style and how he has an ability to extract so much character out of a letterform. He has this effortless style that really motivated me to want to see what I could bring to the table. I also have a friend in South Africa, Simon Frouws that specialises in premium wine & spirits labels. I’m a sucker for people that have the mental stamina to throw themselves into crazy detail. The level of detail he goes to in order to achieve the authentic vintage look is admirable. I also recently loved CJ Hendry’s story. If you have been hiding underneath a rock and don’t know anything about her work I suggest you google her name. Her rags to riches story is very inspiring, and as far as mental stamina goes for attention to detail? Blown away! There’s more, but it changes daily weekly and monthly. I see a new style or medium and I want to try it.
Outside of the work, surfing and my girls inspire me. Surfing’s just pure soul food of the best kind and it inspires me to stay fit and active. And my girls inspire me to be a better person in every way. They certainly changed my outlook on life when they came along.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get started with lettering?
Don’t get hung up on achieving results with the brush pens too quickly. Chip away at it. If you put in the time you will get it eventually. The learning curve is pretty steep and it doesn’t take years and years. Just lots of hours that you have to be prepared to dedicate yourself to often. Give pencils a go first and learn how to sketch your results. This will give you an understanding of thicks and thins and terminal shapes. For leftys, if you don’t already, come over a little from the top. That will help you get the right line of symmetry in order to achieve the same pen angle results as a righty and also prevent you from smudging.
All images were provided by Matt Vergotis and are published with permission.