It’s the question on every designer’s mind: how do I get the kind of work I really want? If only we had a simple answer (that’s a blog post for another day). What we can tell you is that professional lettering artist and illustrator Letters Pray, also known as Andy, seems to have cracked the code for himself.
Andy’s love for glyphs started back in 2015. After getting an iPad Pro he found himself hooked and fully committed to his craft. His career is thriving, but Andy’s secret is that he doesn’t freelance exclusively. He works full-time at a creative agency, which allows his personal lettering practice to flourish on the side. In turn, his clients come to him because they already love his style, which means he gets to work on projects he truly connects with, like creating the cover for our community calendar. It’s like hitting the creative jackpot.
We caught up with Andy to learn how he balances career and passion, what inspires him, as well as his tips for budding lettering artists.
Who is Letters Pray? How did you get your start?
I’m Andy. I’m from London but now live in Bristol.
At uni, I was very drawn into note-taking and making my notebooks look engaging and cool. This habit bled into my work life, and I found myself missing stuff in meetings because I was busy perfecting flourishes or practicing calligraphy. But I really got into hand lettering and illustration while working in a really boring job.
I started by doodling on bananas on my lunch break and sharing silly stuff on Instagram. I was excited by what I saw on the platform, browsing other artists and getting inspired by all the amazing art they were making, so I decided to get better.
I find something so satisfying about lettering. The idea is that we have these forms that everyone recognizes, but there are infinite ways to reimagine them.
I learned by buying materials and trying them out, practicing different styles and approaches, watching videos and experimenting. When I got an iPad Pro is when my journey really took off, and I would be lettering every spare second I had.
Once I started sharing my experiments on Instagram, I found a whole community of artists who were doing the same kind of stuff, just at a much higher level! From there—I think around 2015—it became an obsession. I find something so satisfying about lettering. The idea is that we have these forms that everyone recognizes, but there are infinite ways to reimagine them.
You currently balance a full-time agency job with freelancing. What’s that journey been like?
I can be picky about which jobs I work on—and when I take them on. I only end up working on projects that I know I can fit into my schedule, and I know it will be a project I’m getting something out of.
I took a break from my 9-to-5 job in 2019 to go traveling, and I did a bit of freelance work on the road to support myself. The traveling got interrupted by the pandemic, but I kept on working as a freelance illustrator and lettering artist until 2021 when I started working at a creative agency again.
Since I work a normal job as well, I can be choosy about which freelance work I take on. When I was only freelancing, I basically took on anything that came my way because I needed the money. I ended up taking on work I shouldn’t have, either because it was an area I wasn’t skilled in, the timings were unrealistic or the budget was too low. I learned a lot, but it was tough.
I still take the odd freelance lettering project when they come up. I love doing freelance work, particularly because my clients come to me because they already like my style. Which means I’m probably going to enjoy doing the job! I can be picky about which jobs I work on—and when I take them on. This means that I only really end up working on projects that I know I can fit into my schedule, and I know it will be a project I’m getting something out of. Whether it’s a style I like working in and can add to my portfolio, or the chance to use a new process, technique or software that I want to get some more experience in.
You’ve mentioned Instagram a few times, and your feed is pretty packed with beautiful work. What role does it play in your practice?
For a while, I made it a rule to share something on Instagram every day. That was how I learned to get better and make stuff people liked. Over the last couple of years, I’ve massively curbed my Instagram usage and now I don’t really post much at all.
I still find it useful and it’s definitely been an incredible tool for me in the past as it’s where most of my clients have found me, and occasionally still do. And I love connecting with other designers and artists there, occasionally doing collabs or just supporting each other’s work. But I have to say that my mental health and concentration levels have massively improved since I stopped using it so much.
I noticed you work analogue from time to time, using a physical sketchbook and pencil to start. What’s the value in going “back to basics,” so to speak?
When I’m working on a client project I’ll almost always start on my iPad and keep the whole process digital, because I can work much faster that way. But recently—and this kind of coincided with me taking a step back from Instagram—I’ve been drawn to working in physical media again.
I went on a bit of a re-learning journey that involved challenging myself to make something that pleases me as much as something I had made on an iPad.
The first reason I did this was because I realized that I had become so reliant on the “undo/redo” cycle that comes with digital, that I had basically forgotten how to draw letters by hand. I went on a bit of a re-learning journey that involved lots of sketching, scribbling, trying things and challenging myself to make something that pleases me as much as something I had made on an iPad. Most of this I keep to myself but I occasionally like to share some of these experiments online, if I think they’re good enough!
What are your must-have tools?
Obviously my must-have tools are my iPad and Procreate. I’m pretty traditional in that sense. My favorite brushes come with the app: the ‘Flat Brush” is probably my most used, and then ‘Spectra” and “Tamar” for textures. Other than those I have a few packs from True Grit Texture Supply that I use a lot.
I like experimenting, though. I’ve been trying to learn a bit of blender recently and I always enjoy messing around with pattern-making software like iOrnament just for fun and to get the juices flowing. I also use the Affinity suite a lot in my workflow. I find their iPad apps really intuitive. Other than that, it’s great to always have a pencil and sketchbook to hand.
The main thing is getting used to all the possible hand gestures. For example, holding down two fingers to undo a series of actions. I also use the export layers as PNGs when I’m making a layered AR piece, and that’s been really useful.
At the end of the day, I don’t think I need AI to help me get inspired when there’s so much cool shit out in the world created by people or nature.
Any trends you see taking off in the next year?
In terms of trends, you can’t really not mention AI. I think over the next year we’ll increasingly see the impact of AI on design and illustration. Both in the sense of people using it in their work, but also reacting against it.
It is what it is. It obviously represents a seismic shift in what ‘image making’ means in 2023. I’ve not used it much, but I can imagine it being an interesting or fun tool for ideation. But at the end of the day, I don’t think I need AI to help me get inspired when there’s so much cool shit out in the world created by people or nature.
That’s a great way of putting it. Since we’re nearing the end of our chat, where can a creative start if they want to get into lettering?
Oof, that’s a tricky one. I’d say first you should get a good understanding of how letters work. There’s a book called House Industries Lettering Manual by Ken Barber that’s a really great introduction with handy exercises in it that shows you the ropes.
Always endeavor to make something that you love. If you love it, you’ll want to make more, and if you make more your style will continue to develop and evolve into something personal to you.
Find artists you like, and more importantly, work out exactly what it is you like about their work. Take inspiration from them but don’t copy them. Find things that please you and channel them into your own work.
And remember: inspiration doesn’t even need to come from other lettering artists. It can come from anywhere. I think the most important thing in developing a style is to always endeavor to make something that you love. If you love it, you’ll want to make more, and if you make more your style will continue to develop and evolve into something personal to you.
We love that. So, what inspires you, Andy?
My inspiration comes from totally random places. Sometimes I’ll see a texture on a lamp post that I want to incorporate into a piece I’m doing. I find inspiration in tactile things. Street art is a big thing. Knackered old shop signs.
I’m a massive film nerd as well. I’ll often take a film’s tone or aesthetic and base a lettering piece around that. Classic film posters are a big one, particularly the amazing painterly ones by artists like Drew Struzan. I also love matte paintings, concept art and graphic novels. I bought a great book recently called Anime Architecture which I could flick through for hours and find things that excite me.
And obviously all the amazing artists I follow on Instagram. Ah, there’s loads! @biksence is one of my all time faves. @matvoyce is killing it with his motion work. Also The High Road Design for always making me laugh. Also I’d love to give Melisa (@girlsnguts) a special shoutout. She is an illustrator I mentored last year through Creative Mentor Network, and she brings such insightful humor and vibrance to all of her work. Check her out!