Columns / Insights

Experimenting with Handlettering

Sasha Prood
You come from a family of cancer and environmental scientists. Tell us how your family’s scientific background influenced your career path. My mother realized that I had a talent for art from a young age. She thought that graphic design would be a great career for me, even before I understood what graphic design was. She brought me to a college fair at the Tyler School of Art and stood us in the design line at Carnegie Mellon University’s booth, where we talked to the most supportive and helpful man, design professor Mark Mentzer. I tested out various art schools, attending precollege programs at both Pratt Institute and Maryland Institute College of Art, but eventually discovered that moms are always right! I applied early acceptance to the Carnegie Mellon School of Design and later received my undergraduate degree in communication design with a minor in film and photography.

Coming from a family of highly intelligent academics who look at the world with questioning eyes, I’ve inherited the inquisitive mind of the scientist and apply it to the conceptualization and creation of my work. I find interesting perspectives in every project I take on, and I constantly push myself to produce work at a higher level of quality and experimentation.

The intellectual and academic environment that I grew up in has also encouraged me to pursue all of my interests, including illustration and handlettering. When my ability to teach myself runs dry, I seek new avenues of learning, such as Cooper Union’s Type@Cooper and the School of Visual Arts’ MFA programs.

How did you develop your unique style of illustration and handlettering? I have never actively pursued the development of a style—only the expansion of my skills. From elementary school through my undergraduate degree, I tested out every medium that was available to me: painting, printmaking, drawing, woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, filmmaking, photography and digital media. Being most interested in watercolor, graphite, pen and ink, and digital mediums, I learned more about them. I started by using each of these mediums traditionally, but over time, I created my own approaches and techniques.

A combination of my developing technical skills and areas of personal inspiration—which lean toward science, nature and the organic—has led to a style that comes naturally out of me. I look at other artists’ works and sometimes wish that mine could be darker or more abstract, but when I try too hard to push my art in a certain direction, it never feels right. Over the years, I have learned that I need to allow myself to produce the work that comes naturally out of me at the highest level I can, accepting whatever that turns out to be.

I view typography with the rules of a graphic designer, the playfulness of an illustrator and the inventiveness of a handletterer.


How do you push the boundaries of the themes and mediums you work with? I push the boundaries of my art through small experiments. A little experiment in one project will lead to a little experiment in another project. Over time, these changes will shift the direction of my work as a whole.

I am always experimenting with new ways to look at a theme. For example, I can draw plant typography every day because little areas of change such as a new breed of plant, a different scale, or the incorporation of dimension and flatness can create a whole new avenue of experimentation.

Similarly, I am always pushing myself to be inventive with the mediums I work in. I have left the classic approaches to using them behind long ago, and I am always inviting new ways to do my job better, primarily with the incorporation of digital technology to aid in the creation and finalizing of my handmade works.

Do you view yourself as a type designer? While working in my first postgraduate job as a graphic designer in J.Crew’s marketing design team, I decided to circle back to my art roots by exploring illustration and handlettering. At a certain point in my experimentation process, I discovered that self-study was not enough. I could tell that certain typographic shapes—such as lowercase e’s—were not quite right, but my untrained eye could not fully grasp why.

I was lucky to find the then-new Cooper Union program, Type@Cooper. I was part of the second class to complete this program with typeface designer Jesse Ragan as my primary teacher. I learned so much about the nuances of typographic shapes and spacing. I also learned that I am meant to stick with handlettering—you need a very special mind for typeface design. As the fonts expand in weight and width, my brain turns to mush!

I have never been able to define myself as a singular type of creative, and this has led to a multifaceted view of my work. I view typography with the rules of a graphic designer, the playfulness of an illustrator and the inventiveness of a handletterer. I may not always get the balance just right, but it has certainly pushed me into exciting explorations.

What excites you about the field of illustration right now? Classic illustration styles are evolving into a more contemporary mash-up illustration approach. For me, this is great since I am part of the contemporary illustration world. I doubt that the majority of my work would be considered illustration in purely traditional terms, that my mix of design meets type meets illustration would have been so easily accepted back in the heyday of illustration. I love being an illustrator today.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out? Experiment as much as possible. Put your work out there as much as possible. Create the work that is meaningful to you.

Sasha Prood is an illustrator and graphic designer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York, she runs a studio specializing in handlettering. Prood is an alumni of the Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Cooper Union’s postgraduate typeface design certificate program Type@Cooper, and the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Design entrepreneur program. She has also trained abroad at St. Gallen, Switzerland’s Schule für Gestaltung Basel. Prood was selected as one of Print magazine’s 20 Under 30 new visual artists in 2014 and was most recently featured in Print magazine’s 2015 Regional Design Annual and as a winner of HOW magazine’s 2016 International Design Awards. Her client work has been published in collaboration with HarperCollins Publishers, Bergdorf Goodman and many more. Prood’s work has been featured in publications such as Gestalten’s Los Logos 7, Chronicle Books’ Little Book of Lettering and Computer Arts magazine. Additionally, she has exhibited her art internationally, including 75 Peters in Brisbane and London.

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