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How did you discover your passion for lettering? My story with letters started from a young age, as I’ve always been into comic books, magazine covers and store signs. The shapes of the letters caught my attention and sparked my interest in typography. I studied graphic design in college, and, soon after graduation, I worked for local studios, realizing that I wanted to pursue a more artistic aspect of graphic design and explore other medias and techniques. I spent a period in Barcelona studying illustration and editorial design with a focus on typography and intuitively ended up mixing together the aspects that I liked most from these two disciplines. Upon my return to my hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, I discovered that lettering brought together everything that I enjoyed doing.

Your work spans advertising, branding, editorial, posters and book and album covers. How do you adapt to these different projects? My intention and desire are to be an artist with something specific to offer but who can also be versatile enough to explore different fields. Like a master of one and a jack-of-all-trades at the same time. I always bring much of myself to every project. In the end, I think the true style of each artist is something they cannot escape. Within that, my modus operandi is to choose from the spread-out fan that contains all these aspects that make up who I am. I know I can’t put all my ideas into one project, but to adapt well to all these mediums, I have to choose which parts of myself go into each project. I start by listening carefully to the client, or, in the case of personal projects, I experiment empirically. Intuition plays a big role in this process.

You also design beautiful, sprawling type murals. How does creating murals differ from your editorial and commercial work? Murals are a personal passion. Working with a huge scale, the process and the outcome are equally challenging and beautiful. In general, murals allow me more creative freedom, so I can do more in terms of composition and legibility. It’s a media that allows more time for contemplation, so I can express myself without the restraints of an advertising or editorial briefing. When I work on a book cover, for example, I have to consider many things, including the concept, target audience and marketing decisions. However, with a mural, these things are generally meaningless. The target audience is whoever walks by. I also love the idea that a mural can be perceived on many levels; you can just see a small part of it and it can look one way, or you can see the whole thing and have a completely different experience.

What insights did you take away from working on the Respeito and Coletividade murals for the Municipality of Curitiba and the Cooperatives of Paraná in Brazil? It was a very special experience for me since the murals were part of a social and artistic project that aimed to teach fourth- and fifth-grade children about cooperation and collective work. I usually work alone, but on this project, I had the opportunity to work with around 200 little helpers on each mural. Each of the children concentrated on painting a small part of the mural, knowing they had to leave space for others to continue. Many of the children come from harsh social backgrounds on the outskirts of Curitiba, so I learned a lot about these worlds over the course of two weeks. It was a challenge to coordinate the children, but I learned many lessons about building something with many little hands, the joy that resides in not having control and finding the common ground to communicate with all the children. The best part was knowing that my work inspired the children. Many of them spent their free time watching me paint, and some told me they hadn’t known that they could do what I was doing for a living. Those weeks were emotional.

We’ll always need new letterforms that reflect the communication spirit of our time.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while making your murals? I’m a perfectionist by nature, so I tend to set high expectations for myself. For this reason, I consider painting murals a good kind of torture, in the sense that I don’t have much control in these projects. There are many things that can go wrong and don’t depend on only me, such as the projection of the sketch, the operation of the equipment, how good the paint coverage is and the weather. I end up working on my ability to adapt and improvise. I also have a fear of heights, something I have to deal with when painting a large mural and using a lift or a scaffold. So, the biggest challenge is facing my own limits and understanding that they are mutable.

What is unique about the creative industry in Curitiba? Curitiba is a wonderful city, but it is considered conservative for its historical and cultural background, which is reflected in the creative industry. However, even though I had the chance to live abroad a few times, I always came back to Curitiba because the people I love are here, and I consider it one of the best cities to live in Brazil. Today, I am relieved that my clients come from different parts of the world. I’m also happy that in the last few years, a new generation of creatives has been actively changing the creative industry in Curitiba.

You are well-known as a speaker and lecturer. What do you enjoy about speaking engagements, and what do you learn from them? Nowadays, I can say that I like to give lectures, but it wasn’t always like this. At some point, I realized that I needed to develop this skill if I wanted to continue on the path on which I was walking in my work. I’ve since discovered the satisfaction of sharing my story with an audience. What I like most about giving lectures is awakening a creative spark in other people, and I feel this is the natural result when you share your story in a sincere way. In these last few years as a speaker, I have learned a lot about the beauty of being vulnerable on stage and how strong and propelling that feeling can be.

Why do you think typeface design and lettering have become so popular lately? Do you think it’s a lasting trend? I’ve actually seen this going on for more than ten years. In 2008, when I returned to Brazil after completing my masters in Spain, I discovered that lettering was its own industry. I had always been interested in typography, but actually making it seemed impossible, and I didn’t know about lettering as I had never heard of it in college. When I started reading articles and seeing creative work by lettering artists, I found fertile ground to start developing my work in this field. I think the boom in lettering and type has happened in recent years because they have become more accessible due to many online courses and social networks, the accessibility of typeface design software, and the formation of a large type community. Type design has changed from something considered nerdy and technical to something you can actually do if you have the dedication to do so. I don’t think this moment will last long in the way we see it right now, but, hopefully, it will be constantly changing. We’ll always need new letterforms that reflect the communication spirit of our time.

Cyla Costa is an award-winning graphic designer and lettering artist who specializes in projects in which letters play a fundamental role. Her studio is in Curitiba, Brazil, yet she can often be found painting a mural or speaking at a conference in other parts of the world. After getting a degree in graphic design from the Universidade Federal do Paraná in Curitiba, she specialized in illustration, typography and editorial design, receiving degrees from EINA University School of Design and Art of Barcelona and the Elisava Barcelona School of Design and Engineering and the Cooper Union in New York. Her clients include Google, Nestlé and Penguin Random House, among many others.

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