Interview with Drew Melton – Graphic Designer and Typographer
Drew lives by the words of the dear Chuck Close who said “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” This mindset has led him through in taking action and becoming a well-known designer within our community. His typography, illustration and overall sense of design are beyond impressive and inspire many designer, new and veteran.
I’ve decided to take a stab as seeing what is in his head to help all of us see what tricks he uses to be one hell of a designer.
Why do you love typography?
I couldn’t really say what I love specifically. But I have always had an affinity for design, architecture and art. Though I am not really good at all of those things separately. I find that lettering and typography is the ideal balance of the three. Lettering has to work on a very technical level but it is also very expressive. Great lettering is a balancing act between aesthetic and function.
How did you become a typography designer?
Kind of by accident to be honest. I was always attracted to the work of Herb Lubalin when I was in college but for some reason I was far too dense to understand how heavily his work depended on great lettering. At one point after dropping out of school and starting my own studio I burned out. I lived on my girlfriends’ (now wifes’) floor for 3 months and just started exploring.
Who are some of the artists you admire and get inspired by?
Simon Alander is one of the best letterers out there right now. Especially for his age. Also Jake Weidmann is an excellent master penman and friend that has constantly encouraged and educated me throughout my young career.
What is the most joyous part about being a designer, for you?
The variety. I love being able to work on book covers, logos, alcohol labels, and a plethora of other products. I get to learn about so many different careers through my work and I love that.
What types of design do you appreciate the most? (i.e. I appreciate functional design that helps users and doesn’t get in the way)
I love design that is sure of itself. I know that sounds kind of vague. But an important part of my journey has been learning to trust my hands and my intuition. If you don’t you’ll waste a lot of time agonizing and your work will lose its edge. You know when you see work that is created with confidence.
Have you had a mentor? Do you still have one? How did they help in getting you where you are today?
Jake Weidmann is definitely one of my favorite people to talk to when it comes to art and craft. Joshua Bullock and Sean McCabe keep me going when I hit a wall. All of them are so talented but more than anything they are just good people. Make friends — They will take you farther than “contacts”. Many of my “Non-Designer” friends have been some of the most inspiring people to my career so far.
What are some of your favorite design books, articles, speeches, presentations, etc?
“Dangerous Curves” by Doyald Young is a must for anyone interested in lettering and scripts. Also, “Hand Job” by Mike Perry has always been a good kickstarter when I feel stumped or burned out. Finally, “The Nerdist” is one of my favorite podcasts. They do amazing interviews and they have a way of cutting to the heart of the creative process.
What helps you be productive?
Disconnecting from distraction – I do my best when I have a small, clear desk space with as little distraction as possible. Oh, and lots of sunlight. I need sunlight to be happy and productive; living in Los Angeles is good for me that way.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with people who are new to this industry?
Learn the basics. Don’t try to be clever and try not to compare yourself to other great designers. It will keep you from finding your voice and really developing your skills. That was a big mistake I made early on. I got caught up on busy work and didn’t have the patience to really learn the fundamentals of good layout, lettering and design. The best work is the work that needs the least visual chaos. It’s necessary to keep up on great work but use it as fuel and don’t let it derail your own work.
What does it mean to you to be a designer?
Working with a client on a product for a commercial purpose. To me, art is about expression and design is about communication with commercial intent. This may not be completely accurate but it’s my best explanation so far.
What type of art do you enjoy?
Anything from the futurist movement is interesting to me. However, my favorite artist is Andrew Wyeth. I don’t know why but his art literally makes me say “Whoa”.
Do you have a mantra, a motto you live by?
It doesn’t work until it does.
What is one of the biggest things you’ve learned so far?
Stay humble. Say you’re sorry. Forgive yourself. Keep working.