When you have a thing for the beauty of nature and the authenticity of hand crafted goods, you can’t be insensitive to the art of Nicolas Fredrickson. This seasoned letterer from Omaha, Nebraska has this particular used, vintage touch that I’m totally fond of. But even though Nicolas is now a rising star in the lettering industry, his career could have turned out totally differently.
Nicolas Fredrickson: “I switched from going for a Chemistry degree, to a Graphic Design degree, it was quite the change! I loved, and still do like using both sides of my brain, and graphic design was the perfect opportunity to do so. As I was working through my degree, I was always drawn to typography. We studied the history of design and learned about Victorian Wood Type ads, and that really sparked the movement! I started practicing layout with lots of typography, until I felt pretty strong about what I was creating. However, it still wasn’t quite right. Sometimes I just couldn’t find the right typeface, or was picky about even just a couple letters. I thought maybe I could create it by hand, and get exactly the look I want!”
Your work has that beautiful hand-made, organic look that conveys a lot of authenticity.
N.F.: “Honestly, it’s because I literally do it by hand. I see lots of people who claim to be hand letterers, but are just editing typefaces, and it’s kind of obvious. At least to someone who studies letters! Point being, there aren’t any shortcuts to achieve a hand crafted look, that are as authentic as actually putting forth the effort. Of course though, there are times when I need to have a refined piece in which case I still start by hand, but refine quite a bit with the Pen Tool in Illustrator. Your tutorials have actually been amazing! I consider hand lettering a branch of graphic design, so sometimes it might not make sense to have a loose hand crafted style. As a designer, you have to figure out what works best.
With this piece, I really wanted to highlight the history of America. I think since I am a hand letterer, I am naturally drawn to eras where they didn't have the ease of simply selecting a typeface on the computer. I really want to experience the hard work that the designers back in the day put in to each piece. I thought this vintage Americana piece was the perfect chance to experiment with letterforms, illustration, layout, hierarchy, etc. Elements that would be seen back then, but still apply today.”
You have a stunning workspace, we definitely can feel the vibe from your work even down to the tools you use.
N.F.: “It’s definitely a blessing to be working where I am! I use a drafting pencil most often for when I first start sketching. It is an Alvin .3 mm. I also have a .5mm of another drafting pencil that I like, but I can’t recall the brand off the top of my head. I use Microns to refine, and sometimes Tombow Brush Pens if I am going for a certain look. But I have lettered with cheap tools before too, I don’t think they are the most important thing.”
Tell us more about your work…
N.F.: “I’d really like to design a typeface someday, but that is A LOT of work. So it will definitely take a while. I am always working on multiple client projects, and I love all of them! If I had to pick certain projects that stand out though, it’s the ones where I get to see my work come alive. I work with Bespoke Letterpress a lot and it’s so cool to see my designs in that medium. I also did some design work for JJ Leathersmith and got a bag with the logo I designed stamped into a leather patch which was amazing to see (and not just because I’m a sucker for leather)!”
You also just finished a project named Omatype on Instagram.
N.F.: “Yes! Omatype, such an intense project. For 365 days, I hand lettered a piece and posted it on Instagram. Omatype, coming from Omaha Type, was something both my friend Erin (@breathoffresherin) and I did. It started because we both loved lettering, and wanted to get much better at it. I saw such major improvements in our work throughout the year! It was definitely challenging to do something every single day, but definitely worth it.”
What is the piece that you’re the most proud of?
N.F.: “I’m actually really happy with my own brand. I spent countless hours working on that. Designers know that you are your own worst client. But I’m really happy with how it turned out. There are also some other projects that I can’t speak about just yet, but they’re definitely up there for projects I am most proud of!”
And by another letterer?
N.F.: “THAT is a tough one… In front of my work desk, I have various prints hanging up from amazing letterers! I have some prints from Nathan Yoder and Joshua Noom which are really great! I love how they incorporate illustration with hand lettering. I don’t do too much illustration outside of hand lettering, but now that Omatype is done, I’d like to see that change!”
Top 3 of the letterers to follow on Instagram?
N.F.: “Come on Sarah, as if the last question wasn’t hard enough?! I’m just going to pretend there isn’t a number in that question… (in no particular order)
Noel Shiveley @noeltheartist
This dude has such an eye for layout it’s insane…
Christian Watson @1924us
Very humble guy who not only letters sweet work, but also takes the time to photograph it with all these subtle little surroundings like matches, ropes, etc.!
Joshua Minnich @joshuaminnich
He definitely thinks like a graphic designer with his use of minimalism in his lettering and illustration.
Ian Barnard @ianbarnard
He is a great letterer and an Adobe wizard! He knows his stuff with vectoring and photoshop effects.
Cymone Wilder @simonandmoose
She also did a 365 day project, and is constantly getting even more awesome!
You obviously, and all 3 letterers I mentioned previously.
So many more, I could honestly just put down every letterer I follow…”
Any plans? What can we expect from you in the future?
N.F.: “Like I said before, making a typeface is a goal of mine, but I am not sure when I would release it. Also my wedding is coming up this fall, and I am very excited to go all out with the lettering! My fiancee is very artistic so she is totally on board with incorporating lettering into a lot of elements!”
Many people are just starting out with lettering. What’s the best piece of advice you’d like to give them?
N.F.: “Be prepared to work hard! Like I said before, there aren’t any shortcuts. Don’t just be a hand letterer because it is trendy, do so to solve problems in ways that can’t be done with typefaces. It’s okay to look at others work for inspiration, but don’t stare at it while designing. I see new people starting, and I can often tell exactly which piece, by which letterer they were using for inspiration. I like to shut my computer and just letter from memory and that helps me with developing my own style. Obviously designers bounce ideas off of one another, and certain things may be “in” so they are natural to utilize, but there is still a fine line. Pay attention to “thicks” and “thins” of letters so you can learn just which spots are supposed to be fatter than others. General rule, when you are dragging your pencil down, the line would naturally be fatter (how ink would be released when thinking back to calligraphy). Just be observant, and patient!”