REVIEW: The Golden Secrets of Lettering

Busy times balance out with more relaxed times. It's been a fruitful year and I couldn't be more grateful to work on personally fulfilling projects with treasured creative partnerships, as shared on Instagram. It's also a time of great reading, learning, inspiration and creative explorations: online classes with Skillshare, web presentations from TypeEd, Typographics NYC & Type @ Cooper, DesignThinkers came to Vancouver, TypeBrigade meetups continue to raise the bar, and more outstanding design titles enter my Goodreads queue. Impressive updated editions from Paul Rand & A Smile in the Mind, fantastic monographs on Paula Scher (very highly recommended!), SPIN & Lance Wyman from Unit Editions, and lots of typography offerings. A new magazine from Fontsmith called TypeNotes, Typo365 volume 2 from the folks at Etapes and Ivan Castro's The ABC of Custom Lettering...the hits just keep coming! However, today's review is about a highly anticipated book from the wonderfully amazing Martina Flor. Enjoy!



A new round of quality designer monographs and retrospectives are making waves again, with superb collections from Paula Scher, Chip Kidd, Aaron Draplin & House Industries. Perhaps through the influential popularity of online video conference talks and courses like CreativeLive, Skillshare or Masterclass, the desire to keep learning on ones own schedule has led to some outstanding "how-to" books from super skilled rockstar lettering artists like Jessica Hische, Ivan Castro and the latest from talented & prolific hand-letterer, Martina Flor.

Rather than a best of portfolio or case study book (while that IS a key part, it’s not what leverages the content), “Golden Secrets of Lettering” is an inclusive, educational primer unlike the many technical Speedball-like/how-to Calligraphy books that are primarily filled with step-by-step photos or use repetition as way to learn. This book focuses on the thinking and craft of lettering (the “golden secrets”) from a modern day master using well-written and visually crafted explanations at an introductory-intermediate skill level. There’s a fair amount of her handwriting and sketches throughout that not only give you a personal tour of her process, it makes you feel like you've got exclusive access to her learning/teaching notes in a truly experiential way.

The fundamental difference is the emphasis on learning and understanding first before developing execution or honing technique. It stresses the what and why before the how, with many “aha” moments brought to light as one reads through this easily digestible and enjoyable book. Numerous tips and thoughtful, detailed explanations in everyday language make this book a keeper and a valuable resource at any learning or experience level. It also inspires and urges one to practice practice practice, and to find his or her own unique lettering voice rather than copy a particular or singular direction of how to create lettering. Case in point is her encouragement to start sketching without the use of rulers or grid sheets, or sketchbooks. It’s all about working loose, relaxed and without any pressure towards permanence or rigid perfection. That all comes with experience, as spoken by someone well-versed in this craft.

Flor also discusses the DNA of letterforms, relationship structures, and learning how to trust optics vs. mathematical measurement in common-sense language. Her succinct yet aspirational writing style makes understanding clear and lettering goals achievable for all. She also walks through the process of creating the cover lettering as well as the professional side of doing this for a living, making one aware of real-world challenges along the way. First released as a German edition, then quickly followed by English-language, there is an upcoming version for the Spanish market, ensuring that an introduction to Martina Flor’s secrets are heard in any language. Take note this book may not be for ALL lettering enthusiasts, particularly those who are at, or seek more technical, higher level details in lettering customization. I would turn to Tommy Thompson, Ivan Castro or Helm Wotzkow’s classic, “The Art of Hand Lettering” as well as curated Instagram or Pinterest boards as a resource for advanced lettering work. If this is the first book you ever read on lettering, it will definitely get you off to a good start.