How I Work

How I work: Iskra Design office and studio

My office, where I blend analog and digital worlds. A logo in process here for Idea + Ink.

The Studio

My process of working with lettering and design involves as much tech as touch. I use brushes, pens, paper and paint. In my calligraphy process I make messes, I spatter things, I leave a floor covered with crumpled paper, and then I scan selected work and do what is needed for the modern world of reproduction. Most of my digital work is done in Photoshop, but final art is often sent as a vector file. I adore the flexibility of Photoshop to modify artwork quickly and test out many variations of an idea. I have been known to dream in adjustment layers, (geeks, you know what I mean), and truly, I am deeply grateful for the digital magic of our times. I work with clients all over the world, and with a click of the mouse can send files wherever needed.

My studio is filled with flat files of different papers, and I have a wall of brushes that stretches from floor to ceiling. I surround myself with art and nature and a little bit of creative chaos to keep the inspiration flowing. In a given day I may work with traditional Copperplate pens, sumi brushes, French curves and the tried and true Rapidograph.


How I work: pictures from a day in the lettering studio

Tools of the trade: lettering and calligraphy


When it comes to tools, I never met a brush I didn’t want to try. I use most of the new synthetic brushes as well as classic Asian calligraphy brushes, house paint and craft brushes, bamboo and sticks — whatever is the right tool for the words I am working with. The new crop of synthetic brushes and pens are easy to use, but also lead to a sameness of effect. My most demanding work requires the real thing, brushes made of goat or horse hair or a mixture of the two.


Iskra Calligraphy studio brushes and ink

Calligraphy brushes and inkstone.


What’s the difference between custom lettering and a font?

Many people contact me requesting one of my “fonts” for their logo or advertising needs. There has been such a proliferation of typefaces that look like hand lettering that the meaning of the word has become very confused. What I do is custom letterform design. A “font” is a typeface that has been designed for reproduction. Unless it has been designed for exclusive use by a particular company, fonts are available to anyone to use, usually for a very low price or for free. When you choose an available font for a brand campaign you can be sure you will see that same style used elsewhere, quite possibly for a competitor in the field. What I do is unique, custom designed for your needs: you won’t see the exact same thing somewhere else.

With such a noisy marketplace unique work is more important than ever. A brand can’t stand out if it looks just like the others. When I work on a logo or campaign I go through a process of discovery, in collaboration with an individual or a marketing team, to find just the right look for the word or phrases being used. I have created an extensive library of projects on this website to guide style selection. Words are a visual representation of an idea, and it is much easier to get clear on a design direction by referring to examples than to rely entirely on written briefs.


Lettering design for packaging and ad campaigns

I do a lot of custom hand lettering and calligraphy for packaging. The process is broken down into one or two phases of “sketch” followed by revision and final art. My sketches are usually very tight, either done directly in ink in calligraphic techniques, or rendered tightly to have impact in presentations where the other elements are also close to final in appearance. I sometimes do a phase of quick pencil thumbnails when a client is vague about direction, but usually I “think with my pen” and let my intuition guide me.

Depending on the style of artwork, final art may be delivered as a high resolution tiff or as a vector file. Letterforms with a lot of texture or fine detail may reproduce best as scanned art, as the vector process can be laborious and  compromise the hand-done quality. Converted to gif or jpeg scanned art works well in most online applications and on television. For art that needs to scale up or be used in vector programs an Illustrator file will work best.


Book and film titling

Titling is a specialty. I have an extensive section of my portfolio devoted to book covers, showing all of the genres from romance to horror and everything in between. I work with many bricks-and-mortar publishing houses, as well as independents and authors self publishing their books. The style created for the title and/or the author name often becomes the visual brand of the author, the book, or the film and related products.


The logo design process

Companies that come to me for a logo design are in search of something different, and something specific, even if they don’t quite know what it is. The discovery process of logo design can be extensive, and may involve many rounds of concepts, meetings and revisions. Often the identity idea that a company starts out with changes in this process. My job is to be flexible and respond to the complex and sometimes contradictory requirements of the visual representation. Throughout my website I have presented case studies and given detailed explanations of process to show how I work.

When a client asked us to create a branding program for a new upscale vineyard resort with an authentic Italian Renaissance palazzo look we sought an artist to give the resort a signature that would convey elegance and luxury without being pretentious; something musical in feeling, that flowed effortlessly. Iskra captured the look of the resort in the first round, conveying exactly the sense of place and unique identity we were seeking. Not only was she a complete professional partner, she was fun and easy to work with, met deadlines, paid attention to detail, and exceeded our expectations. I would recommend her to any professional who wants fine, high-quality work. – Mark Oliver, Inc.

Logo design for small business and entrepreneurs

I used to try to talk small businesses and start-ups from investing much time or expense in a logo and branding system. Before the internet a new entrepreneur might get away with a quick-print business card, good social skills and print advertising. Those days are gone. Now your logo and your brand have never counted more. Your website is your calling card, and your logo is on everything, an integral part of how you are perceived. I love working with individuals and start-ups who have a vision for their business and what they want to bring into the world. I have special packages for new entrepreneurs, and am happy to talk with you about your needs.


My “style”

I approach projects as an actress, always looking for the typographic tone that expresses the voice and the essence of words in visual form. In all of my work I see style as a vehicle for content: the words and their meaning determine how the image will look. Beyond the literal meaning of words I take into account mood and where a project fits in the culture and the marketplace. Style is a conversation between meaning and perception. Often it  determines how the audience reads the message. I am versatile and can work in many styles, from classic calligraphy to retro scripts, from edgy graffiti to nuanced corporate typography. For brand explorations this is especially useful, as I can provide a very wide and diverse range of ideas.


Harley Davidson style sample showing diverse expression in lettering design

Style expressions for apparel lines for two different audiences.


Iskra is a gifted and imaginative lettering designer. She is a pleasure to work with and I enthusiastically recommend her to anyone looking for customized lettering. Her exceptional attention to detail as well as her openness to work with your vision allows it to be a team effort that produces an amazing end product. — Steffanie Lorig, Founder, Art with Heart


How to contact me

I prefer to talk to new clients by phone. Email is great for necessary paperwork and delivery of sketches and final art, but nothing compares to voice conversation for understanding a project’s full scope. Where the phone is not possible I am happy to correspond by email. I do not give estimates until I have a solid idea of a project’s complexity and direction. I work with start-ups, mid-size and Fortune 500’s and can adjust my pricing to work with many different budgets.

If you have an idea in mind I would love to hear from you! Call or email me here.


"Inkspiration" calligraphy process

Always looking for the next inkspiration . . . .


Photography & artwork © Iskra Design

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