This Lettering Artist Will Expand Your Vocabulary Through Design
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Creatives and artists often talk about how certain projects serve as valuable learning experiences. But WNW Member Mark McCormick's ongoing project, Word is Drawn, is literally that. And not the misuse of "literally" that people are often tossing around. Five years ago, during a creative dry spell, Mark decided to hone his skills as a lettering artist and designer by subscribing to Dictionary.com's daily email and drawing whichever word it threw at him. Mark's resulting renderings manage to perfectly blend the word's definition and a good bit of humor. In short, they're both fun and educational.
In our interview below, Mark tells us which 5 drawn words he's proudest of over the project's five-year existence. He also shares how his skillset and this project have evolved. "Well, it’s certainly slowed down a bit! The first 500 were done on consecutive days, which was exhausting. Now I make about 3 per week. Aside from that, I now see it as an educational tool as much as an illustration project. It’s cool to think that people might actually get smarter by looking at my scrawlings... I’ve [also] definitely become more of a conceptual thinker. I’ve also gotten good at spotting parts of words/letters to exploit for my purposes. It’s super helpful for designing logotypes." Do yourself a favor and follow Mark on Instagram to see clean, conceptual, and clever designs, and to figure out what words like "banausic" and "willowwacks" mean. (<- Even Grammarly doesn't believe that "willowwacks" is a word.)
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Mark and how did he get here?
I used to be a kid from Delaware who liked drawing X-Men and band logos.
Now I’m a man from Brooklyn who likes drawing letters and beer logos.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
Well, I obviously love working with type. But I also love working with “ideas.” Nail the idea first, and the style will always work its way in. It’s hard to suppress personality.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
Pretty much everything outside of the “creative” part. I’m a horrible self-promoter and I can’t even fake an interest in business.
What first gave the ever-perspicacious (n) Mark McCormick the spark to start a Word is Drawn series?
Ha! It definitely was NOT perspicaciousness… more like lack of motivation. I was slacking after I finished Type@Cooper and was having a hard time finding a “spark.” So I subscribed to Dictionary.com’s daily email and drew whichever word they sent me. I’m a creature of habit, so it quickly became something of an obsession.
Which five words drawn are you proudest of and why?
Oh man, I’m gonna lose sleep over this one… I’ll go with these five--not necessarily because they’re my favorites but because they each highlight something different:
1. Snafu was one where idea and image came together unexpectedly. That smirking “face” was what Bob Ross would call a “happy accident”.
2. Ataraxia was the rare occurrence where a perfect combination of letters let me tell a whole story.
3. Conflagration just looks kind of badass.
4. Luddite was carved and printed. I like how the process illustrates the idea even more than the actual drawing.
5. Willowwacks is a reminder to get your head out of the woods and do a spell check. Amazingly I think I’ve only done this a few times.
You do a great job of capturing the word’s definition and any opportunities for humor with the style you use to portray it. Can you share a little insight into your general process for illustrating a word?
Well, first of all, thank you. I try to do all of these in less than 2 hours, so I tend not to overthink them. I scribble down 2-3 ideas (at most) and pick a favorite. Then I draw it in pencil, trace it in ink, scan it and revise it in Photoshop. That’s the process for probably 90% of them anyway. The other 10% are just conjured up with witchcraft.
How has Word is Drawn evolved over the past five years?
Well, it’s certainly slowed down a bit! The first 500 were done on consecutive days, which was exhausting. Now I make about 3 per week. Aside from that, I now see it as an educational tool as much as an illustration project. It’s cool to think that people might actually get smarter by looking at my scrawlings.
How has your skill set evolved?
I’ve definitely become more of a conceptual thinker. I’ve also gotten good at spotting parts of words/letters to exploit for my purposes. It’s super helpful for designing logotypes.
Do you use much bigger words in casual conversation than you used to?
Do you have a favorite word?
What do you do when Not Working?
Hahaha… DRAW WORDS! Not even kidding. But I’m not totally one-dimensional. I also love playing hockey, going to concerts, eating pizza and drinking beer.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Book: Stoner, by John Williams, is pure brilliance
Movie: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Show: Rick Steves' Europe
Album: This year it’s probably Algiers or Father John Misty. But we could spend a TON of time on this.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
During a type critique, one of my classmates asked Matthew Carter, “how do you know when you’ve finished a typeface?” His answer (and I’m paraphrasing) was: “When my revisions don’t make it better or worse -- just different.” In other words, stop tweaking.
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire and why?
There are SO many brilliant people on here, so I’ll stick to the ones I know personally. Chris Gash can visually capture an idea like no one else. He’s the definition of an illustrator’s illustrator. Annica Lydenberg and Juan Carlos Pagan are 2 former classmates whose work always pushes me to be better. Nim Ben Reuven never fails to blow me away with both his wit and his name. And not many people can make me think or laugh out loud as well as Anthony Clune.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah - anybody wanna publish a book???