Q&A with Neil Tasker, freelance letterer and illustrator

Neil Tasker is a Michigan-based freelance letterer and illustrator best known for crafting custom type that is detailed, original and done by hand.

We caught up with Neil to see where he gets his inspiration from, why he loves blending digital and traditional media, and the books that inspire his work.

To see more of Neil’s typography work check out his website or Dribbble account.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: How you got started designing and the type of work you specialize in today
I got started in graphic design in a surprising turn of events. I was transferring back home from a university out of state, it was a last minute type of deal. Although I had chosen to major in Spanish, I really had no concrete idea of what I was doing. As anyone who has ever registered late for classes, good luck right? Most classes were closed, but I had stumbled upon a typography class. I had no idea what typography was, I had no idea what lettering was, especially the fact that people draw letters for a living.

After the first week of class, I knew this is what I wanted to do, there was something about it that resonated with me. I have always loved to create things. I specialize in primarily lettering, and also illustration.

Where did your love of typography come from?
Type is something that never really crosses your mind, although we are surrounded by it and rely so heavily on it. Taking typography really opened my eyes to how we perceive these messages written all around us and how type really has its own personality. Also, my father owned an embroidery and screen-printing company since I was born. I think that may play a role in who I am today.

Share your creative process/how you approach a new project
For most every project, I begin by sketching the phrase/word/illustration. I like to stay loose at first, getting comfortable with ideas, and from there I slowly progress to a more refined sketch. There have been a small amount of times where I had a solid direction in my head and have jumped straight into Illustrator. Most of my work is finished on the computer, but when I have time I do enjoy completing pieces by hand. There is a satisfaction in making something with your hands.

In this piece you mention painting the large-scale lettering by hand. Do you prefer to work by hand or using a computer?
That big painting was very fun and educational, but also required a lot of patience. I really enjoy learning the craft of painting letters. I really prefer to work by both my hand and digitally: I think it is a great help to practice working by hand, because it ultimately builds up a foundation for when creating things on the computer. 

Your lettering is distinctly retro-inspired. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think with most any letterer/designer you can see that they are retro-inspired. Mostly everyone is referencing to material that dates back centuries ago. Mid century design really seems to be popular right now. Everything retro is in, and everyone wants something that has that look in a digital filled age. Although I enjoy lettering from this period of time—it was a golden age for scripts—I am really trying to push myself to try different and new things. 

Can you recommend a design book that has helped educate/inspire you
Dangerous Curves by Doyald Young. Doyald’s work is incredibly inspiring; really looking deeply into his work you will realize how well balanced it really reads. His work is incredibly beautiful, but it is always his main goal for a piece to first and foremost be legible and readable.

Another really great book right now that I am reading is Just My Type by Simon Garfield. The book is filled with information about the history of type design while also keeping things humorous and interesting.

What is one unlikely thing that inspires you?
I would say just simply getting out and really opening your eyes is quite inspiring. No one can design non-stop, and getting out and experiencing things is really refreshing.

What is your favorite aspect of design? 
There are so many great areas of design, but I love editorial and publishing illustration. Many designers have dream jobs like branding a beer company. My dream jobs are doing lettering and illustrations for book covers and editorial pieces. Oh and also doing something for Nike.

What is the most satisfying part of being a graphic designer?

I think the most satisfying part is having the opportunity to create and seeing your work out in the wild. I love going to the bookstore and not only seeing my work but others there. It is really special to think that we have this opportunity to create things that the society will enjoy and use.