On the last Tuesday of every month, I feature a fellow type lover from the Richmond, VA area.
Recently rebranded as "The Wild Wander," Clara Cline's nature-inspired art combines her two loves: lettering and illustration. Here, she tells of her journey from printing greeting cards in her apartment to balancing the creative life with her newly-welcomed bundle of joy.
SARAH BARTON: You're a self-taught letterer and illustrator. What were you doing before? What drew you to lettering?
CLARA CLINE: I actually wasn't doing anything creative before, I worked at a bank! I had drawn and crafted as long as I can remember, but never really considered it being a profession. A few years ago when I first started dabbling in creative work I started a small line of greeting cards, but was disappointed with the fonts I had on my computer and didn't really want to buy entire typefaces for just a few words like "Happy Holidays." I started lettering as a workaround solution, but I found that I was really drawn to the process of lettering — it appealed to my love of illustration, but also my structural and analytic side. There's as much a science to lettering as there is an art, and it felt like there were so many opportunities to explore in a way that was wholly different from illustration.
SB: Can you explain the shift in your focus to your brand now, The Wild Wander?
CC: It's been a process! The Wild Wander really feels like the heir of that first line of greeting cards I made, Moikka Paper. I had started out drawing little woodland scenes, but was limited to greeting cards because it was all I could really manage out of a small apartment with a Gocco printer. But it wasn't ever really my intention to get into stationery, just more of a convenience at the time. As I explored lettering and typography more my focus shifted toward that, and I started getting requests for hand-lettered signage and logos. That was when I was actually able to quit my day job and began working freelance as a designer and illustrator. I loved being able to work on all sorts of different projects in different mediums, but found myself looking for more of a clear voice to my retail work. Last summer, I took a step back from what I was doing and rebranded under The Wild Wander. It was a return back to my Moikka roots in a way, focusing on hand lettering, illustration, and my love for the outdoors. How I categorize my art has always been a little bit of a work in progress though, and I feel like I'm constantly trying to figure out the best way to make it all come together.
SB: Where do you get inspiration for your work? Are there any fellow Richmond creatives you admire?
CC: I try to keep my heart and mind open to inspiration all the time, which is so easy to do in Richmond — it's such a rich town in so many ways. I do a lot more thrifting and antiquing than I probably should, and I love sifting through old books and paper ephemera to get ideas on different layouts and lettering. There's also so much beautiful signage around town, one of my favorite parts of working downtown was getting to walk around and look at all the beautiful old type. And there are so many local makers whose work I really love, and even when it's not type-related it still influences me. Some off the top of my head are Holly Greenwood of Mint House, Jason Lefton of Big Secret, and floral designer Amanda Burnette.
SB: What does your creative process look like from idea to final product?
CC: For lettering projects I like to start by sussing out a feel for the work. If I'm working with clients I try to get them to move beyond what type of lettering styles they think they may want, and move towards the feeling they'd like it to project. I then start looking through source material for design ideas. Sometimes I'll use Pinterest but I seem to see the same work over and over, so lately I've started trying to look through Flickr and books instead. I'll create some very loose layouts and once I'm satisfied with the direction I'm headed, I work on final sketches. The rest really depends on the type of project — for digital work, I create it all on paper and then transfer it into Photoshop or Illustrator depending on the end-use; for murals, I'll scan in the work and project it on the wall; and for chalk walls, I just free hand it.
SB: It seems like Microns are some of your favorite pens to use. Do you have any other favorite tools?
CC: SO MANY. Chalk lettering is my absolute favorite, and as far as I can tell the cheaper the chalk the better. I love my Pentel pocket brush pen for brush lettering, the Brause EF66 nib and Ziller ink for calligraphy, clear rulers, and the Pentel Ain Black eraser for everything in between.
SB: What separates you from your competition?
CC: That's such a tough question! One thing I've found vital to my sanity working creatively is that it's so important to be open to seeing other people's work and letting it influence and inspire you, but not falling into the trap of comparison. What I can say for my own work is I have a great love for letters and I don't like to get tied down to styles — I'm just as happy doing bright playful children's designs as I am doing ornate 1800's inspired work.
SB: What has been your favorite project and why? Hardest project?
CC: My absolute favorite was working with Hands On to create a mural for Blackwell Elementary. The students had a contest to come up with a school motto, and I used the winning "Believing, Excelling, Achieving, and Reaching for the Stars" to make a lettered and illustrated mural for the school foyer. Watching their faces when they saw the finished mural made me so happy to be doing this sort of work. Hardest is tough! If I had to pick one I'd say the first Lolli & Pops store I worked on. Walking into a store filled floor to ceiling with chalk walls with just me, chalk, and a three day deadline was so intimidating and I wanted to turn right back around. It was physically exhausting and looking back I'm still not totally sure how I cranked it out.
SB: If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ (websites, books, etc.) you’d recommend for lettering, what would you include and why?
CC: One of my very favorites online is the vintage matchbooks group on Flickr. It's an incredible look at typography and design from a ton of different countries and cultures, and I love that it's all based on this very simple, universal packaging. In terms of books I love Rian Hughes' Custom Lettering series (Custom Lettering of the 40s & 50s, and Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s). They're absolutely enormous collections of mid-century editorial lettering. I also love Hand to Type by R. Klanten. It's a beautiful overview of type and lettering covering everything from some of today's prominent type designers to near-extinct handwriting styles.
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SB: Let's talk about the cute little elephant in the room. You welcomed a beautiful baby girl in April. (Congrats!) How are you managing your creative pursuits along with motherhood?
CC: It's been a challenge! She likes to keep things fresh so I still haven't pinned down much of a rhythm with work. The limited time has been a double edged sword for me — while I loved being able to spend a lot of time trying out different styles and layouts for a project, I've found lately that I have to focus and make design decisions much faster than I would have previously. I'm definitely someone who can overthink work and get hung up on details, so in a way she's helped me move away from perfect being the enemy of the good.
SB: I always see you at craft shows around Richmond! What's your favorite part about participating in those events? Do you have any advice for others who want to break into that scene?
CC: I honestly thought craft shows were a necessary evil and I would hate doing them, but I've actually found they're my favorite part of the job! Working for myself can feel like a little bit of a vacuum at times, so I love being able to see people react to my work and get to talk to them about the process. If you're interested in getting started in shows my best advice is to work on really great product photos. I've helped to jury shows before, and when you're sifting through hundreds of applications you're forced to make quick decisions. It's hard to take the time to think about how great something would look if it was photographed in better light, so unfortunately a lot of great work is probably overlooked.
SB: What do you love most about being a creative in Richmond, Virginia?
CC: Maybe it's just because this is where I got my start, but it's honestly hard for me to imagine doing creative work anywhere else. I love how supportive and collaborative the maker community is here — it never feels competitive, everyone is always happy for everyone's successes. It really feels like a "rising tide lifts all boats" situation.
SB: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next few months?
CC: I'm currently working on a series of illustrated field guides for the major US trails and national parks that I'm really excited about, I just finished up the Appalachian Trail, and am about 90% done with the Pacific Crest. I'm also going to start doing a few more limited edition prints that are more for funsies than for business — it'll give me a chance to play around with more lettering styles without getting pinned down to anything.
SB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
CC: If anyone's interested in type, lettering, or really any creative pursuits, I can't encourage you enough to just dive in. Say yes to things you're unsure about. Let other people tell you no, but don't do it to yourself. So much of what I learned on the job was by figuring out things I didn't know how to do previously, whether it was calligraphy, murals, or chalk walls — when you want to get things done, you'll find a way to make it work, and that's how you learn. It's cliché, but don't be afraid to fail. If you learn from it, you're making progress. And I love talking type, lettering, and general creative stuff with people. If anyone has questions or just wants to talk shop, please don't hesitate to reach out!