For the love of letters

Posted by Emily Richards on 06.05.19

My name’s Emily, I’m a graphic designer and lettering artist. By day I’m a creative at full-service design agency Six, helping brands solve problems creatively whether it be through design, animation, or good old-fashioned clever ideas. By night I delve into the world of lettering, conjuring up creations on my iPad or scrawling my way through countless sketchbooks (find me on Instagram @emilyjoyrich to see what I’m up to). 

I’ve always loved to draw. As a kid I used to copy logos and fonts from the newspaper, rather than draw anything more conventional like people or landscapes. Copying typefaces and lettering helped me to gain a deeper understanding of letterforms themselves; where the downstroke is and where the serif goes, widths and x‑heights and more. As well as informing my skills as a graphic designer, these insights helped me to craft my own letters, which I’ve been doing ever since.

After working on smaller scale projects, living in the host city of Europe’s largest street art festival Upfest provided me with the perfect opportunity to try something new. I applied for a 2.43.6m board (go big or go home, right?). I’d never painted anything that big before, in fact, I hadn’t ventured any bigger than a sketchbook in the last few years, but I love a challenge. I threw myself at it and left Upfest with a head full of new ideas and a love for large scale murals.

I was keen to do more, so was on the hunt for a wall to paint (I’m far too much of a good law-abiding citizen to go out and paint a wall without permission), so I put out a request online and was inundated with messages offering up spaces; houses, sheds, fences and shipping containers. This was all very lovely especially seeing as though I hadn’t even shown these people what I was going to paint – or anything that I had previously painted! I took up an offer of the side of a shipping container at Baggator, a community centre in Easton. One sunny weekend over the summer when everyone else was drinking in the park, I was painting a shipping container…and loving every second of it – apart from the sunburn!

The lovely people at Baggator liked my mural so much that they asked me if I’d teach street art skills to some of the women and girls from the local community as part of their schedule of activities. Baggator Young People’s Project works in some of the most socially disadvantaged areas of Bristol to provide programmes of informal education, skills training and leisure activities for young people and their families. I decided to give it a shot; if I could even just inspire one person to get creative, then that would be a win for me. 

So, I began organising street art classes. Although spray paint can be quite expensive, I wanted the sessions to be free and accessible to everyone so I sent a few emails asking for help. First stop, Upfest. They very kindly donated about 200 cans of part used spray paint to the group. Next I asked Six for some help. I’ve worked as a designer at Six for just over three years now, and they’ve always been super supportive of my various extra-curricular’ ventures. Six made a monetary donation to the group, which helped me to purchase spray masks, gloves, nozzles, and materials for stencils. 

It was great to be able to give back to the community, even in this small way, whilst at the same time doing something I love and building my own confidence. Teaching street art classes are something I never imagined I’d do, but it turned in to a really rewarding experience.

Luck was on my side again and in the summer I had the fantastic chance to paint alongside some amazing artists at Upfest. With another big wall under my belt, this sparked a conversation at work about a potential mural in the office. We’d been wanting to brighten up the walls of the agency for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity – both for me and for Six. We sorted projectors and colours and ladders, the words were approved, they (very trustingly) offered me complete creative freedom, with a very reassuring we love everything you do’. Here’s me painting it really fast. Six are always very supportive of individuals’ talents, hobbies and interests within the agency, whether they’re related to the work we produce or not. It’s so nice for an employer to embrace these things and not be completely focused on the 9 – 5.

We absolutely love our striking mural, and it’s been a real pleasure to be able to support Emily and put her talents to use in such a fab way. Not only does it brighten the place up but it’s also a great conversation starter, and gets lots of comments from our visitors here at Six too.

— Jenny Powell, Design Director, Six

So, what’s next? I genuinely have no idea, but I know it’ll be fun. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for me; Upfest is taking a year off, but I’m determined to get some more big walls painted in its absence. The street art classes will be back up and running when the weather gets warmer and the evenings lighter, which I’m looking forward to. Watch this space!