Panda Perspective: Hand-Lettered Illustration

Creating a custom design for NJI's Headquarters

Jessie Noble

Category: Creative


NJI Senior Designer Jessie Noble is a master of her craft. Revered for her illustration and baking skills alike, she generously provided a first person account of her recent chalk illustration for NJI’s HQ offices in Alexandria, Virginia. Over the course of a single afternoon, her original design came to life on the custom chalkboard doors in the agency’s atrium. She makes the century-old tradition of freehand lettering look effortless.

Here is a quick behind-the-scenes peak at a typographic illustration I drew on the giant chalkboards in our DC headquarters to celebrate our 15th anniversary.

The first step was to establish a moodboard of examples to give an idea of the vibe and style I was aiming for. I settled on a hand-lettering approach, illustrating each letter by hand rather than utilizing a pre-existing typeface.

Once I had sketched some rough ideas with pencil and paper, I cleaned up a couple of my favorites and scanned them into my computer. This rough draft stage was the best time to sort out pain points early on. One great thing about pencil sketches is that they are pretty easy to convert into faux chalk drawings — all you need to do is invert the colors in Photoshop.

The next step was to vectorize the design using a program called Adobe Illustrator. To do this, I traced over it with a computer tool that turns it into a path-based mathematical equation. This type of file allows for unlimited resizing/scaling without degrading the image quality, so the lines stay smooth and free of pixelation. This is essential for a project that requires a small drawing to scale up for a wall-sized installation.

In this time lapse of the installation process, you can see me marking a grid out on the board, which was identical to a grid drawn over a copy of the design printed on a 8.5×11 inch sheet of paper. I then filled in the larger grid with the design using the smaller grid and design as a reference, square by square. Another option would be to use a projector to overlay the design on the wall and then trace over it with the chalk.

If you stop by the US office this year, you may have a chance to see it on the wall in person

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