Meet lettering artist & Crayligraphy founder Colin Tierney

Colin Tierney is an independent artist and designer currently residing in Maryland. Colin runs Tierney Studio, a design loft located in the heart of historical Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which works on visual branding projects with clients from around the world. Colin is also the founder of Crayligraphy—a platform run by a small collection of artists who teach the ins and outs of hand lettering and calligraphy.

We caught up with Colin in issue 2 of Simply Lettering to find more about his background and inspiration.

How did you get into lettering?

After graduating with a design degree from Towson University, I quickly began to venture into the world of freelance. I started off by taking on jobs that sparked my interest in logo design. It wasn’t until a couple years in that I noticed the surge around hand lettering and calligraphy starting to take off and realised my love for letterforms. It was – and still remains – the way letters were able to communicate emotion, simply by the way they were constructed, that created this deep-rooted passion for hand lettering.

I began to show more care and attention to the wordmark that made up the logos I was designing. If I couldn’t find a complementary typeface to correspond with the mark/icon, I found myself recreating letters by stripping existing type down to its bones and adding different elements to better correlate with the overall identity.

While this process worked for a while, it didn’t take long before I picked up different calligraphic instruments (eg brush and pointed pens) and practised intentional writing every day. Creating unique letterforms through the art of writing and drawing seemed like a natural progression in my interest in typography. Instead of taking the time to meticulously alter an existing typeface, I am now able to be more intentional with my design through an understanding and skill set of hand lettering.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Like many artists and designers out there, I used to find inspiration online. I would surf Dribbble or Pinterest and discover work from other artists that really hit home for me.

Nowadays, I reference a collection of both modern and vintage design books that I have garnered over the years that I consider to be invaluable to my ongoing study of letterforms.

Do you have a favourite piece of work that you have created?

My favourite piece tends to be my latest work because I am continually learning so much with each new project. This usually translates into something I’m more proud of than anything I’ve created before. Having said that, I think I’ll go ahead and plug a recent lettering commission for Typism. I had the privilege of designing the title lettering for the annual Typism book featuring lettering artists and their work from around the world, which was published in the spring.

Do you have a ‘lesson learned’ that you’ll never forget?

The first workshop I ever hosted was at Creative South in 2016 with Ian Barnard. It was also our very first Crayligraphy workshop, which at the time was a new concept. Ian and I didn’t have much time to prepare because the event was extremely last minute and thrown together with little promotion. I think we had five total registered attendees. At least this is what we thought and planned for based on what was showing on paper…

We showed up to our class with a packed house (around 30 students) and supplies for only eight (we thought the extra three would suffice!). Apparently, registration never closed and people were literally signing up for the workshop while walking to it. After a quick panic, we recalibrated, got some help to print out more material and marched forward.

Lesson learned? You can never be too prepared!

Could you explain what ‘Crayligraphy’ is?

Crayligraphy is a platform for people who want to learn calligraphy and hand lettering the easiest way – through the magical world of a marker. The name itself is neologism I dubbed – combining the words ‘crazy’ and ‘calligraphy’, which translates to the art of stylistically writing with a broad line marker (think Cray-z-art, Crayola, Up&Up, etc). I mean, it’s pretty crazy to think you can emulate brush script (along with several other styles of calligraphy) through the use of a childhood marker.

Crayligraphy is perfect for beginners because markers are cheap, easily accessible, easier to learn with and, most of all, fun. Too often I see beginners going out and spending an arm and a leg on supplies only to realise that the time and effort needed to learn the craft is not for them. With markers, you can raid your children’s art supplies or go to your nearest convenience store and pick up an inexpensive pack and you’re ready to go. The best thing about Crayligraphy is that it’s far easier to learn calligraphy with a marker than it is using traditional instruments.

I call Crayligraphy the ‘gateway drug’ into all things hand lettering. It’s the perfect way to transition into the world of letterforms. The platform has grown over the years, and with this growth I’ve had the privilege of travelling around the country hosting in-person workshops. Depending on the location of these workshops, I call upon a local artist who’s shown interest and skills in Crayligraphy, so they can co-host with me while I train them to teach their very own Crayligraphy workshop in the future. Now that my family is growing (I have a beautiful wife, who co-ordinates all the events, and three little gremlins), leaving them for an entire weekend is proving to be a difficult task. So it’s a win-win because not only is two instructors (AKA Educraytors) better than one, but with all the workshop city requests, I am now able to call upon an Educraytor to fulfil the interest within their region.

Do you have any quirky habits that help you work, such as music or snacks?

Definitely music. Oh and getting outside. I guess throwing on my headphones and going for a walk would sum up my motivation to get me in the groove and inspire to do work.

What are the three lettering tools you could not live without?

  1. This one is obvious, but any broad line marker.
  2. My iPad since I use it to take my analogue sketches and iterate upon a concept until I feel it’s refined enough to take into Adobe Illustrator.
  3. Which brings me to my third tool: Adobe Illustrator. This is where I make the magic happen and I begin to digitise my art so that the lettering is able to be fully scalable without losing any quality.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

For ridiculous passion projects and client work, you can find me everywhere on social media at @TierneyStudio and www.tierneystudio.com. For teaching hand lettering and calligraphy, you can find me at @Crayligraphy and www.crayligraphy.com.

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