Today we’re bringing to you Catherine Dawes of Caterham Design! We fell in love with her hand-lettering instantly and think it’s so cool that something as simple as a phrase can be written to look fun, stylish, or even sophisticated. Catherine really does a great job in making sure her typography communicates something. We love how her pieces all have their own feeling or vibe attached to them! She has a lot of great advice to share and we can’t wait for you to keep reading to learn more about her creative journey thus far.
: Hi! I’m Catherine, a graphic artist from South Africa specializing in hand-lettering and calligraphy. I run my design studio, Caterham Design, from a dusty farm on the edge of the Kalahari; where I drink lots of coffee, eat my fair share of buttery pastries, and create hand-crafted designs for creative, artisan companies and individuals.
: I grew up in the artsy, hippy-ish, seaside town of Knysna. I’ve had a love for the visual arts from a young age, although it’s something that I actively fought against for a long time. Particularly as I grew older, my parents would tell me, “You should be an artist!” and I would reply, “No, I want to be something normal; I’m going to be a journalist!” I knew, however, that whichever career I ended up choosing, that I wanted to be my own boss, and the idea that I wanted to enjoy the time I spent working ultimately helped me to make the decision to choose art.
My two main interests were photography and graphic design, so after graduating from high school I took a job in a restaurant to support myself and studied photography first, focusing on documentary photography. Documenting creative peoples’ lives and interactions is a great joy for me and something I still do on occasion. Just before graduation I had the opportunity to move across the country to a tiny farming community on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. After a while, a chance encounter reminded me of my interest in graphic design — especially my love for typography, lettering, and calligraphy. I returned to uni to study graphic design, surrounding myself with typography samples and texts, and spent hours practicing my calligraphy. The smell and texture of paper and the smoothness of ink stirs my imagination and puts a smile on my face. And that’s how Caterham Design was born…
: Thank you! I think that what I like about lettering (and graphic design in general) is that it’s an artistic, visual way of relaying a message. That’s what differentiates graphic design from fine art: its purpose. Unlike fine art which doesn’t really need to have any meaning, graphic design’s sole purpose to communicate in a visual manner. At the end of the day, if your audience doesn’t know what you’re trying to say; if they don’t feel what you were trying to make them feel — you’ve failed. Simple as that. I’ve always been a ‘why’ person — there needs to be a clear reason why I do something and I like that there’s that underlying purpose to it. I’ve been interested in letterforms for as long as I can remember — I was constantly changing my handwriting throughout school, so while studying graphic design, when I realized that there was actually a career where I could draw words! Man, was I happy!
: To be honest, I’m going to say a dead ordinary pencil, paper, and a paint brush. You can go all fancy and get special lead holders, pens, brushes, and papers, but the things that you will that you will use the most: pencils and paper. Of course, specialist tools help facilitate lettering; they do have their purposes and make things easier. But they are just tools and you shouldn’t let the lack of them stop you from making anything.
: Sometimes yes! I’ve started keeping a notebook with me at all times, so I now have a list of ideas to refer to if I ever get stuck for something to write. Inspiration can strike at any time, from a random song lyric playing on the radio, to just a word popping into my mind whilst in conversation. I’ll quickly jot it and my ideas for it down and know that if I get stuck there’ll be something on my list to draw. Pinterest also works great for inspiration!
: When choosing a style for a lettering piece, I immediately refer to the reason why I’m doing it. What am I trying to portray? What do I want the viewer to feel as they read it? Do I want that sign for the organic farm shop to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time? What time period: 1800’s or 1950’s? I’ll then look for pre-existing examples of advertising from that era. Reference some vintage type books. Then I’ll work on some ideas using similar styles and layouts and go on from there.
: I’m a great fan of the whole process! But if I had to choose one specific moment… It’ll be realizing that I’ve struck on a design or idea that completely fulfils what my client wanted to achieve with the project.
: Next for Caterham Design will be moving into a larger studio where I will have the space to screen print my own artwork and client projects. I have been steadily investing in screen printing equipment over this last year and hope to be venturing out into that soon. I have also recently launched my own website and blog and will be building upon that too.
: I’m going to go all Nike on you and say: Just Do It. Don’t wait for circumstances to be right; or for yourself to be ready. You’ll never truly be absolutely ready and you’ll end up looking back and realizing that you’ve wasted time. Live your dream now.
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