How I Made a Picture from 1,400 Words

Here is the “behind the artwork” process of how I transformed a nomination essay of 1,400 words into a 12′ x 24″ work of art in three weeks.

1-2-3 Go!

My cousin and his wife received the 2021-2022 Parents of the Year award from Texas A&M University. This award is a big deal! His brother wanted something unique and special to commemorate this honor. We didn’t have much time which is a great creative constraint! Here is the story from 1,400 words to one amazing piece of art! 

With a short turn around, several things had to happen simultaneously that I normally work through one after the other.
  1. Immediately after agreeing to do the project, I set up a collaborative Google doc to collect inspiration/ideas/mood board. This was key to maximize effort and minimize duplication of efforts among all parties involved. 
  2. In this document, we collected ideas of styles that seemed interesting. For this process, I ask people to create a Pinterest style collection of things that appeal to them. This helps me to determine how formal or casual to begin to move my thinking. 
  3. I asked for a copy of the nomination essay to also be included so that I could read it. 

An Idea Begins to Form

This past Christmas, I did some custom wine bottle shapes with words on them and some other calligram-ish work that turned out really interesting and well-received. That made me begin to wonder about taking the words from the essay and giving them shape in some manner. Since this award represents the entire university, I started envisioning it on a silhouette of buildings from the A&M campus.

I began a mock up in Procreate. The entire piece would be hand-lettered. That means, it is not a simple copy/paste of the text into a shape, but a layout and design created to emphasize different words and portions of the text. 
Within 24-hours, I set up my custom brushes in Procreate, created a test print at actual size, mocked up different versions of wood grain and simple maroon and white, and ordered a test print. At this point, I realized that the nomination was nine pages long! 

Refining the Idea and Changing Course

Based on the test print, we switched to a regular print so that we could have the white and maroon which was better contrast. (It also gave me a couple extra days to work on the art since the regular print is quicker than printing on wood!)

We edited the text down to 5 pages and I added the Rudder building to the scene and more space at the bottom to accommodate the text. In the second iteration, I knew I could tighten up the text and did a bit more editing as I went along.

Intuitive Lettering

This was such a huge project that it gave me many opportunities to use my set of diverse lettering skills to create interest and rhythm on a scale larger than any other that I have created to date. 

I had a vision in my head and instead of trying to match it exactly, I kept iterating and moving toward it. Some things worked and some did not. Because of the short timeline, I didn’t have time to think too long about any decision. It is interesting how my work in the #100DaysofDoodleInspiration has been exercising the exact decision-making and lettering skills I needed for this project!

Design Process

I found part of a skyline to use as a base and then gathered photos of the iconic buildings on the TAMU campus to add details. The image could be easily divided into fourths and there were four sections to the essay. Yay! 

Next, I decided which phrases needed emphasis or a special layout to make them pop. 

I mixed lettering styles based on what would fit where I was working and what texture I needed to create. I also switched some areas to have a maroon background with white lettering to contrast with the white background with maroon lettering.

After approval of the lettering artwork, I exported a transparent png file. Then used Illustrator for the background color and the names, award, and university at the bottom.

Happy Accident

I enlarged the size of the background to 24″ x 26″ to make sure the framer had enough to work with. To check to see what it would like at the correct size, I added a thin line around the image. Karen loved it!

It turned out to be a great addition and we kept it in the final artwork. We made the deadline and got the artwork to the framer in time. 

It was a delight to watch the video of the reactions when they realized that the buildings were shaped from the words that Shelby had written in the nomination! It was an intense three weeks and definitely worth it! 


You can see the entire process in the time lapse below.