Doing your best work with lettering artist Eric Friedensohn
From the hustle and bustle of New York City, Eric Friedensohn’s one talented hand lettering artist. A senior designer at WeWork, Eric’s artwork has reached places all over the world. Read his story and how he’s working towards producing his best work yet.
From hand lettering on skateboards to murals and chalkboards — what is it that you love about lettering?
Good question! Lettering is actually very deep-rooted in my life. It’s something I’ve done since I was a little kid without even realizing it. Whether it was drawing my friends names as little gifts or customizing notebook covers, I remember playing with the endless combinations of letters and styles. It felt a lot like legos or building blocks.
It’s pure expressive freedom, within the constraints of 26 letters. When you get the right match of content, form and function, something unique and memorable emerges that you just can’t get by using typefaces.
Skateboarding was also a big part of my childhood. I collected the deck graphics, posters, magazines, videos, logo stickers, t-shirts — all covered with custom lettering. That’s where I got a lot of my early inspiration.
I studied graphic design in Philadelphia at Drexel University, where I learned the basics of typography. I was fascinated by how the nuanced details of a letterform could convey an unspoken visual language. After taking a lettering course and completing my senior thesis project about the art of hand painted signs I started to see how lettering could be a niche for me. Needless to say, I was hooked.
You recently went from full-time freelancing to being Senior Designer on the Interior Art & Graphics Team at WeWork. Has that shift changed how much time you have to spend on your side projects?
Starting in the new role has definitely changed my schedule and cut down the time I have to spend on my side projects. I currently have 3 time slots for when to work on my side projects: before work, after work or on the weekend. Having those options helps me to decide when I want to get things done and makes me not take that time for granted.
I still make time to sketch at work every day, which is the most enjoyable part. As a team we are able to collaborate and explore various mediums such as painted murals, neon signs, wallpaper and die cut metal or wood. These are things that I would love to do in my personal work but just don’t have the funds necessary to make it happen, so that’s been a blessing.
I have actually been spending slightly less time on personal projects lately because I want these higher end pieces to really shine in my portfolio. It’s a relatively small investment of time that will totally pay off in the future.
If you have an opportunity to design something super special, it’s worth putting in the extra hours to do your best.
Your Optimist story has touched many people around the world. What’s been the most rewarding part about sharing your story?
At first I wasn’t even going to share it. I just wanted to put it behind me and get on with my life. One night I was hanging out with my friends Matt Figler and Jess Lee. They convinced me that this story was powerful and that it needed to be shared the right way. So we filmed a video together to spread this message of gratitude and hope, and worked with our other friend Cory McCabe to edit it together.
I was so surprised how many others related to the story. I received a bunch of emails from random people who had found the video. They poured their guts out and shared own struggles and tragedies, saying that my story inspired them to keep going. The most rewarding part was knowing that the project made even a small difference in their lives. None of that would have happened if I decided to keep it to myself.
It’s awesome to see you’ve given some workshops on hand lettering in the past. What advice would you have for someone wanting to create or start their own hands-on workshop?
Before hosting a workshop yourself, if possible you should definitely take some classes with the industry leaders. See how they do it and how you can build upon their framework and resources. I took a couple of Ken Barber’s workshops which were super helpful and worth the investment.
I also think you should focus on a specific niche for your workshop. There are plenty of options out there, so why would someone take yours? What can you offer that no one else (in your area) is really offering? A good example would be Danielle Evans and her food lettering workshops. It also helps that people love food.
In addition, how you brand, advertise and follow up after your workshop could be the reason it succeeds or fails. I love what the Ghostly Ferns crew has been doing with their “Design Triathlons” — so fun and unique! I know they have been partnering with conferences and organizations, which seems like a good route for getting started.
Lastly I would say don’t rush it. You can start by writing tutorials or making videos, and that will give you a feel for what it’s like to teach. If you are giving these things away for free online or in an email list, it will help you to grow an audience around your teaching.
You’ve had the pleasure to be taught by some incredibly talented creatives such as John Langdon. What has that taught you?
There’s so much value in getting around experts with decades of experience. Observing that type of commitment first-hand can be very influential.
Something most people don’t know about my past is that I have co-organized and worked for a handful of TEDx conferences, both at my university and around Europe. Having all of those positive role models around really made me believe in myself as a young designer, and I think that’s one of the hardest parts about getting started — just believing in yourself.
John Langdon was my lettering professor, but we also had him as a speaker for our 2nd TEDx. Having spent a year with him, I feel as if I am a part of his legacy. He invests a lot into his students and I’m grateful to have had him as a mentor in my life and career. I hope to be that type of person for my own students in the future.
You’ve been to quite a few creative conferences lately. How has attending conferences helped shape you as an artist?
Yes! First of all, everyone attending creative conferences has a mindset of self- improvement. They are there because they are curious and open-minded. The best way to level up is to get around those people.
I attended Creative South for the first time a couple years back and it was there that I met some of the closest friends I have today. Since we are all working towards our goals together, we support each other when we are going through struggles. These are also the first people I go to when I am looking for quality feedback on my work. They aren’t afraid to be honest even if the truth isn’t what I want to hear. We even pass each other freelance work when we are not available to take it on ourselves.
What advice would you have for an artist who is struggling to get people to notice their work?
Honestly it depends on the person’s specific situation. Sometimes it’s not the marketing that needs to be improved, but it’s the work itself.
Take a look at your past work. Is there anything that felt really authentic to who you are, that also resonated with others? If yes, do more stuff like that and build up some consistency. If not, keep learning and experimenting. Dig into your past for inspiration and find what makes you weird. Something will click.
There’s no magic secret but if there was one, it would be this: Work your ass off, and be nice to people.
That last part is key so I’ll repeat it again — Be nice to people. You may not have a lot of people looking at your work right now, but there are definitely some. If you treat them really well andshow them (not just tell them) that you appreciate them, they will tell others about you. Before you know it there will be people asking to hire you and to buy your artwork. We are all impatient but unfortunately these things take time. I am still working on it myself I plan to keep evolving my style throughout my whole life.
Thanks to the Apartment for having me on for this interview. If anyone would like to reach out to me with more specific questions, feel free to email me directly at email@example.com. I also have a page full of resources that have helped me in the past — hope that helps!