Designing Her Own Path: Q&A with Jessica Hische
Book Business’s Lynn Rosen spoke recently with type designer Jessica Hische, aka “Drop Cap Girl,” designer of the stunning new Penguin Drop Caps line, a series of twenty-six collectible hardcover editions of fine works of literature, each featuring on its cover a specially commissioned illustrated letter of the alphabet by Hische.
Lynn Rosen – Uh, oh – I read your website (Beautiful! Love the irreverent bio!) and the post by Marian Bantjes basically telling us press people to buzz off, and now I’m totally intimidated. So I’ll start by asking: what’s the one question you’d like someone to ask you about your work?
Jessica Hische – Don’t misread that article! It was more about lazy students that send “Dear sir or madam” emails to professionals so that they can write their reports for them. Good journalists are always welcome! I’m not sure if I could name the one question I’d love someone to ask me, but maybe something along the lines of “didn’t you just do something like that?” which always puts a fire under my butt to do something new and different. It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of playing your greatest hits so I love it when people that I trust give me proper criticism about the work I’m doing and push me in new directions.
LR – You are (or were) a Philly girl! We’re in Philly. You worked for Headcase Design. I love their stuff. I wrote two of the Baby Owner’s Manuals for them. What did you work on at Headcase?
JH – Woah!! I thought your name sounded familiar! I worked on the Baby Owner’s Manuals! My name is actually credited in the back as “super intern” or something similar. I worked on a bunch of projects there, that was one of the first big ones they had me on. I also worked on Dirty Blonde, a compiling of Courtney Love’s ephemera and diaries.
LR – Is the career you have now anything you could have envisioned when you were at Tyler School of Art?
JH – Yes and no—I got to know a number of freelance illustrators in Philly while I was there through Headcase and Tyler connections and I knew that their lifestyle was something that I would love. What I didn’t know is that my career would take me in so many other directions or include as much travel and public speaking. I thought I’d be just working from home alone for the rest of my life!
LR – Did you like Philly? Miss us?
JH – I did like Philly. I get homesick for it all the time. Even when I moved to Brooklyn I missed it terribly for the first year. Now, I miss both Brooklyn and Philly! I think I’ll just always have East Coast blood.
LR – You found your way to lettering through working with Louise Fili, anddid the “Daily Drop Cap” website after that. Is that how you came to be “Drop Cap Girl”? Can you tell us how you found your way to Penguin or they found you and you began to work on drop caps for Penguin Classics?
JH – Everyone loves to give you a one-line bio and for a long while, because of my Daily Drop Cap project, I was “That Drop Cap Girl.” I have a student from MIT shadowing me right now just to find out what being a letterer is all about and he told me the other day that a computer programmer friend—someone that has nothing to do with design or lettering—recognized my name from the project. Paul Buckley and I became acquainted because of the project and because of collaborating on another cover and he told me he had to figure out a way to use the drop caps for a series. After a year or two of plotting, it became real and Penguin Drop Caps was born.
LR – How does it feel to see your work on classic books?
JH – Amazing. This is one of those dream jobs that I never would have believed would cross my plate as a lowly design student. It’s also great to have my friends and relatives send me pictures when they spot the books in the wild!
LR – Do you have a favorite letter?
JH – I do, a capital R, mostly because there’s a lot going on—you’ve got abowl and a stem and an arm that can get pretty fancy. There’s lots of places to play around.
LR – I assume you designed your tattoo? (Note: tattoo is visible in the photo of Hische that runs with this story.)
JH – I have a few of them! The only one I truly designed is the word “Type” on the inside of my left arm (which the nerds are happy to point out is a mis-use of the word—I’m planning to get “lettering” in type on my right bicep to make up for it.