Interview with a Designer and Letterer – Jess Matthews

02 May 2018

About Jess

Jess is an award-winning graphic designer, illustrator and letterer from South Australia. She works as an in-house graphic designer in addition to running her freelance business, where she specialises in typography and lettering jobs for licensing and publishing companies in Australia and overseas. Jess has been shortlisted for design and illustration awards, with her first Hinkler project winning a Merit Award in the 3×3 Illustration Annual No.12 (Picture Book Show) 2015!

When she’s not working on her latest project, Jess loves drinking coffee, tasting new food and venturing out into the sunshine with her fiancé and gorgeous pup.


What made you decide to become the triple-threat of a designer, illustrator and letterer?

I guess I never set out to become a ‘triple threat’ as such, but I think I was always meant to be a designer; as a child I was always drawing and creating, writing and illustrating my own stories.

During university, I chose to major in graphic design over illustration because I love the digital space, but also because I wasn’t prepared to start freelancing right after I graduated, and I wanted to find my feet in a secure full-time job first. After working in the industry for a few years, I wasn’t creatively satisfied enough, so I taught myself lettering and hand-drawn typography, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success with my work: being shortlisted for and winning some awards, working with clients in Australia and overseas and working with the amazing team at Hinkler. I love giving back to the design community too, and for the past two years I have run hand-lettering workshops.

What is an average work-day like for you as this creative powerhouse?

Oh, my goodness! There really isn’t such a thing as an ‘average day’ for a creative professional! I’m up early walking my dog and seeing the sunrise, then I go to work where I’m an in-house graphic designer, and then my nights are filled with trying to balance exercise, a social life, freelancing, wedding planning and sleep!

It’s a juggle, but I’ve learnt over the years what I need to not only function, but thrive, so I’ve learnt not to take on too many freelance projects at once and to make sure I prioritise time with family and friends!


What inspires you most?

It may sound silly, but the sky really inspires me. I love the sunrise, the sunset, a starry night sky, the view from a tall building or a walk through the hills. I love being outdoors as much as possible, but I also find inspiration from old books and furniture, and a conversation with someone over a really good cup of coffee!


You’ve done amazing work on a range of different Hinkler Books projects now. Which one is your favourite and why?

Wow, such a hard question! I have loved all my Hinkler projects, but I do have two favourites that I’m super proud of.

One is the first project I ever worked on, which was participating in the Nursery Rhymes collaborative series. It was my first-ever publishing gig and it really ignited in me that it was my dream gig (plus it won an award!).

The other favourite is the Classics series I recently did the covers for, because it was another dream gig to work on and it really shows how far someone can go in their career if they keep pursuing their dreams and polishing their craft.

Here are some work-in-progress drafts next to the finished products below.

What are your other hobbies and passions?

Eating!! I love a good meal, a good cup of coffee and seeing my friends and family. They keep me grounded and they give me perspective to step back from the craziness of work and remember that sleep is important. I also love travel, but who doesn’t?


If you weren’t a designer, illustrator and letterer, what else would you like to do?

If ‘professional traveller’ was a thing, I’d totally do that. Otherwise I’d probably be a writer of some sort; either online blogging or writing books.


Do you have any letterers, designers or artists that inspire you?

My all-time inspiration is Jessica Hische: not only is she insanely talented but she is super generous with her knowledge and time. I actually met her once and it was awesome!

Also, Mary Kate McDevitt, Gemma O’Brien and Jess Cruickshank are definitely inspirational women in the lettering field!


What’s one of your favourite quotes? Have you lettered it?

I have so many favourite quotes – I’ve lettered so many (just take a peek at my Instagram to see how much of a quotes person I am!), but some of my favourites are these:

I also did some for Hinkler’s hand-lettering and calligraphy book, including the cover lettering artwork. Here is a work-in-progress draft and the final artwork.

Do you have any advice for aspiring letterers, illustrators and designers out there?

Everyone has to start somewhere, so please stop comparing your chapter one with someone else’s chapter twenty.

We are all on our own journey of growth, so don’t let your negative assumptions of your own work stop you from pursuing it. Keep practising and refining your skills and keep sharing your progress too!

And finally, surround yourself with people who believe in you, will cheer loudly for your success and will help you grow. There is nothing that will crush your creative dreams more than being surrounded by negative attitudes.