The Right Type
Four Ladies, one girl gang and a whole lot of pens.
While some argue that too many cooks spoil the broth, The Letterettes, a girl gang of typographic proportions, prove that many pens make light work. After scribbling their way through the live lettering scene as solo creatives, often unknowingly being hired to work on the same job, Eliza Svikulis, Kate Pullen, Wanissa Somsuphangsri and Carla Hackett decided that four right hands were better than one.
It was during one of their annual lengthy Christmas card gigs lettering gift tags and baubles that the idea was born: join up officially and manage the ever-growing demand for live handmade typography as a team. “When suggesting the idea, I hadn’t even finished my sentence before Carla excitedly exclaimed: ‘Yes, I’ll be in a band with you!” said Eliza. Kate and Wanissa were just as keen, and before they’d all finished their shift, the brainstorming session for a name and matching costume ideas had begun. “We’re super proud that as four smart, talented and driven females in direct competition with each other, we chose to go against the grain and form a team,” says Wanissa.
Whether they’re sketching signature slogans from Disney movies to activate a Melbourne Toy Fair (“We could unashamedly sing Disney tunes on repeat for four days!” says Kate) or ‘Rapifying’ kids names for a 90s hip hop calendar launch (i.e Carla “can-you” Hackett) with glitter pens, gold chains and diamond motifs, this Sisterhood of Travelling Pens are making their mark on Melbourne, one stroke at a time.
“As we all juggle our own projects outside of The Letterettes, it’s great to have a band of gal pals to tag team with,” says Carla, who worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before trading the computer for crayons after attending a lettering workshop in Berlin. “It was the first time in ages I’d picked up a pencil to draw, and from that moment I was hooked.” Eliza admits to an obsession with lettering from a young age: “I have a good chuckle when I look back at scrap books and notice I was copying the ‘Passiona’ logo or ‘Curly Wurly’ wrapper rather than cartooning like the other kids,” she says.
Besides the joy of legitimately claiming glitter as a tax expense, The Letterettes name the artistic freedom, versatility and teamwork as major draw cards (pun intended) in their love of the live lettering biz. “To me, lettering is a form of practice that’s the closest thing to meditation,” says Wanissa. “Life is fast and hectic, but the work we do is slow and sentimental and meant to be kept,” adds Eliza. And keep it they do, with the performative nature of the craft allowing the receiver to watch the formation of the words as the piece is put together on the spot, no filter. “I have to manage my performance anxiety at times,” says Carla, “Keeping your cool whilst being swarmed with people is a little tricky.” It’s all hands on deck at every live lettering event, with all four illustrators scribbling as fast as they can, side-by-side. While smudging can be a problem, especially for Carla as the only left-hander in the group, there’s nothing that a glitter pen can’t fix. “The service we provide is speedy, so if we totally muck up something it’s easy enough to do it again without too much inconvenience,” says Eliza.
The Letterettes are reaping the benefits of their RSI-inducing passions colliding with a revival in the handmade crafts business, increasingly celebrating the maker and the process. “Handmade is great, but participation or watching the craft in action is even better,” says Eliza.
With a good few thousand common greetings under the nib (“You can imagine how many times we’ve written ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ says Eliza) and a healthy dose of names they can’t spell, The Letterettes are celebrating the human element in the hand-lettered form. As Carla says, “It’s not perfect and that’s the whole point.”