New York lettering artist Nick Misani has spent the last few years as a senior designer at Lousie Fili Ltd. Their shared love of vintage Italian design shows through in his work and more recently, his love of floor tiles and vegan shoes has found a home in a passion project he calls Fauxsaics.
We sat down with Nick to find out just how excited he is to come to Australia.
Describe yourself in a few words
I’m an Italian-born, New-York-based designer and letterer obsessed with ornament, pattern, and historical typography (despite also being a closet minimalist).
I recently decided it was a good idea to start a project where I hand draw mosaics; four months and 16 illustrations in, I’ve drawn just under a quarter of a million tiles #cantstopwontstop.
Things I love: Jane Austen, hot sauce, clean sheets, old British TV shows with strong female leads, and flourishing with abandon.
Things I hate: Cucumbers, dirty dishes, failed delivery notices from shipping companies, toxic masculinity, and the current U.S. Administration.
How did you start out as a letterer or typographer?
I’ve always been fascinated by the ornamentation of letterforms. In fact, My mom still has notes I wrote when I was little that is full of drop-caps, fancy borders, and an unrestrained use of curls. However, I didn’t start seriously experimenting with lettering until graduate school, when I became frustrated and burned out by the highly-conceptual and “undesigned” style that was expected of me at Pratt (and even considered quitting design altogether).
I was feeling sorry for myself and complaining to a classmate one day when she recommended I look up Louise Fili’s work and it was love at first sight. I started practising lettering daily in hopes that I might some day get hired to work in her studio. Thanks to a lot of persistence, a little hard work, and a couple of lucky breaks, I made it happen and It was under Louise’s guidance that my lettering skills really flourished.
In addition to the occasional workshop and a lot of trial and error, the art directors and bosses I’ve worked for over the years have helped me enormously. But even on my own, I find that careful and thoughtful observation can your best tool. When I’m stuck, or if something doesn’t look quite right, I look at historical reference material or contemporary high-quality typefaces and analyse the particular letter that has me stumped. I study the sample carefully by drawing guides and measuring widths and then apply the findings to my own work. This is how I learned that an “S” swells at the spine and an “N” doesn’t generally have a serif at the bottom-right corner. it’s amazing how many answers are buried in plain sight.
Even though I’m totally fascinated by single-minded dedication and mastery of one specific craft, I guess I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades. Even in college, when I was still studying music, I was interested in everything from classical harp performance to Japanese drumming notation. I love to imagine what it might have been like to be William Morris or Dard Hunter: one day you might be designing woodblock prints for a book and the next you’d be looking at fabric swatches for an upholstery pattern. That sounds like a dream to me.
Study primary sources! Instagram is awash in lettering that is both beautiful and inspiring, but that work is already the product of someone else’s interpretation, experience, and taste. Start WAY back, with traditional Roman letterforms (where the rules tend to be the most strict) and become intimately familiar with them. Next, learn how these rules were broken later on in design history (in Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco typography, for example). Then, and only then, experiment with breaking the rules yourself—and get as weird with it as you can—your knowledge will ground you! Also, practice a lot, obviously, but practice mindfully and stay teachable.
To get myself in the right mood, I listen to music that is related to the style or time period of lettering I’m creating. I make a conscious effort to relax (a huge feat for me), trust the process, and not beat myself up too hard if something looks really terrible before it starts looking half decent. Drinking lots of tea helps, as does a change of scenery—so I really like working in cafes. Writing also plays a big part in my process. I generally solve problems by talking through them or writing about them in my journal.
I wish I had a good answer for you, but I’m pretty bad at knowing how and when to recharge my own batteries and often struggle with burnout. Anything physical that gets me away from my computer tends to help, though it’s often hard to pry myself away from what I’m working on to exercise (which is not a favourite activity of mine). When all else fails, a good nap can go a long way.
I have several ongoing to-do lists organized by theme and priority. Recently, I’ve also started carefully planning my day by the hour first thing in the morning. My level of productivity generally depends on how precise my plan is, though, more often than not, I get sidetracked and go totally off schedule.
I love trying out new productivity apps and strategies, but I keep coming back to my faithful Google Sheets project master list (full of really useful automatic formulas that my boyfriend helped me to add over the years—they do all the math for me!).
I also use Toggl to keep track of hours, and Mint to keep my finances in check. Dropbox is my go-to backup system and has saved my life on several occasions! I sketch (and sometimes even create finished work) on my iPad Pro using the ProCreate app. For writing, I use Ulysses, which allows me to organize all my thoughts in categories and subcategories.
If I have a little bit of writer’s block that day, I open up Flow State, a terrifying but effective app that forces you to write continuously for a pre-determined amount of time—if you stop typing for five seconds, it erases everything! I also try to keep up to date with the whole plethora of social media apps, though Instagram is the queen among them. Long live Instagram!
I generally do everything myself, though I’ve occasionally outsourced a small project or two when I got really swamped. The only exception is taxes: I have an accountant and I kiss the ground she walks on because I think doing my own taxes would end me.
Almost exclusively through word of mouth or social media. I also still do quite a few book covers that are sent my way by the friends I’ve made while working at Penguin.
I’ve seen so much great lettering coming out of Australia recently and I can’t wait to visit and experience the type community first hand. It’ll be my first time in Australia, so I’m planning to make as many Aussie friends as possible and nerd out about type and lettering as much as I can.
On a more personal note, I’m looking forward to openly and honestly sharing my struggles and insecurities as well as my successes and lucky breaks. I’m also excited to share my experience working for Louise and developing my Fauxsaics passion project (which—though still relatively new—helped me tremendously as I transitioned to full-time freelance). I’m honoured to have been asked to join the Typism family and can’t wait to meet you in September!
See Nick speak at Typism in September
The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and The City of Gold Coast to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.
We are grateful to them for providing financial assistance to bring Nick Misani to the Gold Coast as part of Community Connect.