Graphic design with a handmade twist: Dani Loureiro brings words to life

As graphic art increasingly exists online and within the realms of the media, it’s always refreshing to find work still born from the traditional pen-to-paper process. Dani Loureiro not only hand illustrates a wide range of fonts and graphics, but takes it a step further, often transposing her typography to mediums such as glass and wood for art exhibitions.

Having studied in America at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Dani then went on to live out the dream working under designer and experimental typographer David Carson before returning to SA to pursue a career in illustration and graphic design. Her style sees a fresh take on traditional lettering with accentuated, whimsical line work usually enamored in a textured black and white palette.

As part of our Graphic Art Month, we caught up with Dani to discuss her process, inspiration, and how reading and travel inform much of the work she produces.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into graphic design and illustration.

I have been drawing and painting since I was a child, it was always and still is my favourite pastime. When I was 18 I moved to the US to study at the Savannah College of Art and Design, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design. I spent the next few years gaining experience most notably working under David Carson in New York and designing products and graphics for O’Neill in the surf industry in California.

After awhile I realised that I was always trying to turn all my design projects into illustration projects, so I started putting more energy into illustration work. Returning to Cape Town in 2009 really opened my eyes to the illustration world with so many talented people doing amazing work. I joined Machine (now Publicis Machine) when they were just getting started and was lucky enough to work with an awesome team on some amazing brands, like Marmite, that allowed me to do a lot of fun illustration work. Machine gave me the perfect platform to combine design and illustration and helped me build my portfolio and become re-acquainted with the South African creative scene.


You specialise in typography and hand illustration. How did you get into the medium and what do you enjoy about it?

I have been drawing letters and words since I was in school – my school notebooks had more illustrated wording than actual class work – so it’s worked out pretty well that I now draw letters for a living. It’s the same with hand illustration, it is just something I have always done and have been naturally drawn towards incorporating into my design work whenever it is appropriate to the project. I love the endless possibilities that letters offer – one letter can take on so many different variations and executions that the creative scope is endless.

With design being almost exclusively digital nowadays, do you think a hands on approach to design and illustration is an increasingly niche skill? What do you enjoy about the act of putting pen to paper?

With so much design and illustration being created in the digital space, I suppose it is easier for creatives not to focus as much on hand drawing skills. Digital illustration is quicker and more flexible so I think this probably has forced hand illustration into the niche realm. Digital tools like drawing tablets do help bridge the gap though, because as you put pen to screen you are still ‘drawing’ – just in a digital space. I do most of my work now on a Wacom Cintiq because it offers the best of both worlds, but there is still something special about pen and paper. I love the tactile feeling of pencil on paper and the physical act of making a mark. There’s a unique challenge in trying to limit mistakes because they are after all, physical. Maybe the authenticity of pen and paper is due to being forced to incorporate some of the ‘mistakes’ into your finished work. It isn’t a perfect digital world and people naturally react to seeing imperfections. I have been surprised to see what a good response I have had to hand drawn work – especially my ballpoint pen drawings and hand drawn type. It makes me thankful that there is still a place for it in the commercial world.


You seem to have a great deal of passion for strong pieces of writing, often making them the focus of your hand lettering. Where do you get your inspiration from? Are you an avid reader?

I am always saving quotes that I read or hear in a song that I think would translate into a type piece. I am an avid reader and I love authors who play with words in a thoughtful and creative way. I have used a lot of Jack Kerouac in my pieces as he has a visual, punchy style that make you stop and re-read what you have just read. I also write some of the words for my pieces and am normally inspired by the tone of expression that I am looking for in the piece. This then leads into the design of the letters and how their visual style reflects the tone of the words.


Much of your work is translated across mediums such as wood and glass, creating tangible typography. Can you take us through your process in this regard?

I started making physical type pieces back in 2013 when Ben Johnston and I were putting together the Back in Five Minutes exhibition at Salon 91 in Cape Town. We wanted to do an exhibition focused on typography that took inspiration from urban signage and extended beyond the traditional form of printed 2D artwork. Lost in the Deep Blue Sea was the first piece that I made in this style and it started a love affair with 3-dimensional, laser-cut pieces.

My process starts with the words and the design – trying to get the words to stack and play into each other so that they create a beautiful shape as a whole while being structurally sound. For an illustrator it is an odd constraint to have to design words that are able to ‘hang’ off each other on a wall.

I start by sketching them out to get an idea of form and balance and then take the design into Illustrator to fine tune and create clean vector artwork that can be laser-cut. Once the pieces have been cut I hand paint, sand and assemble them in layers. I am always trying to experiment with materials and textures to see how they can be layered together to create something unique.


You exhibit many of these works too. With much illustration and design existing online and in the advertising realm, how do you find the medium translates into the fine art world?

I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in a number of exhibitions at Salon 91 – Monique has been very supportive of my type pieces, especially the 3D wooden pieces. So that has given me the space to experiment and exhibit a lot of my work. I think the type pieces translate well into fine art because they play in the graphic, popular culture space that makes up so much of today’s visual world. I think people are open to seeing artwork that is outside of the normal confines of a canvas, with the dimension and texture adding to the appeal. 

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You studied and worked overseas before relocating to Cape Town. How has your time abroad influenced your work?

Any kind of travel and time spent away from home does a lot to open your eyes and inspire you. Personally I think it has made me a little more reluctant to follow trends and try to find my own voice, something I’m always working on, as travel shows you that style and trends change by place. Working and studying in the US also exposed me to big brands and the power of big design budgets which encourages me to push myself and whats possible on a project.

How long does it usually take you to complete a hand lettered piece and what’s your favourite part of the process?

That’s hard to say as it depends on the piece, the amount of detail, and the medium. My ballpoint pen drawings can take a month and three hundred Bic pens! Where as the dimensional type pieces take me about a week to sketch and design and then a day or two to put together. I most enjoy the design part because of the creative process of drawing letters and balancing the design – making words fit together and letters connect while still being semi-legible is the fun part – it’s like solving a puzzle.


How has your brand work influenced your personal work and vice versa? Do you blur the lines or try and keep them separate? 

Brand work teaches you about communication and the business of design, where as in my personal work I get to play and experiment. I think the two feed each other as communication and experimentation are integral to both. Commercial work has taught me how to work to deadlines and be organised and that is very helpful when working towards an exhibition. To be honest, I don’t really keep the two separate. I often have clients asking for a style that they have seen in a personal piece that they feel would work with their brand so in the end the two build on each other.

Looking to the future, where would you like to see yourself in the next few years? 

I would like to push my illustrations as far as they can go. Both conceptually and into markets around the world. I would like to spend more time playing – both with illustration techniques and with fine art projects. I’d like to start designing fonts and maybe illustrate a book.

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Find more by Dani on her Behance, Instagram and Twitter

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