I still remember the first time I came across a social media post showing an artist doing Live Lettering. They were sitting down at a seemingly fancy Brand event, a big smile on their face, actively customizing specialty gift tags at a table as onlookers watched in awe. I had two reactions simultaneously — “That looks incredibly intimidating and downright frightening,” and “How in the world can I do that?!”
Immediately I was intrigued and motivated! What was this Live Lettering, and how could I offer this to Clients as another piece to my business?
Live Lettering is a general term that explains an on-site artistic service provided by a Lettering Artist as a marketing technique. Picture this — a Brand or Client is hosting a conference, product announcement, or any other special marketing event — and they’d like to add a special touch to wow their guests and add value. By offering Lettering right on the spot by a real Artist, the Brand is elevating the experience, adding entertainment, and creating a memorable moment for all!
There are many ways a Client may incorporate Lettering into their special event. One technique is by adding personalization directly on a product using special paints or equipment, such as painted names on a handbag or engraving on a perfume bottle, normally offering complimentary customization to their guests or customers. Another way would be to personalize gift cards or tags that are paper, using ink pens or Calligraphy supplies to write names or special notes. Depending on the material and Brand, there are a multitude of unique ways Lettering can be used to highlight the product.
However, I’ve had the pleasure of being hired to Hand Letter in-person on a much grander scale, and those were by far my favorite experiences, despite being super physically draining!
I was hired once to Letter at a large conference center in NYC, working with a team to draw pre-submitted quotes on a large white wall in a company’s booth for two whole days. Another time I was a part of a team on stage at a music venue in Philadelphia, Lettering famous song titles on a large wall with neon paint pens, lit by black lights with an actual DJ spinning tracks right next to me (it was wild!). Both of these projects felt more like active freehand mural drawing as a literal crowd watched my every move, but the pressure of perfectionism melted away once I realized how impressed the crowd was to see Artists at work. It’s truly a unique experience for everyone!
While these events were incredibly thrilling, I’ve found that the adrenaline of being “on display” is tough to manage as you’re focused on making your Lettering look it’s best (and spelling everything correctly too). Though social media makes these Live Lettering experiences look pretty fabulous, there’s a ton of anxiety that can go with it — but, with a full understanding of the process from start to finish, the event can elevate a client’s brand, as well as showcasing your talents in an amazing way!
Early in my discovery of Live Lettering, I began researching and putting feelers out there, trying to see how my particular style and skills could benefit a company. There was obviously a need out there, but I wasn’t sure how the actual process of getting hired worked. It took a while to learn the ins and outs of the Live Lettering world, and I still don’t consider myself an expert — but I can give you some avenues to explore if you’re interested in finding various opportunities.
These terms were important to start understanding, especially because companies are using these somewhat buzzword-ish sounding terms when they are asking if you provide Live Lettering services. A quick Google search will show you that the Client is simply looking to enhance their brand with your artistic talents.
However, you can also use these words to begin searching for opportunities online. Those big events I was hired for were through a Marketing Agency (who was working for a larger Brand), and I surprisingly found a listing for the job through Indeed! I’ve also been contacted directly by Marketing Agencies, and it helps to understand immediately what their expectations are when they use these terms.
Normally, once you work with a Marketing Agency and do a great job for their Client, they will consider you an asset and offer more opportunities in the future. It’s important to always be super professional, communicative, and easy to work with so you can ensure the Agency will remember your name when another Live Lettering event comes around!
This genre of Live Lettering may be a bit more specialized, but it is a perfect avenue for the Lettering Artist that can also Illustrate quick visuals and icons. I was introduced to this concept at a Sign Painters Workshop when I met a talented artist that described himself as a “Graphic Facilitator” — he was met with my blank stare at our introduction, but I’m sure he’s pretty used to that.
This, in fact, is a job (I checked soon after meeting him). There are companies that are built around Visual Notetaking, or any of the other various terms for it, where their entire business plan is offering Live Lettering (and Illustration) services to Clients to enhance their presentations, pitches, conferences, or other high-value meetings with short phrases and images drawn live to sum up important content, providing entertainment and valuable final artwork.
I’ve personally never worked for these companies, but I’ve done a bit of research because they are often hiring freelance Artists in various regions for big events. I imagine it takes not only artistic talent to Live Letter in this way, but also very good listening skills and the ability to communicate large amount of information in a simple visual way.
Some of the Graphic Facilitation companies I’ve found online are Ink Factory or Image Think, but many of the Artists have created their own independent businesses and solely offer those services. A couple talented Artists I have found online that teach Graphic Recording techniques are Katie Chappell and Emily Mills, and you can also find Graphic Facilitator training courses online through a quick search (there are so many!).
If you’re interested in being hired for a live event, the hiring Client wants to see that you have obvious skills to use actual tools to craft your Lettering! Many of us work digitally nowadays, but in order to be hired for a live event, you’ll need to show that you can quickly and efficiently Hand Letter a phrase or quote in front of an audience.
Videos are super effective on social media for showing your freehand skills, and if you’re gutsy, a live feed would really show off your process and speed, as these are really important for a live event. Think about what tools you love to use for Hand Lettering and showcase those specific ones to attract Clients — seeing is believing, and you want these Clients to have no doubt that you can deliver!
Lastly, if you’d like to specifically target Clients in your region, a great way to market your talents is by contacting them directly, promoting yourself and explaining how you can elevate their products or events with Live Lettering. I’ve found the best person to contact is typically a Marketing Director, as usually they understand the Brand’s needs for upcoming events or promotions. Speaking to them in-person is best (though emails can provide a quick introduction), and it certainly helps to have physical examples of work you’ve created that aligns to the Brand. For instance, if I were to approach a local winery, I’d literally bring a bottle of wine (bonus points if it’s their product!) that is already adorned with my beautiful Lettering. This way, it’s easy to explain the process, materials, and the overall amazing value you’ll be providing.
I’ve been quite lucky with my finding of Nibtique, an online directory for Calligraphers, Live Lettering Artists, Engravers, and other Artists that provide live services — I was one of the introductory members because I’d learned Hand Engraving from Kestrel Montes of INKMETHIS, the creator of the online platform. Kestrel had the unique idea to bring together all the individual artists who offer these services, allowing clients to discover Artists by region or specialty.
From my experience, it’s worth having a listing, as I’ve been directly contacted through the platform’s private messaging service and hired for Live Lettering events. Nibtique even has a way to connect with other Live Lettering Artists and expand your professional network. I have found that making friends with other Artists in your area can result in added job opportunities — Artists who do Live Lettering consistently seem to book up and need recommendations for the Brands contacting them, and they turn to the people they know and trust. It’s always good to have friends in the community and help each other, I’ve learned!
Joining Nibtique with a Basic listing is amazingly free, and even searching for an Artist as a Client is a free service! Premium Artist listings are a paid opportunity through Nibtique, but there are far more features and benefits to it. Either way, this awesome platform can benefit you to showcase your Live Lettering talents and offerings.
While there is no perfect answer to this question, as every project and event is different — I will happily report that my experience charging for Live Lettering events has been relatively good! It’s great working with Brands and Clients who understand the value of hiring an Artist to provide a one-of-a-kind service to their customers. In my experience, they’ve all been respectful of your talents and time, happy to pay your quoted amount and adhere to your terms.
I’ve found that most Live Lettering Artists have a range of their pricing — it’s usually dependent on their region, years of experience, and the materials they’ll be Lettering with (for instance, using specialty equipment such as a hand engraving machine will be more expensive). Generally speaking, I’ve seen pricing between $125-$200+ USD per hour for Live Lettering services, and the Artist usually indicates a minimum number of hours they must be booked, ranging from as few as 2 hours to booking a flat day rate. In addition, it is common for Artists to charge for travel and accommodations if they are required to venture outside their indicated service area.
As far as materials are concerned, I’ve always worked with a Brand or Marketing Agency that provides the materials I’ll be using during the event. Sometimes, that even includes marketing products, including signage, t-shirts, or I’ve even been asked to wear flashy party jewelry to go with the theme (which I begrudgingly did put on). However, if your Live Lettering event requires specialty equipment, such as a hand engraving machine or foiling pen, that most likely will be the responsibility of the Artist (and a higher hourly rate should reflect that). Either way, day-of materials should definitely be discussed before invoicing the Client so you can best understand their needs, ensuring the live event will go off without a hitch!
In addition, pricing should reflect the size of the event and how many customers are expected. Sometimes, larger events require more than one Lettering Artist because of the sheer amount of attendees (usually that’s at a large conference or corporate event). It’s important to gage how fast you’re expected to hand draw the Lettering, as it can be difficult to craft complicated or long phrasing if there’s a massive crowd waiting in line. Again, this all relates to executing a successful event and providing the best experience for guests.
While we’re on the subject of a successful event, the Client should also realize that they are not just hiring a Live Lettering Artist to sit and doodle on stuff. The point of Live Lettering, or any other on-site Artistic services, is to provide a unique experience — that means that the Artist is responsible for not only bringing their talent to the event, but also acting as a representative of the Brand, elevating the product and experience to a higher level. This requires extreme professionalism, a friendly attitude, being talkative and approachable to guests, easily understanding requests, meanwhile providing excellent customer service by executing beautiful work for many hours. All of that is quite exhausting, and it takes a special person to show up in that way! Not only is the hired Artist expected to bring their talent, they are also someone who engages at the event and provides an exceptional experience. In my opinion, we Lettering Artists are worth every penny!
But, if you’re an anything like me, the combination of customer service by providing beautiful Hand Lettering is totally exciting and magical — I continue to enjoy every Live Lettering event I have the pleasure of being hired for, and my customers are always so gracious and happy to see my work come to life before their eyes. It’s truly an honor to do what I love with so many opportunities!