Interview with Type Designer Debi Sementelli

By Lauren Chism a member of the Minted design community

I am continuously in awe of hand lettering talent and feel so lucky that we are able to use gorgeous fonts created by best of the best. One of these talents is Debi Sementelli of Correspondence Ink. She was kind of enough to answer a few of my questions for Julep.

Q: I am a huge fan of Belluccia. How does it feel to see your work in so many designs?

A: Thanks so much. Belluccia was my first so she’ll always be special. Plus she was named after my mother, aunt and uncle (all Bellucci’s) who were the biggest encouragers of my art. They all passed away many years ago so it felt good to create something in their honor. It feels fabulous to see how someone has used my font! It’s like watching your child succeed in the real world! I’m always surprised and delighted at the creativity of the designers that use it. They are so talented!

The Julep team rounded up their favorite goods featuring Debi’s font Belluccia:
1.Quill Letterpress Wedding Invitation by Aerialist Press
2.Letterpressed Custom Coasters by Haute Papier Collections
3. Lavish Custom Wedding Tote by The Wedding Chicks
4. “A Matrimonial Wedding Fiesta” on page 193 of Reverie Magazine Spring 2012 — we spotted Belluccia carried through the article in headlines and wedding stationery.

Q: How did you become a calligrapher? Do you have formal training?

A: I’ve been lettering, on and off, for over 30 years. I started when I was 2:)

I took my first calligraphy class in art school (at the Cleveland Institute of Art) and found that I had a knack for it. I also found that I could earn some money doing calligraphy jobs to help pay for school so that made it even more attractive! After that, it was primarily learning by doing. It wasn’t until I joined Kaligrafos (the Dallas Calligraphy Guild) 6 years ago that I started taking workshops. Now I’m thrilled when I can take the time to attend one.

Q: Can you describe your lettering style?

A: That’s really hard to do because I like to do a lot of different styles. I’m not really traditional so I guess “whimsical” would be a good word. I like to play with letters and see what I can do with them that is unique. I also like to combine different styles and sizes of letters. Maybe “eclectic” might be a good fit as well.

Q: What made you decide to turn your lettering into a font? How did you find someone to digitize it?

A: It was very serendipitous. I work with brides all the time and I have two sons who are at the “marrying” age so I’ve helped some of lots of their friends who are getting married as well.

I noticed that, often, while they love the look of calligraphy, some brides just don’t have it in their budget to do all of the things they’d like with it. That planted the first seed. I thought if I could create a calligraphy font I could give them the beautiful look they wanted at a price they could afford. Plus as I said, I love to make up my own letters instead of following a traditional style.

But I had no idea how to make a font. So I started researching. Then I noticed two “Creative Character” interviews in the Myfonts.com newsletter. One was with Stuart Sandler who works with the calligrapher Crystal Kluge. The other was with Laura Worthington, a calligrapher and graphic designer who became a font designer. I sent e-mails to both Stuart and Laura to ask them for any advice they could give me or resources they could point me towards. They both, simultaneously, gave me the name of another font designer, Brian Bonislawsky, each not knowing that the other person had also recommended Brian. I e-mailed him and when he responded he told me he’d seen my work online and was planning on contacting me about partnering up. Serendipity!

So we created “Correspondence Ink Font Foundry” and launched Belluccia last June. And just launched “DomLovesMary” October 20!

Q: What is your process for making a font, from start to finish?

A: Well it starts with thoughts about who might use the font and what they might use it for. That leads to thinking about what I want it to “feel” like. For Belluccia, I wanted to create something that closely mimicked my personal lettering style, which is more on the whimsical side. With Dom Loves Mary, because I was inspired by the true love story of my in-laws ( Dom and Mary Sementelli) I wanted to create two fonts that were ‘made for each other” just like they were in real life. They were married in 1953. Mary was conservative in some ways yet she had a feisty personality. And Dom was the strong silent type. So when I was creating the Script fonts, I made them simpler and more refined than Belluccia. But I created tons of flourishes that could be added to either upper or lower case letters. It also reminds me of how she used to dress. She always had the whole coordinated outfit…dress, shoes, purse, jewelry. She was always “embellished”. So that’s mimicked in the Script fonts and the way you can fancy them up with flourishes:) The text font, like Dom, is more of a support to the Script. It’s simple and very readable yet it has enough of it’s own personality to stand on it’s own.

So with those thoughts in my head, I sit down and start playing by writing words or sayings. I may like one letter out of several pages that I’ve written. So I try to make more letters that have that same look. Eventually I end up writing out pages and pages of words using every letter in the alphabet. This allows me to start to develop the upper and lower case letters and see how they will work together. I literally letter on about 75 pages or more.

Then I start to go through each page and identify letters that I like. Next, I’ll narrow it down to a large number of possibilities. I will usually create more, based on the ones I’ve chosen. I’ll so the same thing if I’m making flourishes, borders or ornaments. Eventually all the “finals” get scanned into the computer where I clean them up in Photoshop and make adjustments and changes so they all start to look like they go together. Then I send them to Brian and he digitizes the letters in FontLab. He sends me the result. I make any needed changes and send them back to him for more tweaking.

Q: I am a huge fan of Belluccia. How does it feel to see your work in so many designs?

A: Thanks so much. Belluccia was my first so she’ll always be special. Plus she was named after my mother, aunt and uncle (all Bellucci’s) who were the biggest encouragers of my art. They all passed away many years ago so it felt good to create something in their honor.

Back to your question. That’s the biggest surprise. It feels fabulous to see how someone has used my font! It’s like watching your child succeed in the real world!

And I’m always surprised and delighted at the creativity of the designers that use it. They are so talented! I’d rather just spend my time creating more fonts so I can see what they’ll do with them. In fact, I’d love to chat with the Minted gals to see if there is anything special they’d like to see in a hand lettered font.

Q: Are there more fonts in your future?

A: Oh yes! I have about 15-20 samplings plastered on my “wonder wall” in my studio. (As in, I wonder what I can do with that) The hard part is working on a font and still doing my regular work. I love my clients and enjoy all the different projects I get to do. But a font takes a lot of time and concentration so it’s challenging to work on more fonts while I’m balancing my hand lettering projects. And my partner Brian also has his own regular work as a font designer. So it takes work to coordinate our schedules so we both have time to do our parts with the font. But it’s been a great relationship and we plan on putting another font out there as soon as possible.

Q: Do you have any advice for other lettering artists wanting to do what you do?

A: Well first in addition to knowing how to letter, you also have to have some skills in Photoshop. And if you want to do the digitizing on your own, you’ll need to know how to work in Illustrator as you will use the pen tool a lot. Some lettering artists may be computer savvy enough to learn FontLab on their own. I had intentions of doing that eventually. But now that I have two fonts under my belt and I see how much time just the design part takes, I’m more apt to continue to work with someone who has the skills I lack.

So if they feel the same way, they would need to try to contact font designers who might be interested in working with them. They should also realize that having a successful font (one that people like enough to buy) is not just a matter of being able to letter and digitize it. You have to figure out how to let people know that it’s there so they will take a peek and maybe purchase.

Thank you Debi for taking the time! And an even bigger thanks because she is gifting all the Julep readers with an amazing deal on her new font, DomLovesMary! … use the code bloglove (all lowercase, no spaces) here before Nov 30th and receive 40% off!

2   COMMENTS
  1. lori

    Wonderful interview, Lauren!! Super job!! I love Belluccia and DomLovesMary! Debi Sementelli is such a talented calligrapher – can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!! :)

  2. Becca

    I am a huge minted fan and customer, but was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for hiring a designer to help out my fledgling blog. Do you have a referral service the way you do for photographers?

    Great blog by the way!

    Becca