Brandy Swope on Large-Scale Murals and Making Your Way as a Freelancer

Drawn in by her stunning typographic murals, this week we spoke to Brandy Swope (@brandylswope) about meeting clients’ needs, working large-scale with letters, her journey as a lettering artist and muralist, and more.

Hi Brandy — It’s great to meet you! Thanks for chatting with us today. First off, could you just introduce yourself a bit to our readers and give us an overview of what it is you do?

Hi there! My name is Brandy Swope. I’m a hand-letterer, designer and muralist living in Miami. My work is filled with typography, bold colors and illustrations.

So — at Type-01, we’re particularly drawn to your typographic mural work and sign painting. How did this first come about?

I started posting my love for hand-lettering years ago, as well as smaller commissions I had done along the way – canvases, prints, invitations, small signs for events, etc. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by other artists, designers, and creatives in the industry and one day, one of them decided to take a chance on me and commission me for a few small murals outside of Denver. Many of the projects starting out were referrals from people I knew or had worked with before.

One of the things I particularly love is your colour choices – especially in the Glute House mural. Can you walk us through your decision making process with that a bit? Do you approach it spontaneously? Is it carefully planned? How do you engage with colour within your typographic work?

I reference color theory in combination with the surrounding environment and how much “pop” or contrast a client is looking for. A lot of murals call for bright, bold colors, but sometimes the client wants something more soft, earthy or pastel. For the Glute House mural, their current branding was a soft yellow and teal so I chose a more pumped up, saturated swatch of the same tones. I used a third color in the middle and did a lot of mixing and blending on the spot to achieve the gradient effect. The color choice was also a recognizable touch of branding where they were going to take a lot of videos and photographs for their social media. 

I’m also interested by your letter-designing process — Where do your designs usually begin, and what kind of process do you follow from first idea or conceptualisation to a final piece? Do you feel inhibited by the restrictions of working to commissions, or is that something you thrive off?

I pull inspiration from everything to incorporate into letterforms. It could be illustrations, comic books, or motion graphics, etc. I begin doing a lot of research on different styles of lettering before every project. Even if I have a certain style in mind, I still pull contrasting letter styles to compare and explore. Sometimes you just stumble upon something great. I have grown to love commission work and am constantly learning how to listen and serve the client better each time. I find that it pushes me to experiment with styles and mediums that I’m not naturally drawn to. For now, I’m thriving working with different clients every couple weeks. I love the research part as well as the different environments. I’ve painted in restaurants, an ice cream shop, a grocery store, gyms, and behind a warehouse by the railroad tracks at 1am in the morning. I love it. 

Obviously, your mural pieces are on a much larger scale than much typographic work — how do you think this affects the way you work on them? Do you find that aspect of scale limiting? Liberating? 

I would say I find it liberating. It pushes you to create pieces specific to a space which can result in something very powerful when it all works together. I mock up the placement and proportion for the client beforehand so they have an idea of what I will be painting and there won’t be any surprises. It always comes out looking better than the mock up though – seeing something small in Photoshop vs. huge in front of your face is drastically different and the human hand can just do things the pen tool cannot.

Do you have a favourite way of working with letters or particular kinds of type you’re interested in? Who/what would you consider your greatest influences?

Currently, I like working in illustrator by bending and warping the type, whether it be a hand-lettered piece or font. My greatest influences at the moment are muralists and illustrators like Gemma O’Brien and Ben Johnston. I’ve also been a huge fan of Jessica Walsh for years and I love how she’s constantly exploring all mediums, facets of design and visual communication. 

Now, this may sound obvious, but why letters? Were you always drawn to letterforms/typographic art? Do you have any favourite aspects of working with type/letters?

I’ve always loved letters and words. In elementary school, one of my best friends had the most beautiful and unique handwriting I’d ever seen. I believe she got it from her older sister but I remember asking her to write each letter of the alphabet during recess so I could learn and copy it. My classmates also learned that I could copy signatures so I got a lot of practice studying letters in my early days. Now, I find the ‘rules’ of typography very interesting – the way the curved parts of a letter line up (or don’t) to the straight parts of the letter next to it or the way the two lines of a T are different so visually they appear equal. There are endless combinations and with modern fonts, I see ‘rules’ being broken every day. 

Obviously we’ve all been in lockdown, which I feel like can definitely effect creative inspiration and drive… How have you been coping creatively during this time? Do you have rituals you find helpful to keep your creativity flowing?

I do have rituals for creativity (which started way before lockdown) but they mainly consist of stepping away from the ‘work’ and just doing something completely different. First, I make sure I’ve had enough sleep. I require a lot of sleep. I love reading and classical music helps to keep my thoughts flowing (what I’m listening to as I write this) I also smoke cannabis for multiple reasons – relaxation, focus and insight. I was hesitant to write that but it’s the truth, what can I say. 

So, whats on the cards for you in the future and your career? Do you have any personal projects you’d like to grow? Any areas of design you’d like to expand on? Or maybe you’re feeling pretty content with where you’re at now?

I’m really excited about the future. I haven’t had time for personal projects lately but I’m looking forward to painting some lost canvases stacked up in the corner of my apartment someday. I’ve been curious about installations or immersive, interactive experiences as opposed to a mural. How can we make the mural come to “life”, change or expand into something more than a flat wall that doesn’t move? I am forever committed to pushing the boundaries and learning new things. 

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring designers trying to make their way in the industry? 

Specifically for what I do, I should say that when I finally get to paint the mural, it’s the easiest part. There’s so much that goes into starting a business and you should be ready to put your neck out there. A lot. Whether you’re approached by the client or you’re pitching your ideas, you will be talking to new people (not everyone will like you), you’ll have to negotiate your rates, learn how to sell your ideas and speak publicly, organize an efficient schedule, make the money you deserve, all while promoting yourself. It’s not easy. But I will tell you what my dear friend told me when she took the leap – the FREEDOM is worth its weight in gold. 

In general I would say, work with A LOT of dedication, and ALWAYS communicate to people and your clients with integrity, no matter what. Don’t ever give up and remember to celebrate your successes along the way. 

Wise words! Thanks Brandy, it’s been a pleasure.

To see more from Brandy, check out her website and Instagram.