36 Days of Type: Our Top 6

Learn all about the six winners of the 2019 edition of 36 Days of Type.

by Yves Peters

posted on 06-13-2019

This past May kicked off the sixth year for 36 Days of Type, the social media creative challenge celebrating the art of type and lettering design around the world. It was also Adobe’s first year joining as a partner to the event, creating an international contest where six talented people could win a one-year Creative Cloud subscription with their complete entry. I’d like to introduce you to the winners: Zai Divecha, Liam Bevin, Shakthi Hari N V, Jess Ebsworth, Lewis MacDonald, Julie Featherstone.

Zai Divecha

San Francisco-based paper artist Zai Divecha creates geometric paper sculptures and large installations. She heard about 36 Days of Type from her friend Simona Bunardzhieva, an illustrator and designer who’s taken part in the challenge the last three years. Little did she realize the start was just a few days away. Zai made a game-time decision to commit to it, and then scrambled to get organized. “I figured out the parameters for my project (white paper and glue only, 5×5” backing card, etc.) and how to photograph the pieces. And then it was off to the races!”

Not only was this Zai’s first time participating in 36 Days of Type, but beyond one letterpress class she took in college, she had never dedicated any serious time to studying or creating letterforms. “I let the paper techniques I was playing around with that day — folding, rolling, tearing, poking holes, or incising — drive the concept for each letter and number. Once I found a new pattern or technique I liked, I’d figure out how to turn it into a letter or number.” Each piece took between one to three hours to create, and then another half an hour to photograph and edit. The creative process involved a lot of experimentation, like rolling strips of paper into tubes, incising little flaps, or wadding up paper into spitballs. “I repurposed a few familiar pleat patterns, but most of the techniques were totally new to me.”

The fast-paced schedule was ideal because it forced Zai to finish each piece and move on, rather than obsessing over a single piece forever. Occasionally, she managed to make three to four letters at a time, but most of the time she was scrambling right up until the last minute. One of the things that kept her going was all the positive feedback she got from the 36 Days of Type community. “I got so many encouraging messages from other artists and designers taking part in the challenge, as well as fans. It really felt like we were all in this together, cheering each other on. That felt amazing.” Zai feels this project brought out her more playful, experimental, and silly sides, and now she has a considerable arsenal of new techniques to draw from. “Several of these letters have served as the inspiration for larger works that I’ve made recently. So all that R&D [research and development] is already paying off!”

Liam Bevin

19-year-old Liam Bevin finished college last year at the FEED studio in Birmingham, U.K. Instead of pursuing university, he decided to start freelancing, managing several YouTube channels as well as working on music videos and other design projects. “Other than one typeface I created in college, I really didn’t have much experience going in, which made it super fun!” Liam participated last year for the first time, but stopped at “1” to focus on other projects. This year, he managed to complete 36 Days of Type by taking a more laid-back approach to the submissions. “I felt that it was important for me to just have fun and be creative, instead of stressing myself out to produce something fast.”

Liam took this year’s contest as an opportunity to experiment with a new style. It paid off — stepping out of his comfort zone provided more inspiration than sticking with something he was used to. It also allowed him to be more creative and free-flowing when figuring out what worked and what didn’t. Liam started each letter with a primary volume, for example, a long cylinder, and built everything else around that. As this shape would act as the main focal point, this is where he’d apply the more abstract texture. Mapping texture to the smaller shapes would often make the end result look cluttered on a small screen like a smartphone. “I wanted each letterform to feel like it could almost exist in real life, balancing so delicately.”

Liam tried to make sure every letter or number was still readable. “With some entries, it was pretty easy to find something that worked well. Other times, I’d come to realize my draft didn’t look much like the letter or failed to have a nice sense of weight to it.” In those cases, stepping away for a few minutes and coming back to it with a fresh mind to give it another shot would solve the problem. To prevent him from wandering off and making things too complicated, Liam restricted himself to only a limited set of shapes.

He relied on Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Adobe Photoshop for the majority of his entries, and also used Adobe After Effects for one animated letter. “One of my best moments would have been using Lens Studio to import one model into Snapchat and use it as an actual, working filter! Without any prior experience, I was able to get it working in a couple of hours.”

Shakthi Hari N V

Self-taught graphic designer and illustrator Shakthi Hari N V hails from a small town called Jayankondam in Tamil Nadu, India, and currently resides in Bangalore. As soon as this chemical engineer graduate from NIT Trichy came across Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Adobe Suite tools while in college, he preferred exploring ways to be creative instead of studying engineering. After a brief stint working as a business technology analyst, Shakthi realized that creating art was what he really wanted to do.

This is the third consecutive year Shakthi participated in 36 Days of Type. “I learned about the challenge during my college days, when I was scrolling through Instagram searching for inspiration, and noticed a few fellow designers creating amazing stuff with the hashtag.” Shakthi has always loved letters but, while he likes to explore fonts and examine other people’s typography, he hadn’t worked exclusively with letterforms in the past (he has recently taken up hand-lettering). His limited typographic knowledge spurred his decision to illustrate the letters and numbers using negative space instead of creating new forms. Combining his full-time job with 36 Days of Type was challenging. “There were times when I felt like giving up, but creating something new every day for about a month was very gratifying. The interaction with the online creative community, the feedback and appreciation from strangers inspired me and kept me going. I’ve never experienced a similar level of support on any other platform.”

Since Shakthi primarily used negative space in his illustrations, symmetric letterforms were pretty easy to create, whereas letters or numbers with sharp edges were more difficult. The illustrated numbers ended up being his favorite. The color palette played an important role — Shakthi is the type of designer who likes to splash colors and textures all over the canvas. For his series, he would sketch the artwork the traditional way and then digitize the sketch using various brushes until he reached the desired detailing. The art was then imported in Adobe Photoshop for further experimentation. Shakthi hadn’t realized his illustrations were building up to a series until a fellow designer pointed it out to him. “I simply wanted to create illustrations that people would enjoy, like places you’d like to visit on vacation, sceneries you’d appreciate with a cup of tea, a boat ride, etc. Creating these illustrations daily brought me peace.”

Jess Ebsworth

26-year-old Londoner Jess Ebsworth graduated from Manchester School of Art in 2015, where she studied illustration with animation. After doing odd jobs until about two years ago, she started making a concerted effort to push her career as an illustrator. “In 2016-2017, I had an ongoing collaboration with °Plato Brewing for whom I created labels, and I worked with various club nights in London and around the U.K. designing artwork for posters.” Jess recently took a break from London and moved to Margate on the Kent coast intending to focus solely on her creative endeavors. During that time, she was signed to Roar Illustration Agency who put her in touch with more commercial clients.

Jess is not necessarily typography-minded, but she really likes creating letterforms from an illustration perspective. “My work is vivid and playful, often character-based, so I guess this allowed me to make each letter unique with my particular visual language as the unifying factor. Hopefully, each one told its own individual story!” Jess had been aware of 36 Days of Type for a few years through Instagram, and each year she submitted bits here and there — she managed to do just over half of the alphabet last year. As her submissions were well-received by the community, she was resolved to go for the whole set this year.

Doing a complete run proved to be quite challenging. Jess wanted each letter or number to be individual and decided each image needed to relate to a word beginning with that day’s letter. The entire series was created in Adobe Illustrator. “Some days I found a word that I particularly wanted to illustrate, which made it really fun to conceptualize how that was going to work — for instance, ‘D’ for ‘DJ’ or ‘N’ for ‘Noodles.’ I think those were some of the stronger images.” For the letters for which she didn’t have a particular word in mind and for the numbers, Jess started with sketching out the basic character shape. After some doodling in Illustrator, playing with shapes and colors, the idea always just sort of appeared in front of her. “My favorite was the number 5 — it materialized pretty much instantly and probably only took me 20 minutes to make from sketch to finished art! Overall, the whole experience was a great exercise in creative thinking and really pushed me to solve problems in new ways.”

Lewis MacDonald

Lewis MacDonald designs and releases typefaces through Polytype, his one-man type foundry located in Glasgow’s south side. During his time at university, he volunteered to design all of the posters and flyers for a regular dance music event he organized with some friends — this became his introduction to graphic design. “Pretty quickly, I had opinions about which typefaces were cool, and I started taking nerdy pride in being able to recognize fonts in the wild.” Eventually, instead of studying properly for his final exams, Lewis wanted to figure out how to create a typeface of his very own. “The font I made was pretty bad — and so were my final exam results — but it really got me hooked on type design.”

This was the third year Lewis participated in 36 Days of Type, but only the first time that he completed the series. He knew from previous years that if he missed a post and fell behind, he would probably lose the momentum and the drive to complete the series, so he was determined to keep up with the daily posts and actually finish the challenge. There were a few days that Lewis really struggled to come up with anything worth posting. “When I had other things that needed to get done that day, I started to feel the pressure! Generally, though, things went pretty smoothly — and even on those tough days, I always managed to come up with something that I really liked in the end.”

Lewis approached each letter or number as a fresh challenge, going wherever his explorations took him. “Perhaps I would have developed a concept for the series if I’d remembered in time; I only realized 36 Days had started when I saw everyone else’s day 1 posts on Instagram!” Every day, Lewis would just doodle whatever ideas came into his head, refine and develop, explore a bunch of variants, then choose a favorite. Gradually, however, a pattern emerged — most of the time, he pushed the letterform toward an extreme by increasing weight or contrast. Sometimes, he tried to exaggerate common type design tricks, like offsetting apparently continuous lines (as in his “F”), or narrowing and engineering stroke joins (as in his “M” and “U”). “As the series progressed, I did find myself returning to a certain drawing style: fat characters with thin strokes, counters and notches all of the same thickness. It was pretty satisfying to draw those ones, figuring out how to fit everything together neatly and like a jigsaw.”

Julie Featherstone

Designer at Ogilvy London by day and illustrator and artist by night, Julie Featherstone actually has a degree in Theatre Design from Central St Martins. Starting her career in smaller agencies and businesses and learning as she went, Julie got increasingly fascinated by illustration and type, particularly once she properly mastered Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Jumping ahead to over 18 years later, she has managed to blend illustration and typography into the day-to-day work of a fair few clients. “I vary between graphics on screen, drawing buildings on my Note 8 phone or throwing graffiti paint around — usually I get sick of digital flatness so go textured, then get annoyed at the wonkiness of that and veer back to Illustrator!”

Julie used to shy away from doing too much with lettering, but as her confidence grew over the years, she learned to create custom vector brushes in Illustrator and apply them to either her own letters (hand-drawn on a Wacom tablet) or to an existing typeface. “It takes a lot of experimenting and fine-tuning layers, widths, colors, glows, etc. I never know when to stop, but then something just works!” 36 Days of Type has always been inspiring as Julie has followed it on Instagram for ages. This year, she decided to participate along with a few of her colleagues. It was quite the commitment, with the next day at work stories of guilt if anyone had forgotten to post, then the dreaded “double posts” to catch up. “We encouraged each other to keep going and push ourselves to create something every day. I love it that we all have such different styles.”

Julie conceived each letter to match the mood she was in, although a few (see “A” and “F’) were from an unused set she created a while ago. She got particularly excited when she discovered how to add the third dimension in Photoshop (letter “L”). “The prospect of discovering a software feature that I never clicked is why I keep going.” Julie only used Illustrator and Photoshop for her series. Sometimes she would sketch out an idea, but most often it started with an image or set of colors that sparked her inspiration for an interesting brush. “At first I couldn’t believe I won, especially since so many spectacularly crafted letters were entered. A series of high-fives and well-dones ensued at the office. Everyone has been so complimentary — it was amazing!”

Our six-person jury had the unique and sometimes overwhelming task of scouring literally hundreds of 36 Days of Type submissions for the winning sets. Joining me on the jury were 36 Days of Type co-founders Rafa Goicoechea and Nina Sans; Irem Erkin, creative consultant and curator of 36 Days of Type; Dan Rhatigan, senior manager at Adobe Type Development; and Ariadne Remoundakis, Adobe Fonts Library manager. The excellent quality of so many submissions made this an arduous task, and the process of shortlisting candidates was often heartbreaking. Congratulations to the six deserving winners!

Thank you to everyone who joined 36 Days of Type this year and shared your work. It’s a joy to see the variety of submissions out there.

See the rest of the entries on Instagram with hashtag #36days_Adobe!

Topics: Creativity, Art, Design, Illustration, Typography

Products: After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Creative Cloud