En route with Chris Campe

If you ever wondered how a book is made, join Chris Campe as she retells her journey through the process of writing her new book “Handbuch Handlettering”. In 15 stages she illustrates her personal trail map and speaks about serpentines of research, lights in a dark mountain, rocky roads and rewarding moments.

by Catharina Dörr and Miriam Kadel

Personal trail map of Chris Campe

(01) In the beginning, I had the idea to do a book about lettering and settle my mind on it. Then I put the idea in the back of my head and keep it there for about half a year.

(02) At some point I muster the courage to research which other books are already out there. After 20 minutes on Amazon I’m like: “Okay, yeah, that’s enough, I am already overwhelmed.”

(03) The dashed line means: I’m continuing to do nothing, but still think about the book for almost another year.

(04) Finally, I begin to talk about the idea with some friends and colleagues. They all like it.

(05) A coincidental conversation with the colleague of a publisher friend at the Frankfurt Book Fair:
“Hi, I’m Chris Campe, I’m a graphic designer and I specialize in hand drawn letters.”
“Oh – lettering, we’re planning to do a book on that some time soon!”
“Oh, great! Can I please be the author?”
This finally made me write up a ten page concept for the book.

(06) I discuss the concept with the publisher, we can’t quite agree on the type of book and on the conditions.

(07) I take my book proposal to another publisher, but they are already working on a handlettering book.

(08) The next publisher is interested. I suggested a casual 96 pages book with lots of d.i.y. projects, but they say: “There are already too many books like that out there, let’s make this serious and tackle the topic with more depth on 160 pages.”

(09) It’s the early summer. The contract has been signed for two months, the project is official and to be published the following spring. I still haven’t really started working on it. As soon as I finally begin, I realize that I don’t actually know enough about lettering to write a 160 page book about it. I tell the publisher I’ll need more time, but they basically say: “We will help you as much as we can, but we can’t give you more time. This book needs to come out next spring.”

Chris Campe, photo: Miriam Kadel

Chris Campe, photo: Miriam Kadel

(10) So I continue up and down the serpentines of research. Freaking out along the way, lots of tears, but little by little the details of the content and the book design take shape.

(11) About at this point I think I am pretty sure which information needs to go into the book and how I will present it. So I draw the first of many, many, many lettering examples.

(12) In the fall there is time pressure, doubt and exasperation. More tears, too. Somewhere in this I have the incredibly brilliant idea to get help and find someone to fact check at least the chapter with all the typography basics. Since I want the texts to be well written and fun, I also ask a few friends to follow along and read and comment on the writing.

(13) Two months away from the absolute final deadline, the winter feels like walking through a tunnel in a huge dark mountain. Chapters are being thrown out and rearranged. Every once in a while I have another nice idea for another little problem in the book that still needed solving and I get excited about that. So in the dark mountain there are a few little lights of hope.

(14) When I come out of the mountain in early January the road is rocky but the horizon is clear. Now it’s just a ton of work, but at least it’s clear what needs to be done.

(15) At the end of January I’m done. Both with the book and in terms of energy. The “Handbook Handlettering” came out just six weeks later and I would have loved to have a book release party. But I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even think about it. That’s why to me TYPO this year has been like a huge party for my book. All the positive feedback I got at the conference returned some of the energy that went into making the handbook.
This book making process might just be an example of extreme procrastination and bad time management. Because I did everything myself – the concept, the book design, the writing, the drawings and the photos – it often felt like trying to find a way through utter chaos. Creative chaos, yes, but still a quite unsettling disarray. I told my best friend “This is the most challenging book project I have ever worked on!” but she just said “No. The others were just the same.”

Either way, at the end of this journey I had created a pretty profound and well structured book on lettering, which is – as people keep telling me now – really helpful for them and even fun to read. There is nothing more rewarding than that.



Chris Campe

Designer and Writer (Hamburg)

Chris Campe knows how to think, write and design. Her design studio All Things Letters specializes in lettering and creates EVERYTHING with letters: books, covers, logos, illustrations, spaces and storefront windows – for publishers, agencies and corporate clients. Chris studied Illustration in Hamburg and Paris and Visual Studies in Chicago. She writes books for designers about lettering and typography and loves to teach.