August 30, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Designer Matthew Wyne Illustrates the History of Cocktails through Lettering



What are you working on—on the side?

This January, I started Letters & Liquor, a blog that illustrates the history of cocktails. I chose 52 drinks that show how our concept of cocktails has changed over the past 300 years and I post one each week. The posts include a short essay, recipes, a photo of the drink, and then I illustrate the name of the cocktail in a period-inspired style. As a graphic designer, lettering is my specialty, and when I fell in love with cocktails a few years back, I got swept up in all the different lettering styles that have been used to sell booze over the years. This blog lets me show the other parts of my brain that inform my design, like my love of research and my desire to be really comprehensive in my work.

A second and totally unrelated side-project: my Dad and I recently recorded an album of jazz standards. He’s a pianist and I played in rock bands when I was in high school. Learning jazz so I could play with my Dad has been an incredible experience. It’s taught me a lot about music and it’s also helped us learn to communicate better. That hasn’t always been easy for us. We recently shot a video with Blake Bagosian as part of his side project, 100% Human, which features everyday people telling personal stories. That should be going live by the end of the year.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I have a compulsive need to make things, so I always have a few projects going on. My wife Bianca is a writer. She understands my need to work outside of work and she supports me all the way. We don’t have a TV and we enjoy being in the same room together working on our own personal projects—my definition of marital bliss. I spent 3 years researching and planning Letters & Liquor, so I was able to complete a lot of the work before I launched. That helped, because there’s a significant amount of production that goes into each post. My sister, Jennifer, helps me with photography, which I have loved, because it’s so much fun to create together. There have been plenty of late, late nights, vacation days spent glued to a laptop and weekends where I didn’t leave the apartment, but for me, that’s better than the alternative.

Why have a side project?

I get so many ideas! And I’m tortured by the thought that these ideas might not see the light of day. I want to be able to share them with people, but making things is always much, much harder than dreaming them up. It’s easy for me to get frustrated or despondent, because I can’t keep up with all the projects in my head. I’m practicing turning that around, focusing on the things I have been able to put out into the world and taking joy from that. I don’t want my creativity to be a source of sorrow.

I started Letters & Liquor in particular, because I wanted to do work for spirits companies. I do my best design when I have a deep personal knowledge of the product and category, so I wanted something that would demonstrate my cocktail expertise to potential clients. And it worked! I have a couple projects coming out soon, one with a gin brand and another with a bar that’s opening in New York City this fall.

On top of all that, it’s just fun. I’ve learned so much in researching these drinks, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and photographer in putting together the posts, and I’ve tried out so many lettering styles I wouldn’t have otherwise attempted just because that was what a particular drink called for. I’ve also met some wonderful people, both on Instagram and in the real world, so the work is more than worth it. And of course, one side project inevitably gives me ideas for additional side projects…

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Diptych courtesy of Matthew Wyne.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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