An Interview with designer Lucy Stephens

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The founder of LucyLovesThis told us everything about her new whimsical London guidebook coming out this month.

Book cover designer Lucy Stephens set up LucyLovesThis, a small design studio in Brixton, where she creates hand-draws illustrations revolving around her favourite thing - type! Her brand is best known for its “London alphabet”, intricate illustrations of landmarks, arranged to create the first letter of different areas of London. Now she is launching her new book London Letters, an A-to-Z guidebook to the bustling city of London. Filled with eye-catching artwork, London Letters is an interactive, fun, and functional guide to London's districts, from Angel to ZSL London Zoo, with 26 folded cards that reveal an illustrated map and tips on where to visit, places to eat and drink, as well as interesting facts and travel information. The backs of the cards also feature a quirky bucket list of things to do in the area. Lucy seems to love London as much as we do, so we invited her for a chat!

London Calling: What is your relationship with London?

Lucy Stephens: I’ve lived here for over 11 years, in three different homes. I started off in West London, where I spent a great deal of time on night buses as all my friends were living in south or east London. I was constantly travelling backwards and forwards which was quite annoying! I also had an epic commute to Pimlico so got to know the tube pretty well. It’s funny to think how different my early years were in London to my current experience. We moved to Brixton nine years ago, buying a flat there when it was still affordable, and I’m now a real South London convert. So much so that we moved just down the road four years ago to Herne Hill where my commute is now a 10 second walk to the studio at the bottom of my garden; a much better quality of life! I think my move south really made me fall in love with London, it’s so green, there are so many wonderful places to eat, I’ve made so many friends, and built a life here. My son was born in London, and at the age of three already sounds like a proper little Londoner!

LC: A couple of years ago hipsters discovered fonts as a new obsession and art set around type is having a huge moment. What attracts you to type?

LS: I’ve been obsessed with type since my second year at university - which was 14 years ago now. I love how you can use different letterforms to change the feel of a piece of design. I worked as a book cover designer for many years before running my own business, and the use of type in my work flourished then. Quite often I would have a very limited budget for a cover design, so using type in an interesting way was a useful way to answer a brief cheaply, with no costs for illustrators or photographs.

LC: Tell me a little bit about your work and design process. Do you plan the design in advance or let your imagination drift?

LS: Everything is hand drawn. I used to draw everything as a pencil sketch first and use layout pads and black ink to draw out the design; then scan these drawings in to the computer and finally tweak them in Illustrator. I hadn’t thought that technology would replace pen and paper but last year I treated myself to a new toy - the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil - and I completely love it. I actually drew all the maps for the London letter guide using it. It’s amazing how similar it feels to drawing with a pen, but the beauty is how editable it is, you can keep tweaking until you’re completely happy with something.

LC: Your book London Letters isn’t just an art project though; it is also a city guide. What was your focus for the tips and recommendations you put together?

LS: Talking to customers over the years I’ve learnt that many of the people who buy my prints love that they discover things they didn’t know about their home from them; whether it is some quirky little bar or shop they’ve never heard of, or a park they’ve never walked through. I wanted that to come through in the guide too. So it works for people who have never been to an area of London before, but also hopefully locals will discover new places to go to.

(c) Becky Craggs

LC: You must know London really well! Any favourite districts?

LS: So hard to choose! I definitely have a south London bias, so for me it would have to be Brixton, Camberwell, East Dulwich or Peckham. But I do also love a day of wandering around little streets and markets in East London, strolling down Columbia Road to the flower market. I also have a soft spot for Portobello Road in Notting Hill as I lived near there for a few years and it’s such a wonderful place for a wander at the weekend.

London Letters is available for preorder and will be published on 23 August.