Georgia Deaver: Master of Pen and Brush

by | Nov 7, 2012

Today you’re in for a real treat, as I interview master calligrapher and illustrator Georgia Deaver. You’re already familiar with her work, although you probably don’t know it, since she has created lettering and illustrations for a variety of famous products. Georgia has also worked on many books, and I was glad to have the opportunity to ask her about the role of lettering in book and cover design, and how self-publishers might make use of it. Although I’ve included a lot of samples of Georgia’s work, you’ll get a much better view by visiting her website.

Georgia, you’ve been creating distinctive and beautiful illustrations and hand lettering for book covers and other products for quite a while. How did you get into the field, is it something you dreamed of doing when you were young?

Yes, I have been interested in the arts since I was very young. I seriously studied textiles, graphic design, fine art and art history. I briefly studied accounting in an attempt to follow a sensible career path. But I eventually focused on letterforms — primarily hand lettering and calligraphy. I’ve operated my own design studio in San Francisco since 1984 and have taught classes and workshops for more than 25 years.

Who would you say have influenced your work the most?

I have been influenced by several European calligraphic masters – Rudo Spemann, Friedrich Neugebauer, Irene Wellington and Karlgeorg Hoefer, as well as many contemporary American lettering artists and calligraphers such as Thomas Ingmire, Tony DiSpigna, and Rick Cusick. You can see original works by many of these calligraphers in the Special Collections Dept of the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, 6th Floor.

Georgia Deaver

I draw inspiration from so many different places – from a piece of music or the shape of a piece of pottery, posters, patterns in fabric, mosaics, paintings, or from other letterforms; for example, beautiful Germanic gothic letters or Italian italic letterforms, among others. I sometimes focus on a specific line or stroke, then build an entire alphabet and words from just this one design element.

Your lettering and calligraphy seem to use a wide variety of lettering styles, from formal to very impressionistic. Have you intentionally tried to teach yourself lots of styles of lettering?

Yes, I have intentionally stretched myself to create new forms over the years. Art directors and graphic designers often give me very specific direction related to their project and I work at giving them unique, custom hand lettering or illustrations that fits their project well … so this has resulted in being versatile at creating a wide range of lettering styles.

There doesn’t seem to be a book that can’t be enhanced by hand lettering or calligraphy.

Are there books that seem to particularly lend themselves to using hand lettering as a part of the cover design? If so, why is that?

I have created book titles for all categories of books — including children through adult, cookbooks, religious, inspirational, gift books, vanity publications, self help, etc. There doesn’t seem to be a book that can’t be enhanced by hand lettering or calligraphy. Well crafted letterforms that stand alone beautifully on a book jacket work well but it’s also wonderful to work with the other elements on the cover – to create letterforms that harmonize or contrast beautifully with an illustration or photograph.

Georgia Deaver

I work on packaging, logos, and wine labels among other projects, but I especially love working on book design. My experience with art directors/graphic designers in publishing companies has been very good. We’re both working together to make the jacket as good as we possibly can with lettering or an illustration that fits the subject matter well and enhances any other images on the cover.

One of the recent changes in publishing is that authors are being called on to do more of their own marketing and publicity. In that context, there’s a lot of talk about authors branding themselves and, from a graphic point of view a hand-drawn or lettered logo or other element can be a powerful brand identifier. Are you seeing any individual authors using your skills for personal branding?

Georgia DeaverI haven’t worked with any individual authors yet on this but I have worked with a publishing company doing branding. I developed a hand lettered logo for a children’s book series – “Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa”. So this logo is printed on each book along with the title of each individual story.

The 8 Harry Potter books each have a distinctive hand lettered logo that was used on each of the books published in the US. Each of these books also have a pastel illustration to suit each individual book. The “Hunger Games” trilogy is also a great example of branding. Each book has the title in the same typeface, but the consistent black covers and large colorful metallic logos create and easily identifiable brand.

Georgia DeaverGeorgia, most readers here are independent publishers or self-publishers. Is calligraphy something they should consider for their book covers or branding?

Yes, I think so. Calligraphy / hand lettering would work out well in many circumstances. Hand lettering / calligraphy can add so much expression and character to a book jacket. People often approach me wanting a more proprietary project — a wine label or book jacket with a unique and exclusive design which makes it really stands out.

I bet everyone reading this has at some point in their lives seen a horror film title with blood looking ink dripping from the hand-drawn letterforms. Imagine how different the title would look in plain Helvetica Bold!

Georgia DeaverI was once asked to create something seaweed-like. This didn’t mean that I had to make the letterforms look exactly like seaweed — only to give the viewer the feeling of seaweed flowing in water. It was exciting to see how many ways I could make this work — and then which one the art director felt was the best. Hand lettering is so much more expressive than using a more common computer type font, and gives the reader an idea of what the book is about. I’ve worked on dozens and dozens of projects like this over the years and always find them interesting.

Lots of self-publishers are using skilled cover designers to give their books the look of a quality publication. Do you market your services to freelance cover designers? How would an author communicate their desire to incorporate hand lettering on their cover, or should they just leave the whole project to the designer?

There’s nothing out of line with talking to your graphic designer about possibly incorporating hand lettering/calligraphy into the design. In practice, the author could simply furnish the designer with a range of samples he likes, to supply some initial direction. Samples could be from web sites, or movie posters, or other books. The author or graphic designer could ask the lettering artist for different original samples to choose from but a skilled calligrapher can also base a new design on the old sample.

Georgia Deaver

Can you give readers some idea of what this type of lettering costs, and what makes one project more or less expensive than another?

This varies depending on how time consuming the specific lettering style is for the lettering artist, as work is usually charged by the hour. In general, many formal flourished scripts take a lot of time. Also hand lettering with a lot of special effects (such as drop shadows) can be time consuming. It’s difficult for me to generalize, but I would be as direct as possible and simply ask for a quote. I’m always happy to furnish quotes in advance.

Before we end, I wonder if you have any tips for readers who are getting ready to publish their own books and trying to navigate the often confusing waters of getting their book designed and produced in a way that will really benefit their publication?

I would use designers whose work you like a lot. And discuss the project with them before committing to one. Make sure they’re someone you feel you can easily work with and who listens to your concerns. Keep an open mind to their thoughts and ideas as well. Since they aren’t as close to the project as the author, they’ll have fresh thoughts and ideas and could offer some good insight. And remember the “branding” comments, especially if there will be future books.

Georgia Deaver

Georgia DeaverGeorgia Deaver is a San Francisco hand-lettering artist, calligrapher & Illustrator with over 25 years of experience. She has worked with well known clients in book and magazine publishing, packaging, branding, television and film as well as creating one-off art pieces. Georgia has designed book titles for Harcourt, Chronicle Books, Sterling Publishing, Scholastic, Simon and Schuster and Neugebauer Verlag.

As an instructor, Georgia has taught at workshops and conferences across the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. Her many published works appear in several typography annuals of the Type Directors Club, Communication Arts, the Creative Stroke Books, Modern Scribes and Lettering Artists II, Letter Arts Review and Step by Step and HOW Magazines. Samples may be viewed at her web site, and you can email her for additional samples.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Rick Cusick

    I happened on this interview today, now almost 8 years later. A sad reminder of one of the best we had as a person and calligrapher. i was surprised that she mention me as an influence. I can’t imagine how, but it pleases me that he thought so. I’m glad you got to interview Georgia; and the fact that I just now found it after so long, I hope means that others will be able to enjoy her work for years to come.

  2. Loren Raineri-Cook

    Georgia was truly one-of-a-kind. We were best friends through our young school days. I watched her talent bloom as a young girl. The calligraphist her kniew her today, experienced her honed and exceptional talent. Her God given talent was truly a gift from God, and she never wasted it. I will miss her smile, giggle, and inspiring “gift.” I will think of Georgia daily, when I see a beautiful flower, taste a homemade chocolate chip cookie, and read a beautifully illistated book to my future grand-children. She will be with all of us forever, until we join her spirit of love and grace. Love to you Georgia and all her knew and loved you. Loren

  3. Sandy Schaadt

    It has been a sad 24 hours as fellow calligraphers have been learning of Georgia’s death on Friday, March 22, 2013, through facebook posts. It was a six year battle with ovarian cancer that she had overcome until it reared it’s dreadful head again last September. We will all carry her spirit in our hearts. Joel, it was very fortunate for all of us you were able to have this interview her. Thank you!

  4. Andrew van der Merwe

    Georgia died yesterday of cancer. You can take it from me, a calligrapher myself, that anyone who had her work on their book cover can consider themselves fortunate to have had the work of one the best calligraphers in the world working for them. She was exceptional, and admired and respected by all calligraphers who knew her.

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      This is very sad news. She had an incredible talent.
      My condolences to her family and friends.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Very sorry to hear that, thanks for letting us know Andrew. I’m pleased I got to do this interview with Georgia.

  5. Grace Brannigan

    Simply beautiful, and yes it would certainly add to a book’s cover. I’ve always viewed calligraphy as its own distinct art form.

  6. Tracy R. Atkins

    What a great article and a fantastic display of Mrs. Deaver’s talent!
    I have a lot of appreciation for the art of calligraphy. I have no talent for drawing or lettering, and even my best handwriting is bad by third-grade standards. I just don’t have the hand for it at all. Seeing beautiful lettering always makes me take a moment to ponder the effort and skill that went into the work. Calligraphy is such a treat for the eye!

  7. Jo Michaels

    Those are really beautiful! I love calligraphy and am prone to lean toward letterforms that resemble it. The personal touch it adds can’t be beaten. Thanks for sharing, Joel and Georgia! WRITE ON!

  8. Michael N. Marcus

    I love good hand-lettered book covers and packaging.

    But I hate when I find a cover or product with type that I love and want to use, and search for it at type foundries and type sellers, and after days or weeks of searching, I realize that the type is unique and was done by hand by artists like Georgia.

    Michael N. Marcus

    NEW: self-publishing company parody,

    • Georgia Deaver

      One way around this is if you have the book in front of you – look around for information about the cover. Often times, hand lettering artists are given credit. Also some graphic designers know a LOT about type and lettering. If you have any friends who fall into this category – you could ask them.



  1. Georgia Deaver: Master of Pen and Brush — The Book Designer - [...] Joel Friedlander on November 7, 2012 · 0 comments    (function() { var [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *