Stefan Kunz is a letterer, designer, and illustrator who combines two of his passions – typography and photography into his signature style, TYPO x PHOTO, through his creative wordscapes (hand lettering art integrated into unique landscapes).
“Create something today, even if it sucks!”
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Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.
One random fact about me is that I used to weigh over 100 kilos, which is probably around 200 pounds plus. And that was till I was 18. I decided to lose the weight, and I lost it all in less than five months. So there is probably somewhere a random video about that.
Also, another random fact is that I really don’t like the texture on food. I don’t necessarily like mushrooms, like in my mouth. But I love the taste, which is really random, but interesting, maybe …
My professional background … well, I started in the bank and I worked in banking, specifically retail banking, and I pursued that career just a tiny little bit before I quit after three and a half years. Then I also wanted to open a cafe … I just wanted to follow my creative side, and that was more photography at the time than it was lettering.
But I kept on doing the lettering, and I started a 100-day creative challenge, which was to create something every single day for 100 days straight. And that really pushed my limits. I decided to just post what I was doing on Instagram. And I was just using text and type. And so that’s kind of how I came about growing creatively, but also on Instagram, too.
When I saw that my growth on Instagram was about 200 new followers every single day, I calculated that out … I opened up a spreadsheet in Excel, and then spread it all out. And that gave me a whole list of how many followers I would gain every single day and the total at the end of the year. And that came to just around 100k followers at the end of the year. And so I pursued that goal and kept on growing over the year. And that’s how I reached my first 100k followers in 2016. And then every year after that I reached 100k more followers, which was always a little bit of a struggle, but also really cool.
I really randomly stepped into lettering, just because I created some pieces on my phone, using fonts, and so on. And I came to the point where I used up all the fonts that I had in the app that I was using and pretty much used all the creative possibilities that the app allowed me to do. And I was already using three to four different apps!!!
So the only way to really go out of that was to start drawing the letters myself. And I stumbled into it, I really didn’t know that lettering was a thing. I used to do a little bit of graffiti drawing when I was a kid. But not more than that. And so that’s really how I got into the lettering.
And alongside that I also built up a business, through Instagram doing the things that I love, working with clients getting random jobs here and there. And so that’s what helped me to really grow professionally.
And personally, I don’t know what there’s more to say. I love to travel. And I’ve been able to combine both of my work and personal passions together.
What inspired you to make art?
What inspires me to do art is that creatively, I love just using words and words can inspire and encourage.
I’ve always liked to look at quotes on Pinterest and then just took those quotes, wrote them up, and then shared them. One of them that stood out was “Create something today, even if it sucks!” That’s one of the ones that I’ve written the most. It’s really inspiring. It’s really challenging to just keep creating. And so I think that that quote in itself really pushed me the most. So that’s something really helpful.
And then, the number one thing that I teach in my creative process course is inspiration. I have three more steps: dissection, creation, and one more step. Inspiration is really all around me and I use inspiration everywhere. So the four-step creative process is really something that I not only use myself and that has helped me to grow to where I’m at today, but also something that I’ve been teaching all around the world.
Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?
I didn’t really pursue art. I did one prep year after high school, just to pursue more graphic design. But then I didn’t get the graphic design apprenticeship that I wanted at an advertising agency. There were more than 100 applicants, and I was down to the second last to be in the run. And I finished second and it sucked. But it also allowed me to go into banking, which is the thing that I was taught and that I learned.
And so the lettering is really something that I self-taught myself. As well as the business. You can’t really be an artist without also building up a great self-sustaining business. So that’s something that I really enjoy. And I got a lot of help and learned a lot doing the banking before switching to lettering. So that helped.
I study on my own. I’m an autodidact and learn on my own, and I figure things out. And so step number two of the four-step creative process is dissection, which again, is how I look at things, learn to understand them, and then learn how to apply them. And that force, that creative process was really the most beneficial thing to really understand the process and really understand that when I lacked something, I usually missed one of those steps.
How did you develop your own art style?
I developed my art style by really experimenting with everything.
One of the earliest lettering pieces that you’ll see from me is filling up a page with a lot of different styles. That is something I keep on doing. And it helped me to really figure out: What styles are out there? How do you do them? I try to see everything as a possibility. And some of that kind of became my style. And later, l refined what I loved.
So just keep doing what you love, and your style will develop itself. Because you just focus on what you love, and nothing else. So that’s what I do.
And when I go for inspiration, I love to go on Pinterest, Instagram, and other platforms, but mostly I just like to look at the things that I do and kind of like think of: How can you do that better? And I just push myself to my own limits. That’s what really helps me!
How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?
One of the very first things that I can recollect is, I think, well, I did a lot of work as a wedding photographer. I had a business, good business, doing wedding photography, and I was sustaining myself through that.
And the lettering came on the side. And probably one of the first projects that came in was making lettering designs for T-shirts. And then it has snowballed from there to advertising clients and now it’s mostly teaching and digital products. I have fewer clients now, mostly one-off clients, but a lot of different things come into play.
What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?
Currently, it mostly comes from teaching. I’m really focusing on teaching other students and my students to really create good courses and help them to do something really well.
Probably a good split is 50-40-10 or maybe even less, like 50% digital products, 40% online courses, and 10% client work, and then some little stuff here and there. And Corona kind of shifted all of these things around. Before it was more of a 30-30-30 split, pretty much very equal. Some income streams grew and some shrunk. And so that’s kind of where it’s at right now.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I am pitching to a lot of customers, clients especially. I’m preparing a lot of new courses. As I said, I’m focusing more on teaching what I know and what I’ve learned, and also teaching the art of making business. It is one of the projects that I have in the future but the force of the creative process, that’s really what I want to teach. Then I run boot camps, teaching Procreate. Teaching people how to create art is also something that I’m focusing on.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?
I think resilience.
Keep going even if it’s hard and if it sucks. Get back to your drawing board, even if you don’t have an idea. We, humans, probably have more excuses than we actually create anything. And so there’s always going to be something that’s not going to be great. We probably have this image of what something should be like and how it should look like. And unfortunately, those are only ideals and they are not often reality.
And so right now, my challenge, as an entrepreneur, is also to focus on: Where do I want to take this in the next five years? Where do I need to invest? Or who do I need to hire? Do I still want to be on the top, like, pyramid put on its head, where I’m the artist, I create the art and everybody that I hire is relying on me, or do I expand that? Do I create other things? And so that’s a very, very interesting challenge. And so I think, being a good entrepreneur is also an important characteristic of an artist. Either you have a manager that manages your stuff, or you do it yourself really well. So you got to find people who do something really well for you to expand. But ultimately, it also depends on what you want to achieve.
What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?
One of the things that we’ve created together with my friends, is the Grid+ Letter Builder. Those are two tools that I use pretty much every day. Whenever I’m drawing and lettering. I think they are essential tools because a lot of other artists will draw those grids out themselves by hand. Currently, more than 1000 people use those tools every single day, which is great.
Procreate and the iPad are also two other tools that I use a lot.
What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?
I read the Bible and that’s one of the main books that I read every single day.
And then there are a lot of great books out there like:
- The book on Excellence by Horst Schulze,
- The book on legendary Customer Experience from Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
- Never Split the Difference – a great book about negotiation, never split the difference.
- Atomic Habits – a great book about building good habits
And so there are a lot of great books out there that I like to recommend reading.
What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.
My favorite quote, “Create something today, even if it sucks,” kind of leads to create art, not excuses. Because we are all creative, at least in creating excuses :). And only a few are really creative, like in creating stuff.
And in regards to the advice to a beginner artist … just create, and make mistakes. They are part of the journey. Learn from that and keep on improving what you feel you could improve. So that’s something great.
Get in touch with Stefan
Thank you, Stefan, for joining us today!
All artworks by Stefan Kunz, used with permission.
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