“I’m always trying to see the good in things and I think that is reflected in my work,” says Brazilian art director and letterer Leandro Assis. “My lettering style is simple and bold combined with vibrant colours and the things I choose to write are always funny or positive.”
Assis has been working freelance for the last few years and it’s allowed him to work with an exciting range of clients including collaborating with Studio Moross for season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, creating posters for Netflix’s Tudum Festival, and whole load of other projects with the likes of Nike, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and more.
“I found out what design was through magazines I collected when I was a teenager. What caught my attention the most was the graphic design in these pages. The fonts, the use of colour, the way they put everything together,” says Assis. “In my family I already had a cousin who was attending a design school and she introduced me to design tools so I could practice and learn more about it.”
Typography has always been a passion of Assis’, with illustration only recently becoming a part of his practice as something to support his design work. “Lettering is my focus. It’s funny because I see that calligraphy has always been very present in my life. My handwriting was always very charming, and I had to deal with the prejudice of having a beautiful handwriting but being a man very early on,” remembers Assis. “Today I see that this made me look at my handwriting a lot more and I tried to simulate other ways of writing at that time to escape from the bullying and appear ‘less gay’. I ended up using this ability [to my advantage]. I used to reproduce the fonts I saw as a hobby, it was always something very connected to expression to me. I’m a very introspective person and I think that I use lettering as a way of expressing myself today.”
Assis grew up in a driven and inspiring environment with several family members becoming business owners due to a lack of opportunity in their community, and this encouraged him to use his art and design as his own way to grow, learn and express himself. It’s also why he’s passionate about using his work as a tool to talk about the causes that are important to him.
“I believe that it is not possible to separate my work and who I am: a Black gay man in the racist and homophobic society that we live in today. I define my work as a form of expression and deal with these issues daily inside and outside the workspace,” Assis explains. “Putting that in my bio is a way to make it clear to those who hire me what my beliefs are and what I stand for. I do this in order to prevent embarrassing situations of prejudice during the process and make it clear that I’m available for opportunities where I can contribute with my life experience in projects that are in order to inform and fight for equality.”
The best kind of projects for Assis are ones that have an open brief as it creates the opportunity for discussion between himself and the client, which then leads to a better, more unexpected solution. “I think one of my favourites was the work I did for Nike last year, where I had the opportunity to fulfill my dream of working with them and design sneakers, while putting together some posters that mixed lettering and illustration,” he says. “Another two that stand out are the stickers I made for Snapchat mixing diverse styles of lettering and the one I collaborated on with Studio Moross in the promo for RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13. I believe that these three projects show my potential in different ways, the design process was great and had a fantastic team behind them, which makes all the difference.”
Assis’ work is joyful and powerful, and to keep his designs fresh he tries to mix things up on each project, though he admits it can be tricky when you have an established style. “It is very easy to fall into the trap of what is already working. A colour combination that is more accepted, a typographic style or illustration that is most used,” he says. “I always try to push the clients to do different things within my style that can achieve the same goal.”
As well as pushing clients, Assis also feels it’s important to manage expectations and make sure his work and that of his peers is valued. “Some people don’t understand and respect the time it takes to do the job,” he says. “Everything needs to be so fast that it doesn’t give you time to make mistakes and learn from them. This pressure ends up making you believe that your work is worthless.”
To fight against this takes confidence, and building a network of trusted creatives has been a key part of Assis’ success as a freelancer. “Being an independent freelancer without a creative network is almost impossible. There are many behaviours in this industry that you don’t learn in design school and I think the exchange of information and experiences is very important,” he explains. “You stop wasting time, knowing and predicting situations through the mistakes of other people and sharing your victories with others who support you is very important to maintain your sanity.”
His advice to people wanting to break into the industry also comes back to having a community of people to talk to especially if they are further along in their career and are doing things that you would like to do.
“Ask for opinions on your projects, doing that made me gain more confidence in myself and my work,” he says. “It may seem difficult at first but it will make all the difference.”