Everyone needs a good laugh and Sarah Linkus of Filthy Freehand knows this. Her hand lettered posters and cards combine the meticulous craft of calligraphy and art of a good one liner. If you don’t crack a smile when you peruse her line at this Sunday’s Maker Market then it’s your own damn fault. This busy woman took some time to get serious about her work, inspiration and what it means to hand letter in the modern world.
Maker Market- When and how was Filthy Freehand born?
Filthy Freehand- I started calling my work "Filthy Freehand" in July of 2013 but the groundwork for it started years before that. When I was working on my degree in Architecture at UW-Milwaukee we had to produce renderings for presenting our projects. You could have the most beautiful drawings but if your handwriting was atrocious it ruined the whole thing. I remember even as a kid I would decide to change my handwriting every few months. When I wasn't feeling challenged enough by schoolwork, at least I could make it look good. It gave me something more interesting to focus on, and somehow made the menial work more exciting to me.
Using my lettering as a way to earn money came later. At the time, my husband and I had just had a baby and I was at home all the time. I felt restless staying home with this tiny dude, and started looking for creative outlets that I could potentially make money on down the road. The idea really sparked when I was writing addresses on envelopes and packages. It's kind of peculiar, making these beautiful handwritten addresses knowing that they'll inevitably end up being thrown away. But that's what makes it special, when you receive a hand lettered envelope you feel sort of honored that someone took the time and effort to address it in a unique way knowing full-well that it's just going to get thrown away. The same goes for greeting cards. That's when I really started getting serious about learning calligraphy, and Filthy Freehand evolved from there. Beautifully written swear words, and the dichotomy therein, are just really funny to me.
MM- Is Filthy Freehand a hobby or a full time job?
FF- Somewhere in-between, I suppose. Being a mom takes up the most of my time, followed by lettering, and then bartending. Unfortunately, the income for these is inversely proportionate to the time I spend on them. Slowly but surely my lettering is becoming something I can rely on more consistently, income-wise. I don't think you can just dive in head-first into freelance work, you need to work hard for a long time to build up a solid following and portfolio.
MM- How did you come up with the concept for your business and how has it evolved?
FF- It started with hand calligraphed greeting cards and small posters with vulgar or snarky messages. Like I said earlier, I think beautifully written swear words are really funny; plus the initial investment -- time and money wise -- was really low. I started selling these at local markets and craft fairs with the thought that if no one bought them, at the very least I could send them to my friends and family. I was surprised with the overwhelmingly positive response from people. From there I started getting approached by friends to take on other projects; chalkboards, logos, signs, etc. You can write with so many different mediums on nearly limitless surfaces, so why stop at ink on paper? I've always been intrigued with how many different ways you can write the same thing, and how each way has its own personality. Whenever I was approached with a new method of lettering I always said yes. Because of that, Filthy Freehand has evolved into every kind of lettering you can think of.
MM- You have many posters featuring famous and not so famous quotes. How do you chose what to use for your designs?
FF- A lot of the quotes I use are from people or fictional characters that I think are funny; Ron Swanson, David Sedaris, Tina Belcher, for example. Other ones are from my own life, usually stemming from the roller-coaster of raising a kid. There's a fine line between what's funny and what goes too far. If it's not funny enough, or if it's too offensive, no one is going to buy it because they can't visualize hanging it in their own home.
MM- Do you ever get any guff from customers about your "filthy" freehand??
FF- Rarely, but yes. There was one guy who called in anonymously to complain about my stuff at the last Maker Market, but I wasn't too concerned. I can't let myself get bogged down by people that can't see the irony or humor in my work; after all, you can't please everybody. Most people get a good laugh out of it, though. They don't expect such pretty handwriting to be so vulgar. When people approach my booth and start reading my stuff with a real serious face I usually think, "Oh great, they're super offended." But once they realize what they're reading their whole expression changes and they're hunched over laughing. Admittedly, at first I thought that older people would be the most insulted, but after having a couple years of markets under my belt I've realized they're the ones that get the biggest kick out of it. They've been around long enough that they've stopped getting alarmed about little stuff like this and have learned to just laugh about it.
MM- You recently did a collaboration entitled "Dirty Dishes." How did this collaboration come to be and will this relationship continue?
FF- Yes, it's a collaboration with my friend Kate Riley, a super talented ceramics artist based here in Milwaukee. She approached me about it first last year and we made a bunch of plates, mugs, and flasks with phrases like "Good Morning Asshole," and "Fuck Yeah Tacos." We had them at last year's Hover Craft and nearly sold out in the first two hours. So, yes, we plan on continuing Dirty Dishes as long as we keep getting such positive feedback.
MM- You also do wedding invites, chalkboards, sign painting on top of your line. How do all of your mediums differ and what has you the most excited currently?
FF- Chalkboards are clearly the most forgiving, but sometimes I find myself being the most nit-picky about them simply because the medium allows for it. Calligraphy requires the most practice. That's the majority of what calligraphy is, writing the same thing over and over and over until your muscles are trained to write the same letters the same way every time. I'll be the first to admit I'm still learning though, and I always will be. There are a million different combinations of writing styles, ink, nibs, paper. It's daunting and liberating at the same time. Sign painting definitely has me the most excited right now, simply because I'm still so new at it. There are people who have dedicated their whole life to sign painting and still consider themselves students of the art. It requires such a steady hand, and I rarely have the exact right amount of coffee in me for it.
MM- How do you see Filthy Freehand growing?
FF- Right now it's still sort of a side-project for me, but when our son is in school full-time I'm going to try and take it to the front burners. I work mostly out of my dining room and basement at the moment because I need to be home with the little guy. Eventually I'd like to get a studio to move my work outside of my house, and hopefully find my dining room table underneath all the piles of projects. I'm still bartending a few days a week (and still love it), but one of these days my Milwaukee liver is going to throw in the towel and I'll need to "grow up" I suppose. For now I need to keep building up my client base and portfolio to be able to make the leap to full-time freelance work.
MM- What can shoppers expect to see from FF at the upcoming Maker Market?
FF- I keep a pretty solid stock of greeting cards and posters that are relevant year-round (e.g., Happy Fucking Birthday, Shit Could be Worse, I Think You're Fucking Super). At the May Maker Market I'll also have Mother's Day cards and a handful of Mother's Day coffee mugs through Dirty Dishes. Eventually I'd like to make calligraphy starter kits and rubber stamps, but that's still down the road a bit.
MM- What is currently inspiring you? Music? Movies? TV? Blogs? Artists? IG accounts?
FF- If it weren't for Faythe Levine's book and movie "Sign Painters," I don't think I would've even attempted sign painting. I never really thought of it as something I could ever do, but I'm so glad I did. Whenever I finish a large sign I get so proud and emotional about it, few things compare to that feeling. I'm always inspired by Timothy Reynolds too. His 3D artwork is incredible, but even more than that, his dedication to fair pay in the freelance world will always stick with me. He is constantly fighting against spec work, which is when people are asked to submit work for free, with the only "reward" being exposure. It devalues the individual's work and it devalues the design industry as a whole. There are hundreds of instagram accounts I could list off, but these people blow my hair back on a regular basis :
Check out Filthy Freehand online now and meet Sarah Linkus in the flesh at the upcoming Maker Market this Sunday May 3rd in the parking lot of Colectivo in Bay View.