Artistic Lettering Techniques with Ana Gómez Bernaus

By Charles Purdy

When we discovered Ana Gómez Bernaus’s effervescently colorful lettering creations, the first thing we said was “Wow.” And the next thing we said was “How?”—as in “How does she do that?” So we asked her, and in a recent “Create With” live session, she demonstrated the three lettering workflows she employed in the creation of this playful Make it Fun illustration.

Barcelona and its Catalan modernism style, with its rich organic ornamentation and details, influenced Bernaus’s early work; after she moved to New York, she fell in love with typography. She says that Barcelona brought her a taste for illustration, New York captivated her with typography, and now she combines both disciplines in Los Angeles, in the form of the expressive digital lettering that has become a hallmark of her work.

Using Adobe Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC, Bernaus developed these one-of-a-kind lettering processes through exploration and trial and error. She says she loves playing with Illustrator, calling herself a “visual adventurer”—and the description is certainly apt. Watching her work is like going on a thrilling journey. The terrain—Illustrator and Photoshop—may be familiar. But with Bernaus as our guide, we see new vistas and new possibilities.

In a very fast-paced one-hour session, Bernaus gave us a tour of three workflows (the full recording is available at the bottom of this page, as is a package of more than 100 screenshots she recorded along the way). She explains each step as she goes, but keep in mind that this illustration took Bernaus dozens of hours (and some of the work was quite painstaking). As she says, “you have to love your work” when you approach a project like this!

Here, we break down the process for the first word, Make. Watch the full recording for the other two processes.

Ana Gómez Bernaus was born and raised in Barcelona and is now based in Los Angeles. She has been awarded the Type Directors Club Certificate of Typographic Excellence and the Communication Arts Award, among other honors, and her work has been featured in several books and publications. Her client list includes AIGA, Converse, Nike, Trident, State Farm, Kia Motors, Direct TV, Polk Audio, and many others.


Step 1: Bernaus started in Illustrator. Using the pen tool, she created a spine for the word Make. She wanted to employ a minimal number of points, for simplicity’s sake. Also to keep things simple, she split her spine in two: one for Ma and one for ke.



Step 2: Next, she created a shape, which she would eventually use to populate the spine. She used the pen tool to draw a square-cornered zig-zag line. Using Illustrator’s Direct Selection tool, she rounded that line’s corners. Then she increased the weight of the line and turned the line into a shape (by selecting Object > Path > Outline Stroke). Click on the image to watch a video snippet of this step.

Step 3: Splitting the shape she’d just created into five separate shapes (using Illustrator’s pen tool) allowed Bernaus to color each piece with a different gradient. Click on the image to watch a video snippet of this step.

Step 4: Through experimentation, Bernaus has found that a gradient with four points works best for this project. But “this is not scientific at all,” she says. As you explore your own techniques, small changes in shape and color may have a big effect on your final piece.

Step 5: The “magic” in this technique comes when you combine the curved shape and the line of the word created in Step 1. Bernaus counted 17 points in the Ma spine, so she made 17 copies of her shape.

Step 6: Then she used the Object > Blend command to combine the line and the shape. “The blend takes two steps,” says Bernaus. “First, after checking Blend Options and making sure you have your specified steps selected and a number between five and ten entered as a value, select all the pieces and choose Object > Blend. Second, select the blended pieces and the spine and choose Object > Blend > Replace Spine.

Step 7: Selecting Blend Options then allowed her to increase the number of blends, thus smoothing out the transitions between them. Click on the image to watch a video snippet of this step.

Step 8: After she’d blended the line and the shapes, Bernaus fine-tuned her word and the colors in it. For example, she added a yellow highlight at the top of the M by selecting one of the shapes and adding a new yellow gradient.

Step 9: When she was happy with it, Bernaus copied her Make from Illustrator into a Photoshop file as a smart object. First, she reduced the number of transitions in the object (to decrease the object’s weight). You can increase the number again once the smart object is placed in Photoshop.

Watch the full recording (click on the image below) to see the next two processes (she begins working on the it at about 12:00 in the full video). If you have questions, keep watching—she repeats some of her steps during the Q&A portion at the end of the video!

You can also follow along with this PDF of more than 100 screenshots captured during the process.

See more of Ana Gómez Bernaus’s lettering creations on her Behance portfolio page.

October 11, 2016