Ocki Magill, aka The Letter Bug, reveals how the style of photography creates more buzz for her unique hand-painted illustrations.
After working in brand design for many years, Ocki Magill wanted to get away from the screen and indulge her passion for traditional painting methods.
The result was her wildly popular business, where people commission bespoke illustrations featuring letters of the alphabet.
Can you briefly explain exactly what you do?
Officially I’m a freelance brand designer, creating and building brands for private clients. I also have my illustrated typography business called The Letter Bug, where I make unique artwork based around letters of the alphabet.
Like, your sister Eva might love birds and the colours pink and purple so I’d paint purple and gold eagles flying between pink and orange clouds that would make up the letter E.
This is then mounted, framed, gift-wrapped and sent, stamped with my Letter Bug Stamp saying “Dear Mr Postman, please handle with love and care”.
How did you start and why?
I worked in advertising for six years, doing a lot of graphic design and illustration for different brands. I was doing some letters for a brand and I did a letter ‘C’ made out of trees and I posted it on my personal Instagram and people really responded well.
They kept ordering these letters. About 18 months ago I launched it as a brand and it’s just taken off. Now I do brand design in the morning and paint sloths, figs and pink and purple octopi for the rest of the day!
Why is it important to have a visual presence for your business?
Everything I’ve done in the past has been visual. I didn’t want to make The Letter Bug all about me as a person, I wanted it to be about the colours and the designs and the materials, so it’s important people can see those.
What do you think makes a good photo, for your purposes?
The key thing is getting as macro as possible so people can see the most detail. It’s best to shoot at an angle so you can get an idea of how the paint is sitting on the page. For me it’s about scale. So if I’m painting the hairs on a sloth and someone can see my thumbnail in shot it gives them some sense of the detail.
What impression are you trying to convey with your photos?
I guess that I care so much about what I’m doing. And the process. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to see how something is made, you just see the end result in a gallery or on someone’s wall. But I found myself constantly looking at things and wondering how it’s been made and how it’s been done, and that’s something Instagram allows people to see.
What do you think makes a good picture?
Capturing a moment that a finished piece can’t really reveal. So I like to try and document the process as much as possible.
Great light is essential and when using Photoshop I play with the levels to make the images as clean and crisp as possible. People also want to see things shot in a different way, a new take on it.
What would you like to be able to improve about your photos?
I’d like to capture more of the detail and more of the layers of paint that go onto the page, which the D-SLR has let me do. I’d also like a tripod. When I take shots of me painting I often have to hold the camera with my mouth or hold the camera with my other hand.
It’s very unglamorous and I have to shuffle around the studio holding the camera up at different windows, so I think I’d like to improve the technical side of it.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about photography since you started using Instagram?
That the clearer the image, the better the engagement. You could have a wonderful product but if it’s not shot beautifully people won’t know what they’re supposed to be looking at.
Also, the less you try to say the better. An image should speak for itself, so less is more I think.
What sort of photos are most popular on your Instagram feed?
People seem to like nature-inspired letters, so plants and animals and simple colour palettes. Images where they can see the scale seem to do well, so seeing how small the letter is in real life.
My letters can take up to 12 hours to paint and are all under 12cm so I think images that really capture the detail and the time taken seem to be popular.
I think my small octopus letter got 16k likes on @Goodtype a few months ago – I mean, bonkers!