In 2014, Barcelona-based graphic designers Nina Sans and Rafa Goicoechea started a project that combined their love for design and typography. The project eventually evolved into a worldwide challenge that invites members of the design community to create a letter or number a day for 36 days, by interpreting letter-forms in interesting styles and sharing these works on Instagram using the hashtag #36daysoftype. The best designs are featured on the project’s gallery every day of the challenge.

Since the 2021 challenge started on 5 April, hundreds of Indian designers and illustrators have been posting their #36daysoftype creations. Here's a look into the inspirations, creative process and learnings of 10 Indian designers who are participating in this year's edition:

Anu Manohar | Adobe Dimension

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Anu Manohar has been creating a series in sync with her design aesthetic — big, bold yet minimal design. “I think limitations enhance my creativity. So I feel like my letters start to get better and better as I progress,” says Anu, for whom the most satisfying part of doing this challenge is getting featured on the #36daysoftype Instagram page. “The challenging aspect is keeping up with the series everyday and giving each letter your best shot. Once you miss out on a letter, you really start to fall behind.”

Though she’s a beginner at typography, Anu certainly seems to be falling in love with the form. “I’m doing this for my love of typography. It gives me the opportunity to not only get better but also explore so many different letter forms that I can use in other projects as well. It also adds to my portfolio and keeps my Instagram page active,” she says, adding that she spends up to two hours every morning, making each letter.

Muhammed Sajid | Procreate

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Muhammed Sajid is participating for the third time, and sees it as a good exercise that keeps him on his toes for 36 days. “I enjoy the rush of working on these, and thinking about the next letter. This year, I’m going for a surrealist approach but not sticking to a particular style, because doing that gets boring and it becomes difficult to maintain a flow. I don’t like forcefully making letters in the same style,” says Muhammed.

“I try to finish each piece the day before the submission. From the start, I visualise ideas and the process to complete it, but in between, I do whatever feels good at that particular time without losing continuity. Each day, opening Instagram and uploading the artworks makes me feel excited and satisfied. If you have no other work and are focusing only on this, it's easy to finish. But for me, it's difficult to balance both my office work and this. What keeps me going is a line I believe in: 'If you have passion, you have the time!'” he adds.

Riya Mahajan | Adobe Dimension, with Photoshop and C4D

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Riya Mahajan was introduced to typography and type design during her undergraduate program at the National Institute of Design. “I got deeper into type during my exchange semester in France where we had a dedicated typeface design course. What I do for #36daysoftype is very experimental, but it follows similar basics and fundamental principles like an understanding of form, negative space, composition and other elements,” she says.

Her direction and style for the project came from her choice of software — Adobe Dimension. “Every year, I try to master new softwares. Having constraints really helps as you don't spend too much time figuring out all aspects of the execution. You get to focus more on the actual form, colour and composition,” explains Riya, who participated last year too. “Challenges like this are a good way to ensure that you make something every day. It is also a good channel to learn, explore and practise new skills and softwares. I get to do what I want without having to think of a rigid brief or a specific client. This is the most satisfying and challenging part.”

Rutuja Mali | Clay

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Rutuja Mali has participated in the challenge for four years now. “This year, the project was happening right when I was going to be in Goa, and I wouldn’t have my home set-up to click photographs. So I thought I could try clicking them outdoors and let my letters/characters depict what a typical tourist does in those locations,” Rutuja says.

Speaking about her process, she says, “I visualised a majority of the alphabets this year. Initially, I did make some rough sketches to make sure that all the letters fit in the same theme. I guess when your theme is finalised, most of the visuals start flowing on their own. With this particular style, it’s taking about 30 to 45 minutes per character. For the shoot, I just carry the alphabets around wherever I go and shoot them as and when I spot the right location.”

Tanya Timble | Procreate

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For Tanya Timble, the pandemic and all the sorrow around made her want to create something that would bring cheer to people’s lives. “We’re all cooped up in our houses again, and it gets fairly easy to forget the beauty of the world and everything it has to offer. If even one person’s day gets a little better because of my work, I don't think there is any better redemption for an artist,” she says.

Talking about her process, Tanya says, “Although it helps to have an initial blueprint in your head, my art keeps changing until the very last minute. It helps to sketch my thoughts out in a notebook first and then use Procreate. I personally think restricting myself to an aesthetic lets me visualise the alphabets better. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, sometimes restrictions are liberating. The challenging part is doing this everyday — life gets busy and it gets difficult to pick up the pen. But I think that’s why it's equally important: no matter how busy you are, you should always find time for the things you love!”

Yash Pradhan | Sketchbook, Adobe Illustrator

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Yash Pradhan has been actively participating for five consecutive years. “I've always loved bold shapes and vibrant colors and wanted to develop typeface illustrations inspired by my last edition, to give it a sense of continuity. I did not find it limiting to stick to one style as the typeface I was creating was, of course, unique to each letter; it pretty much felt like creating a brand's visual language,” he says.

His type inspiration comes from his love for Mumbai. “When you're living in a city like Mumbai, you're surrounded by type in different forms. I drew inspiration from a lot of truck art for the color palette but toned it down to pastels to match the aesthetics I was going for,” he says.

Due to time constraints, Yash is taking a six-by-six approach to the project as opposed to a daily practice, working on six artworks every weekend. “Honestly, it's been harder than making one letter a day, but it gets easier once I get the flow of designing.”

Rajasee Ray | Procreate

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For Rajasee Ray, #36daysoftype is “always a little bit of calm at the end of the workday.” She’s currently working on an animated animal series, basing it on the 13 indie dogs she takes care of, and who are a part of her extended family.

“It's really lovely to create this series with little movements or quirks I've noticed while spending time with them. Anyone who spends time with a dog will understand and relate to the illustrations. Because it's animated, I decided to go with a really quick, slightly rough illustration style that would help me tackle the individual frames faster,” says Rajasee, who uses a think-about-the-next-one-after-I've-finished-the-old-one approach to the creative process.

The most challenging aspect for her has been time, so she’s decided to tackle the project slowly, at her own pace. “I'm struggling a bit this time with certain letters — some lend themselves to ideas and movements really well, while others are aggravating in their rigidity. I think this particular theme is really bringing out how stubborn some of the alphabets are.”

Anarya | Procreate

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A debutant, Anarya saw some amazing pieces by artists and designers on the first day of the challenge and decided to try it out for herself. She just started playing around with the alphabet’s shapes and colours and started seeing a style emerge in the drawings.

“With the COVID-19 situation worsening, it kind of feels like the world is collapsing yet again. Amidst all this, my alphabets found space in desolate and mystical landscapes. It also became a way to take a break from the real world. It’s also my first time exploring typography,” she says, adding, “This project has given me a new perspective. I am not just looking at the letters as shapes, sizes or colours, but as a drawing in itself, with space, characters, stories and emotions.”

Contracting COVID-19 in the middle of the challenge was a setback. But Anarya is determined to finish the series as soon as she recovers.

Shweta Sharma | Ink, shading pencils, craft paper, Photoshop

Shweta Sharma

As someone who has participated in the challenge before, Shweta Sharma decided to experiment more with type this year and not stick to a single underlying theme. “It was mostly drawn from my highlight of the day — a game I played, an activity I did, a song I heard on loop or even a movie I was obsessing about. I didn’t let myself train my mind to think a certain way. I get to surprise myself everyday by learning something completely new, discovering new methods, new tools. When I see it all cohesively together, it feels like magic. I missed this process, and this was an attempt to unlearn things and grow at the same time,” Shweta says.

Making time everyday wasn’t easy, but as someone who admittedly thrives under pressure, she tries to make the most of each day. “Type has been an unboxed territory and always excited me. I’m trying to find my own points of view through this experiment, and channeling my learnings/understandings throughout this exercise. I have genuinely thanked my courage for taking this up, because the process has already taught me so much, so there is motivation to do more.”

Neethi | Photoshop, Procreate

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For illustrator Neethi, participating in #36daysoftype was a way to challenge her relationship with the form. “As an illustrator, I’ve not really explored type in my work, so this project always seemed daunting to me. So I’ve gone from being absolutely terrified to getting more and more comfortable with just taking it out the box,” she says, adding that her process isn't linear but that she has “set the playground and looks forward to having fun in it everyday.”

Neethi’s 36 days series focuses on interiors, since she has spent the last two years “hopping from one room to the other, dreaming about furniture, planters and kettles.”

Interestingly, it was a fellow #36daysoftype artist who pushed her to do the challenge for the first time. “I watched my friend Prateek Vatash really explore his style through the project year after year, and he really challenged me to give it a shot in my own style. He encouraged me to just get started, do it at my pace and to not chase some crazy goal of perfection. I find the pace the most challenging aspect. Big ups to everyone participating, it takes a lot!” she concludes.