Lisa Quine has created murals for the Cleveland Flea, Orange Theory, and Hilton—and was even chosen to travel to France to share her artistic talents. But until a few years ago, the lettering artist didn’t really know lettering was an art form. Here’s a look at her rapid rise to success. By Jillian Kramer
“I feel like a house painter,” Lisa Quine laughs as she stands in front of a 14-foot-long panel of windows at The Music Settlement in Ohio City. Her right foot is braced against a 10-foot metal ladder, her left stabilized on the window sill. A brush in her right hand, Quine dabs white acrylic paint at the top of a “T,” then drags the brush slowly down.
Hours ago, an Epson projector cast Quine’s 6-foot-tall design on the glass, showing her where to trace a banjo, drum, saxophone, French horn, piano keys, and musical notes.
Quine, 28, stood outside as she traced the mural. It took her 20 minutes. Standing in 32-degree weather helped her work fast, she says now from inside The Music Settlement’s heated classroom. (The design itself, however—with its logos, words, flourishes, instruments, and social media icons—took Quine six hours in Procreate.)
“I saw the room, with all of its colorful books, and I wanted to make this [mural] bright and exciting for all ages—which is easy to do with a lot of color,” Quine, a Mentor native, says.
The lettering artist dips her brush back into the red Solo cup holding the white paint and begins on the “H” in the design. “It’s easier if the width of the brush matches the width of the letter,” she explains as she moves on to a smaller “U,” sifting through a dozen flat brushes—holding them up against the traced letter—until she finds one that fits.
It’s quiet in the room, with the exception of a journalist interrupting the silence to ask Quine questions. Normally, Quine plays a podcast as she paints—the Joe Rogan Experience is a favorite, she says. These podcasts inspire her, she explains. (She’s also read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck four times. “It’s so good!” Quine insists.)
And yet, while Quine draws inspiration from other entrepreneurs and artists—she follows literally hundreds of hand letterers on Instagram—she has rapidly become an inspiration herself. In the past two years, she’s launched a lettering business that has snagged the attention of clients from the Cleveland Flea to Hilton, and gained an Instagram following of 30,000 people. And she’s done it all with incredible humility.
“Fake it until you make it has really worked out for me,” Quine laughs.
When Quine was 16 years old, her first boyfriend dumped her—for her best friend.
So at night, Quine would retreat to her room, put on emo music—Panic! At the Disco was a favorite—and doodle song lyrics in a notebook. “My heart was broken,” Quine says, “so I turned to music. I would draw all of these sad, sad lyrics in my notebook.”
Long after her heart had recovered, Quine continued to sketch lyrics on paper. She fell in love with Panic! At the Disco’s second album “Pretty Odd,” which featured a booklet with hand-lettered words. “I had no idea what lettering was,” she says, “but I was so drawn to these written words that were really detailed and kind of crazy and trippy. I was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool—I’ve never seen anything like this before.’”
In fact, Quine says she didn’t know what lettering was until after she had graduated from the University of Dayton in 2012 with a degree in graphic design. Quine bought an iPhone and signed up for Instagram—and as she began following accounts with flourished words, Quine noticed “’lettering’ was one of the hashtags that people put [on posts],” she says.
Soon, Quine was one of the thousands of Instagrammers with the hashtag #lettering, and coworkers were asking her to letter their baby shower and wedding invitations.
When she was 23, Quine met her now-husband, Mark, at their workplace, Brokaw, in downtown Cleveland. On one of their first dates, Quine announced she had to leave: “I remember being like, ‘I’ve got to get home and letter, so I have to cut this short.”
That was Quine’s routine every day: She worked as a junior graphic designer, made time for friends (or dates), then rushed home to spend hours lettering into the night.
“It was just like a nervous tic,” she describes, then asks, “Do you ever wake up on a Sunday morning and you feel like you have a million things you want to do? That’s how I felt after work. I’d always have passion projects floating around in my head.”
One such project was lettering the pop artist Rilo Kiley’s “A Better Son/Daughter” lyrics into an old college textbook. She drew over the textbook’s pages, with lyrics such as “then you hang up the phone” with a rotary phone taking up one page, and “crawl back into bed” on another—the word “bed” drawn across a rumpled white pillow case.
“I wasn’t sick of the song yet, so I could work on it for a long time,” she says. “Plus it didn’t have a repetitive chorus, so it was more like a story.” It took her 40 pages to tell the tale. The first pages—even when she was drawing them—made her cringe.
“I would think, ‘Oh, I want to fix a million things,’” Quine says of those first pages. “But by the end of book, I was like, ‘OK, I feel really comfortable doing this now.’”
At Brokaw, an associate creative director took notice of Quine’s talents, too. “He saw what I was doing on Instagram and he said, ‘You need to be on a campaign,’” Quine recalls. So he asked Quine to do lettering work for Lakeview Cemetery, on a push to help Clevelanders see the graveyard as more than a place to only mourn and grieve.
Quine recalls the process of lettering the headlines this way: “I remember being in my little studio apartment, just doing tracings of ideas. Like, there’s tracing paper all over the floor—there’s sketches all over the floor—and I didn’t have an iPad. iPads and Apple Pencils were not in existence, so I would have to draw it, scan it in, and then on the computer, make it pretty—clean it up. Like, it was a whole long process.”
But when she was finally done, Quine says, “that was the first time where I was like, ‘I might actually be good at this.’” By the time she reached Global Prairie in 2014, Quine had a stable of freelance projects from friends and coworkers and referrals, and by 2017—with a six-wall mural looming in her near future, a commission from Global X—Quine had so much work that she had to leave the marketing company.
She had just become a full-time freelance hand letterer.
One-hundred-fifty-three hours. That’s how long it took Quine to complete the six-wall, three-level mural at Global X’s building on Superior Avenue at East 21st Street. It was Quine’s second mural ever—long before she had thought of purchasing the Epson projector.
She worked in 1-foot by 1-foot squares, which matched 1-inch by 1-inch squares on her iPad. “It’s like paint-by-numbers,” Quine explains. “I would draw foot by foot on the wall, and I would look at my iPad and be like, ‘OK, this goes here.’”
Some 150 hours later, “I had a mental breakdown finishing those walls because, one little section wasn’t right and so, I just lost it,” Quine says. Her hands were shaking from having painted for so long, over so many long days. “I was so tired,” Quine says, but she stayed until 1 a.m. to complete that final part of the wall—the business’ logo.
Since then, Quine has painted murals for Hilton—her popular “Dream Big” mural in Gordon Square—the Cleveland Flea, Orange Theory, and Rebol, and was chosen as part of a city artists exchange program to design and paint a mural in Rouen, France.
Scroll through her Instagram feed, and you’ll see captures of these projects—bright, beautiful, and striking. But Quine is still a little surprised so many people follow her here, and find her work so impressive. “I think too much in the future,” she admits. “I don’t like taking a step back and looking at it.” Quine pauses, “Like, everything in my life has prepared me for that project when I take it on, so it feels meant to be.”