No Comments

Cocktail Cards That Pack a Punch

Written by in Color & Texture, Inspire, Letterpress, Uncategorized

Packing a Punch —
Hand-Lettered Letterpress Cocktail Cards

Designer Maria Montes is a lifelong learner when it comes to lettering and typography. Splitting her time between Barcelona and Melbourne, she works on custom lettering projects, illustrations, and type design, and once a year travels to Europe to study lettering and calligraphy under the tutelage of Keith and Amanda Adams. There she immerses herself in historic manuscripts, studying lettering techniques from the masters to improve her skills. She shares her knowledge by teaching calligraphy workshops in Melbourne and speaking at design conferences.

“I have a strong graphic design background and I am very passionate about all kinds of letterforms, from calligraphy, to lettering, to typography. I am daily training my eye to become a better designer. Calligraphy and typeface design are extremely technical; attention to detail is key. When I draw organic forms, I loosen up and look for energy instead of technical proficiency. I never looked actively for this style of illustration, but I am personally drawn to details.”

Among Montes’ favorite inspirational quotes is this one:

“To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest details.”

— Giorgio Armani

Not long ago, Montes was invited by designer Carla Hackett and letterpress printer Amy Constable (Saint Gertrude Fine Printing) to design a series of four letterpress cards for the Ladies of Letterpress series Flourish Together. “At the time, I was in the middle of putting together my first solo exhibition in Melbourne, Breaking the Ice,” she remembers. “It consisted of a series of eight full-color illustrated cocktail artworks and pattern prints, so I offered to convert four of my full-color pieces into two-color letterpress cards, and they agreed.” Below, the cards and descriptions Montes created.


“There was a long research process for each illustration. First, I looked for the message — something naughty and fun at the same time. Based on the origin of the cocktail, I added some cultural references to the piece. Then I sketched the lettering and went through many iterations. The base for each lettering style is my own calligraphy. After the calligraphic sketches were balanced enough, I used tracing paper and redrew all letterforms, adding or removing weight and contrast, and adjusting letterspacing. The original full-color piece featured the actual colors used in a mojito (green for the mint), but being restricted to two colors for this series made me reconsider the colors to work well with the other cards.”


“I was a little worried that the hairlines in the absinthe piece wouldn’t reproduce well in letterpress. Each piece was born as a large format, full-color artwork, so I went through a reduction process where I removed elements and the color palette, but kept the soul of each piece intact. I asked Amy for the minimum line stroke to make sure that the letterpress would translate my details, and the result was great. The color palette is clearly inspired by the popular ‘Green Fairy’ name associated with absinthe. I wanted to create a glowing visual experience.”

Green Fairy Alphabet

“‘Absinthe’ was originally a custom-lettering design. This design was stuck in my mind, so one year later I returned to it and drew all 26 letters of the uppercase alphabet using Illustrator. The result is Green Fairy, which started as one weight but quickly evolved into a layered chromatic font. Currently, Green Fairy is a font family of six weights [chromatic layers]. It will be finalized and commercially available next year.”


“‘The inspiration behind my negroni artwork was a blog post from BonAppetit.com called How to Drink Like an Italian. In the post, Andrew Knowlton states, Italians drink differently than we do. They sip, stir, linger over low-octane cocktails. The cocktail venue which hosted my solo exhibition offers a variation on this cocktail called Chili-Choc Negroni. I love chilies, so I decided to go ahead with this version of the classic Italian drink. I wanted to use the colors of the Italian flag without being obvious. Chilies gave me the red color palette I needed, so I used them as my starting point. Another ingredient is Vietnamese mint, which became the second design element. Following the theme, I introduced an Italian word easily understood in English: salute. This lettering is based on my Copperplate calligraphy. On the other hand, the negroni lettering is based on my Fraktur calligraphy.

Old Fashioned

“‘My desk is divided between analog and digital tools I love. On the left side, I have my pens, brushes, inks, paper, and an A2 lightbox. On the right side, I have my computer, Wacom tablet, camera, and iPhone. I think one can either specialize or do different things in different ways. I get bored easily, so I like jumping from one discipline to the other or, ideally, combining them whenever possible.

Next year Montes has a solo exhibition at Contemporary Art Center La Panera in Catalonia. “I am really excited to share new work with friends and family,” she says. We look forward to seeing the fruit of her labor. Salute!