BT Livermore

Different Strokes—A Hand Lettering Workshop with BT Livermore

This summer, Portland said goodbye to one of its beloved sign painters, BT Livermore. But before he headed off to Big Sky Country, he hosted 30 lucky letter-enthusiasts at our WeMake Discovery Workshop on June 10. Students braved the Rose Parade traffic to pay respects to BT and spend three hours exploring letterforms under his expert instruction.

Before class began, each student received a custom mega Scout Book with one of BT's catchphrases: "Be the right tool for the job." This quote launched the class into a lesson in selecting calligraphy nibs. "First you have to know what tools make different marks," BT explained. First he shared the classic A nib is squared off at the tip for broad strokes and a B nib is rounded for curved lines. The C nib is a basic square shape for classic thick to thin strokes. The D nib is good for chunky serifs. 

After some exploration in calligraphy nibs, BT broke out the brushes. His collection featured tools made of synthetic materials as well as the fur of sable and squirrel. He showed us how to saturate and form the brush in order to create rich, fluid strokes. 

As the letters began to flow from everyone's chosen tools, BT shared his career story and insights into how he came to love letters. After gaining a degree in Web Design from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, BT moved to Portland in 2005. After taking some time off from school, he started writing letters and just couldn't stop. His studies picked back up at Pacific Northwest College of Art, where he started integrating letters into his design and illustration work. His love for creating letters continued to grow when he found sign painting. He enjoyed that this typographical artform separate his work from the digital space.

While BT has left our City of Roses, his handiwork can still be seen across Portland. Look for his work in coffee shops, art studios, and other crafty spots around town and get inspired to find your own love of letters.

Check out more photos here. All images by Susie Morris.

Timeless Strokes—Announcing July sketchXchange with BT Livermore

No doubt, there’s something in the water here in Portland. It’s been soaking the city’s roots for sometime, welling up creativity to hydrate our community of doers and makers. From artisan ice cream to viral ad campaigns, this Portland Renaissance (of sorts) has produced some amazing minds whose prowess spans a multitude of creative fields.

Our July sketchXchange features a true Rose City Renaissance Man: BT Livermore. He hand paints handsome signage, illustrates editorial content, screen prints stunning designs, and even creates a line of zestful male grooming products. Don’t miss a sneak peek into the sketchbook of this animated fellow.

Please join us for a night of inspirational sketching with BT Livermore at our community partner, The Left Bank Project.

Date of the event: Friday, July 5, 2013

Time: 6:00 – 9:00pm

Check-in begins at 6:00pm. Doors close at 6:45pm.

Place: The Left Bank Project, 240 N Broadway

Cost: Free, however, a $5 donation is appreciated

Registration Begins: Friday morning at 9am, June 28

As always, space is limited. Be sure to register early!

RSVP on Eventbrite

BT Livermore is an artist of many talents including illustration, lettering, screen printing, and self-publishing.  Currently you can find him at the collective studio Magnetic North, on Etsy, and at his personal website. If you tumble be sure to follow his themed blog: Signs About Town. The initials “BT” stands for his nickname “Big Time” which was given to him some years ago by a charming homeless man in a Minneapolis alley.

WeMake:You just completed a residency in Montana. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what you gleaned from it?

BT: Montana has always been a special place for me. For a good chunk of my pre-teen and teenage years, I had family that lived south of Billings, so would take family road trips out there in the summer. When I got word that a friend was starting up an art residency situation in Butte, I jumped at the chance.

The whole experience was a collaboration between myself and a photographer friend, Sarah LaPonte, who recently moved from Portland to Pittsburgh. We spent the first three days spending long hours putting together “Sandwhichville,” a collaborative show of Sarah’s photography and my signage inspired pieces. All my pieces – about a dozen - were created in those three days, with most of the ideas and phrases coming from the constant flow of conversation between Sarah and I and the people of Butte.

The second half of our residency was a four-day zine workshop, initially slated to be for high school kids, but we eventually opened it up more as a drop-in-when-you-want sort of situation for any one in the community. Both Sarah and I have a history of both making and teaching zines, and in the end I feel the workshop was successful, although somewhat lightly attended.

The whole experience was quite eye-opening for me. I had not truly had an opportunity to collaborate with another artist so intensely before, and I found myself considering different ways of working that I had not opened myself up to previously. And, the city of Butte has such a rich and complex history that I could not help but be completely enraptured with it as I learned more and more.

WeMake:You seem to be inspired by Americana. Has that always been the case? How has your inspiration changed over time?

BT: For as long as I’ve been paying attention to my influences, at least, yes. Especially with my focus on sign painting for the last few years, it becomes even harder not to look to a different time period as there are simply more examples and resource materials to study from decades past. The specifics of my influences have definitely changed, however. When I first started transitioning from more character-based illustration work to hand lettering, I found very ornate, decorative letters inspiring, as they seemed closer to the illustrative work I was used to. Since picking up sign painting brushes about three years ago though, simply re-learning to create basic letterforms with a new tool has meant I have found myself far more inspired by more informational and industrial sources as of late.

WeMake:Your signage and subject matter seems very northwest-centric. What inspires you most about this area of the world?

BT: I get this a lot, and I don’t really think about it too much honestly. I spent the first 25 years of my life in the upper Midwest, and will forever claim that as my source of inspiration. It just so happens that the themes of wilderness, honest hard work, and even specific iconography like Paul Bunyan are themes common to both where I grew up and where I live now.

WeMake:You use a lot of woodsy animals in your illustrations and prints. Some are subjects in your books. What creature are you most particular to? Do you have a power animal?

BT: My power animal is the taxidermy sheep that lives above the entrance door at Beulahland; we’ve been through a lot together.

WeMake:When did you know you could make a living off of your art?

BT: For me, the feeling has always been more that I NEED to make a living off my art, far more than whether or not I COULD. Being self-employed and working creatively has been the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. I am also intensely stubborn, which has always led to friction between myself and any boss I’ve ever had, so it just makes sense to work independently.

WeMake:What made you go back to school and get your BFA from PNCA in 2010? Do you think formal education aids an artist? 

BT: I had already earned an AAS degree in web design back in Minneapolis, and did not move to Portland thinking I would become a student again. Shortly after moving here I came to the realization that I needed to switch away from spending all my work life on a computer, and started focusing on my lifetime love of drawing. Majoring in Illustration at PNCA became the best way to hone down my skills as a draftsperson again in a more structured environment.

I think formal education can aid anyone with the right situation and mindset to make sure they get what they need out of it. I started at PNCA not particularly seeking a degree and telling myself that if it ever stopped being worth it, I would quit. I did end up taking a semester off, and going part time the following semester, mostly for health reasons. I realized that I was not yet happy enough with what I had achieved, even though I was already getting quite a bit of illustration work. Looking forward to the rigorous challenge of the final, thesis year at PNCA and really pushing myself to see what I could get out of that is what finally made me come back to finish my degree.

WeMake:What’s your favorite size of sketchbook? What brand of sketchbook do you prefer?

BT: I carry two sketchbooks with me in my bag at all times. I keep an 8.5x11, hardbound book for client sketches and notes, and then a smaller, pocket sketchbook for fun stuff and personal ideas. I usually just buy a pad of drawing paper and make my own smaller sketchbooks since I grew unhappy with the paper that normally comes in most small books. Even with the two-book system, I find it very hard to not have any crossover; if a personal idea strikes while working on a freelance gig, I will probably end up jotting it down in the big book without thinking.

Every few months, I’ll dig out my last three books or so and transfer any unfinished ideas that I still find interesting into the current book.

WeMake: When is your favorite time to sketch? Where is your favorite place to draw?

BT: I do most of my sketching in the late morning to early afternoon at coffeeshops. When I need ideas to come fast and loose, I really like the subtle chaos of a busy coffeeshop. (Usually Courier Coffee downtown or Tiny’s on MLK if anyone wants to come looking for me.) There is just so much people watching and overheard conversations to be had, it’s hard not to be inspired. This goes for client work sketching as well. I just can’t seem to get in the right groove trying to sketch in my studio.

WeMake: If we could go back and look at your old sketchbooks, say from junior high, what imagery would we find in there?

BT: Probably graphite drawings of cartoon characters and robots. If you could look even further back, you’d find very intricate trees with maze-like branch structures. Sadly, no one will ever be able to see any of these. When I was about 22, my parents discovered a mold attack in their basement that resulted in throwing away most pieces on paper that I had ever created up to that point.

Don’t miss your chance to meet and sketch with BT! Space is limited. Register early starting June 28th!

Date of the event: Friday, July 5, 2013

Time: 6:00 – 9:00pm

Check-in begins at 6:00pm. Doors close at 6:45pm.

Place: The Left Bank Project, 240 N Broadway

Cost: Free, however, a $5 donation is appreciated

Registration Begins: Friday morning at 9am, June 28

RSVP on Eventbrite

Holiday Shopping with Magnetic North

We’re gearing up for our workshop with Magnetic North this Friday at 6pm. In addition to the collaborative screen printing project we’ll be working on, we wanted to let you know that the retail store will be open for business as well.

Squeeze in some early holiday shopping and support local makers!

Magnetic North has an awesome array of handmade goods, t-shirts, prints, and other goodies that will make perfect gifts this holiday season. One of the reasons we love Portland is that the community celebrates each other in so many ways, and the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to support local artists. If you’re looking to cross a few names off your shopping list this year, be ready to find some unique treasures on Friday night.

To get a taste of what you’ll find in the store, you can check out the online stores of Mary Kate McDevitt, Man vs. Ink, and Man’s Face Stuff.  

Even if you’re not able to make it to the workshop on Friday, the Magnetic North store is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11-6pm (or by appointment). Be sure to drop in and say hello! 

WeMake Screen Printing Workshop with Magnetic North

WeMake is teaming up with the talented folks at Magnetic North to bring you our final discovery workshop of 2012. Mark your calendars for Friday, November 9th and join us in making a collective screen-printed poster! There will be a studio tour, hand lettering demos, and you will learn how to create a silkscreen project from start to finish. 

Magnetic North is the studio and gallery space of Mary Kate McDevitt, Fred DiMeglio, K.B. Sawyer, Lacey Van Nortwick, BT Livermore, and Man’s Face Stuff. They make magic in the form of handmade goods, silkscreen tees, hand lettering and signs, letterpress, and woodcuts. 

Workshop Details

DATE OF THE EVENT: Friday, November 9, 2012

TIME: 6 - 9pm 

PLACE: Magnetic North, 5120 NE 42nd Ave Portland, OR 97218

COST: $20 (materials included)

REGISTRATION BEGINS: Friday, November 2nd at 9am

rsvp on Eventbrite

Magnetic North has a really creative idea for this workshop. Everyone who comes will get to help create a collaborative silkscreened poster based on the theme, “What inspires you to create?” 

We’ll each make a small drawing (it can be hand-lettered, an illustration, doodles, almost anything!) about what inspires us. Each person’s artwork will be combined into one collective poster design. The Magnetic North team will walk us through the silkscreen process using this design as a demo.

We’ll learn about exposing an image onto a screen, the type of equipment and ink being used, and then finally the actual printing process. At the end of the night you’ll have a one-of-a-kind poster to take home created by you and your fellow makers.

There will also be screens set up for you to get hands-on and print an item of your own. Bring a cotton t-shirt, tote bag, or any small item you’d like to print on.

About Magnetic North

Magnetic North has been actively involved with the design community since their grand opening in May. You may have seen some of their work recently with Design Week Portland and our Put a Bird In It auction. Paul Searle had a chance to film the team working on their birdhouses last month.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mary Kate, Fred, and BT recently and I was curious about the people and ideas behind Magnetic North.

What is Magnetic North? 


It is a studio where we can make our work, but this space has also created its own identity that really explored in our retail shop. We’re new, but we’re looking forward into the future. We want to develop a line of products and art that is Magnetic North.

How many people work here?


There are five of us, and the mustache wax company works out of here as well.


Mary Kate and I were actually looking to expand. We had our basement up and running as our print shop and then BT and Karen, who is our studio mate, were looking for a new place and it just seemed like the right time to do it. We looked at probably eight or nine other spaces in different parts of the city but we were looking for something that had character. Something that had been used as a different space like an old gas station.

Mary Kate:

This used to be an old auto body shop. We have a tiny retail space and we get people who come in who are doing really cool things. They’re so excited that we’re here.

What is it about Portland that you find exciting as far as the design community, and how do you see yourselves fitting in there?


I think what’s exciting to me is that it is so much of a community. In other places people are doing their own thing. But here there’s so much collaboration, or at least friendly vibes amongst the people. Everyone’s so excited to share what they’re working on and you can’t help but be inspired.


People get excited about it. That’s the whole reason we came out here. It seems like the place to be creative in the US right now. I think coming from the east coast it was sort of night and day the way that people look at creatives and artists. Here people respect you and they see the value of art. In addition to the community of great makers and artists, there is also a buying community that supports and values the creatives and allows them to thrive.

What inspires you? What are your sources of inspiration for design?

Mary Kate:

I always like vintage design. Vintage advertising, the overly decorative lettering and things like that.


I’ve been working a lot as a sign painter these days. My inspiration is similar to Mary Kate’s but I focus on a lot more on incredibly simple, almost industrial typography. That works well with sign painting.


I’m inspired by the vintage, the industrial, and the same as these guys which is why we found ourselves here. That’s really what Magnetic North is. We kicked around about 30 different names. We were talking about signs and the idea of direction and guiding, as well as this old-world craftsman field. BT said “Magnetic North” we were like “That’s it!” The revival of hand-craftsmanship is what inspires me. 

Our workshop this fall is about screen printing. What is it about printing that gets you excited and that you want people to take away from the workshop?


It is a skill that you can learn quickly and inexpensively on a really small scale. I started out in my parent’s garage and then I when we moved to Portland we were living in a one-bedroom apartment and I was working out of a closet.

Teaching people and getting them excited about starting a small-scale operation is really liberating, really empowering. You can do it with little start-up money and space. 

Save the Date: November 9th

Keep an eye out for more details and info about registration. Thanks for making this such an amazing year to be a Portland designer/maker/artist/person. We can’t wait to wrap up the year with this exciting workshop. See you there!