Photos courtesy "Letter it Out"

In new book, Baton Rouge creatives tackle mental health through art

Ten artists with local ties are turning their biggest insecurities into art with a new project. Letter it Out, a book focused on the art form of lettering, which debuted this past Saturday, May 25, at the Local Pop-Up market in Electric Depot.

The book’s curator, Baton Rouge artist Jenn Lee Hester, thought up the idea back in 2020 when she took her lettering business full-time. Her goal? To challenge local artists to let out—or letter out—their struggles by creating something beautiful. She says the book’s launch date landing in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, was a perfect coincidence.

“I wanted to showcase artists in the community that had lettering as a skill set because I hadn’t seen anything like that in Baton Rouge yet,” she says. “I think just being vulnerable, open and sharing our insecurities is important, so I wanted to combine those two things together.”

Baton Rouge artist Jenn Lee Hester is the book’s curator. Photo by Ashtin McNicoll / Courtesy Local Supply.

In December of 2023, Hester gathered a group of artists to participate in the first edition of Letter it Out. Every artist either hails from Baton Rouge, currently resides here or has a special connection to the Capital City. Participating artists include Zoë HaddadTyronecia MooreGrace LeeNhi NguyenEllen OgdenKacie GaltierMarcus SoniatAlison SpenglerGabe Hilliard and Hester.

“I haven’t seen anything that showcased lettering artists, and I knew that (community) was here in Baton Rouge,” she says. “I wanted to show people like, ‘Hey, this is what lettering is, and we have artists here that are good at it.’”

The book tackles 10 personal insecurities with artfully lettered quotes. Each work is paired with the artist’s explanation for the piece, diving into how they deal with or have overcome their insecurity. Readers can flip through pages and pictures that depict imposter syndrome, feelings about self worth and overthinking, to name a few.

“Sharing our insecurities is important because it gives us an opportunity to let it out,” Hester says “That’s where the title came from. … A big push behind the book was that I wanted to give readers hope and for them to feel less alone.”

Featured lettering artist Marcus Soniat explored a few versions of his insecurity piece before landing on an expression titled “Chasing Worth.” Soniat says finding his own worth has been a constant challenge in his life, but turning to faith has helped him get past the feeling. He says contributing to the book allowed him to be introspective, and he hopes he helps readers feel seen.

“It looks the way it looks because my journey for looking for worth is so angsty and so volatile sometimes,” he says. “I wanted the lettering to feel very punky, grungy, just dirty and not necessarily smooth and flowy like I was originally going to do. I wanted it to feel like a representation of what it looks like when I’m wrongly chasing my worth.”

The book will also give back through its sales. All profits will be donated to Forum 225’s Community Pantry and Resource Shed in another effort to impact the community with the book, Hester says.

Though Hester is still prepping for events to celebrate the book’s release, like a lettering workshop, a scavenger hunt and an interactive art piece, she’s already looking ahead to creating a new edition each year. She hopes to gather a new crew of artists or welcome back those who want to illustrate a new insecurity.

“I definitely think for right now I want it to be (about) an insecurity, a struggle or something that’s hard to talk about,” she says. “We’re making this thing that’s hard to talk about or taboo into a beautiful lettering piece. And I just love that.”

Those wanting to purchase can find Letter it Out on Hester’s website or at Local Supply. There are about 200 books printed already, but she says more can be ordered if there is enough interest.

This article was originally published in 225 magazine’s 225 Daily newsletter.