You enter a new Baton Rouge restaurant for the first time and, looking around, you’re charmed by the the handwritten chalkboard menus highlighting original dishes you’re dying to try. Hand-drawn menus are gaining popularity around the city, so we sat down with some of the local artists behind your favorites to see how the art form is bringing people together.
As a kid, Jennifer Hester loved filling blank pages with bubble letters. Now, she’s the talent behind the colorful signs you’ve seen at Trader Joe’s and Anthony’s Deli. Over the years, she dabbled in painting, photography and drawing, but it wasn’t until a chance Instagram scroll that she stumbled into the world of professional hand-lettering and immediately knew she had found her niche.
“Once I found out that it was a thing, I was like, okay, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,” Hester says.
And so far, she’s stayed true to her word. You’ve probably also seen her work at Iverstine Farms Butcher and Les Amis Bake Shoppe, two places for which she was particularly excited to make chalkboards, given the classic pairing of butcher shops and bakeries with chalkboards.
Ellen Ogden, a Baton Rouge native, also began hand-lettering professionally at Trader Joe’s. She was working there part-time when their sign artist suddenly dropped out. Equipped with a painting background and a strong eye for color, Ogden gave it a go and hasn’t stopped since. “I was in the right place at the right time,” Ogden says. She currently makes new signs every day for Trader Joe’s and has flown across the country doing art for the company, including a mural for one of its Oklahoma stores.
In addition to out of state, Ogden’s work also appears throughout the city. She’s done menus for Adrian’s Bar & Restaurant, BRQ Restaurant, City Pork, Radio Bar and several businesses in White Star Market.
Both artists say they seek out projects where they have a lot of creative license, but both do their research and come in with ideas ahead of time to build trust with clients. “It’s fun,” Ogden says. “It’s like a puzzle of piecing together my background, their brand and what they are. It’s a puzzle and an art project all in one.”
Although the lettering community in Baton Rouge is small, it’s also tight-knit. Many of the artists around town are friends, and there are even community gatherings, such as Drink and Draw, where letterers can socialize and draw together.
“It’s an art style that not a lot of people do in Baton Rouge,” Hester says, “so it’s cool that I’ve been able to be a part of this small lettering community in Baton Rouge and kind of inspire other people to join.”
But equally important is how lettering for local businesses helps connect the Baton Rouge community as a whole. Ogden’s younger cousin told her that she looks at Ogden’s Instagram when she comes to visit Baton Rouge and immediately knows everything that’s happening in the city—from the newest restaurants to the latest events.
“It’s not even intentionally trying to advertise,” Ogden says. “It’s just that I really fall in love with all the businesses I’m working with. It’s always passionate people. You see the facets of everything from farm to table to designer to space. It just makes you really invest in it fully and seek the big picture in everything.”