A Beginner’s Journey to Hand LetteringJanuary 26, 2017
Over the past year, my sketchbook has been filled with pages of attempts at hand lettering. There is no distinct moment that I can remember deciding to hand letter anything. It was just something I doodled in my sketchbook sporadically, with short bursts of creativity with the purchase of new and exciting supplies. Alas, I learned first hand, as hand lettering artist and typographer Sean McCabe (of seanwes) penned, “tools do not a craftsman make”. It was only after I genuinely began applying myself, practicing daily, and learning to use my supplies from tutorials that I began to see real, tangible results. Though by no means advanced, I have some tips that could start you on your hand lettering journey.
The growing trend of lettering is the practice of drawing letters and numbers – by hand. It differs from calligraphy, which refers to creating beautifully handwritten passages. Hand lettering can be used in a variety of applications, and its handmade, DIY quality makes it ideal for cards, creating headers or embellishments in layout design, and even to add flare to your artwork.
Examples from my sketchbook from a year ago
Examples from my sketchbook with some more practice
As with any art form, hand lettering successfully takes practice. When you are first starting out, you may notice you can’t get the brush lines to look consistent, or the fun, bouncy look is difficult to achieve. Don’t be overwhelmed! Dedicated practice will give you results that will build your confidence and skill level.
Reading articles, and immersing yourself in the hand lettering community is a great place to begin: when you understand the theory, your skills will improve greatly. You will constantly be examining your strokes when you’re starting out, before they become muscle memory. Discovering what artists inspire you and why will also help you in finding your own style.
Lettering artist, illustrator, and designer Jessica Hische gives some advice to beginners in her article “Inspiration vs. Imitation”. Many beginning letterers will copy other artists’ works and proudly display it on social media. In her article, Hische opines that it’s alright to copy the work of people you admire – as a matter of fact, it’s a great way to learn. However, remember to keep unoriginal work private: you can post tutorials you’ve completed on your social media sites with links to the originator, but be careful not to claim other artist’s work as your own.
Finding your own style can be a challenge, so start small. Practice worksheets are a great way to practice existing fonts. You can find these online, or create your own: try writing down words that you hear, see, or think of, and begin rhyming them, or write words that contain letters you enjoy writing. This will give you endless content to practice, and you will be improving your skills in no time.
The best way to improve on any skill is to just practice! Whether you’re just starting out, you’re a beginner like me, or you’re a seasoned hand lettering artist, join me for 28 days of hand lettering practice. I’ll be posting my hand lettering practice on Instagram (my handle is @adjikia) for the Opus Daily Practice challenge using the hashtags #opushandlettering and #opusdailypractice.
Quick Tips for Getting Started
TIP #1: DISCOVER WHERE YOUR DOWNSTROKE IS
Write out the alphabet, in both upper and lowercase, and use a little arrow to indicate where your pen stroke was moving in a downward motion. The downstroke is where you would like your letters to appear thicker, and being mindful of your natural downstrokes will help you develop the muscle memory for where to press harder with your brush pen.
TIP #2: PRACTICE DRAWING YOUR LETTERS AS PARTS
One effective method is to dissect your letters and examine them as separate strokes. It will help you discover which letters have repeating strokes. Once you are well practiced at achieving the parts of the letter, practice stringing the pieces together. Then, practice linking your letters together. Building it up piece by piece will give you a more solid foundation.
TIP #3: TRY FAUX CALLIGRAPHY
If you’re eager to get stunning hand-lettering right away, try out the popular method of “faux calligraphy”. To achieve this, simply write your word using a thin pen (any pen works), then add a second stroke where your downstrokes are. When you fill in the lines, you will have the illusion of a brush-stroked letter.
TIP #4: EXPERIMENT WITH ART SUPPLIES FOR DIFFERENT EFFECTS
Don’t limit yourself to a single medium! Practicing can include seeing what different effects you can create with your letters.
Used above, left-to-right:
U: Tombow Dual Brush Tip Pen blend
T: Sakura Metallic Gelly Roll Pen blend
Hand lettering Resources & Related Products
Hand Lettering Tutorials and Practice Sheets
Clementine Creative: Water Brush Lettering Tutorials for Beginners
By Dawn Nicole: 30 Free Practice Sheets
By Dawn Nicole: Bounce Lettering Tutorial + Free Practice Sheet
The Postman’s Knock: Faux Calligraphy Tutorial and Free Printable
Tombow USA Lettering Practice Worksheets for Tombow Dual Brush Tip Pens
Kiley in Kentucky: Three Unique Tombow Effects
Tombow USA Confetti Lettering Effect
Tombow USA Lettering Guide (including Mix and Match Lettering, Glue Pen Fun, and Tombow like a Lefty tutorials)
Kristina Werner: Masked Lettering with a Watercolour Background using Molotow’s GRAFX Art Masking Liquid Maker
Surely Simple: Brush Lettering with a Variety of Media (video)
Products we love for Hand Lettering and Calligraphy:
Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens
Sakura Pigma Brush Pens and Micron Pens
Tombow Dual Brush Tip Pens
Tom Norton Walnut Ink
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen
Speedball Calligraphy penholders and nibs
FineTec Pearl Watercolour sets
Jacquard Pearl Ex Pigments (watch a mixing tutorial from Joi Hui here)
Speedball Left-Handed Lettering Set
Interested in learning more? Check our Visiting Artist and Demonstration listings to see if there are any upcoming hand lettering or calligraphy demonstrations scheduled by clicking here.