How to get started with hand-lettering

Earlier this year, I pushed out a tweet about my desire to be a beginner again, learn something new and took a particular interest in hand-lettering. I spend so much time in front of computer and needed time to detach from it and do something artistic — requiring me to be hands-on, challenged and focused.

The responses were awesome! There were so many recommendations on places to start, materials to purchase, classes to take and more.

This is what a beginner looks like. It’s also what someone who doesn’t practice looks like.

Now, almost half a year in, it’s going beyond great. I started out rough, as we all do. I’ve learned a ton, continually feel like a beginner despite my progress and am at a point where it’s something that could be residual income. In that time, I’ve received well over 50 messages and tweets asking for more info on how to get started, material needed, and more. So I figured, why not turn it into a blog post? At the start, I wish I had a central place to go to know which pens worked well, the proper paper to use, along with what classes are valuable—instead of scouring instagram, pinterest, blogs and twitter for it all.

So, if you’re interested in kicking off a hobby or potential career in lettering (modern calligraphy, calligraphy, true brush lettering, etc.), feel free to use this as a starting place.

Skillshare (Subscription monthly pricing): Depending on which tier works for you. The basic paid plan is all you need. I recommend the following classes:

  1. Fundamentals of Drawing Letters
  2. Brush Lettering Made Simple

From there you can learn how to digitize your lettering or even more into watercolor lettering.

Learn Brush Lettering ($399, one time payment): This is more for strictly brush lettering. No brush pens are used at all. The class is set up beautifully by two extremely talented folks and you get a lovely brush for free when you sign up. https://learnbrushlettering.com

Black Chalk Co. (Free): Solid resource for classes on the basics like practicing your strokes for warm up before getting started. There’s printables and the owner is continually updating it, which is great. She’s also on Instagram, which helps. https://blackchalkco.com

Though you’ll learn different types of lettering from all three, the fundaments are the same and highly recommended to start with. I found that starting without an understanding of letter shapes, placement and sketching ideas actually results in your doing double the work. Also, you may think it doesn’t have an impact, but those tiny details later on end up making a big difference and show in your work. Think you can’t get that downstroke and curve right because of the pen? Think again. And really, at the end of the day, you’ll know you didn’t learn all you could have. You can’t build a house without a foundation. So do it! ;)

Graph and/or dotard book for rough practices and warmups so you don’t waste good paper.

Any sketch book (A4, A3, whatever) that has 190g/m because it has to hold up for brush pens and any type of ink including watercolor.

Tombow Dual Brush Pen N15 This is the lettering pen. Black or any other color but I’d recommend the black to start.

Some of the 50+ pages I used to nail down the writing I wanted with the Tombow Dual. Took me about 2.5–3 hours.

Tombow Fudenosuke Pen Soft and Hard. I recommend starting with the hard pen for more control. This made a huge difference for me and is still a go-to pen. This results in a much more whimsical style and the stroke never exceeds a certain width.

Tombow Fudenoskue Soft Brush. One can never go wrong with lettering Harry Potter quotes.

Sakura Koi Pens It’s a colored pack of 12. The brush is super versatile and can be used for nice script or bold, in-yo-face, type of writing.

Red Sakura Koi pen. Whaddup, Hot Tomato?

Pentel Brush Pen The pentel is a quite literally like using a brush in pen form. I love the freeform that come with it, along with the messiness and splatter-paint effect. The brush tip allows for you to letter whimsically, graffiti style and more and goes from thin to thick in an instant, if you want. Using this requires time for it to dry, though. Oh and, really press and hold to get the ink flowing initially. It will come out, eventually.

I contemplated whether or not to break down each pen and tell you the effect each has, because I honestly want you to spend the time exploring with each whenever the opportunity arises. I was afraid that if I told you, you’d say “ah I’m not interested in that kind of style” but I promise you exploring with a wide variety will make you so much better. In the end, I obviously broke it down. Because you’re adults and you need to decide the route you take.

Do as you please. Next…

Upstrokes and Downstrokes. Upstrokes and Downstrokes. Upstrokes and Downstrokes. Upstrokes and Downstrokes. Upstrokes and Downstrokes.

Okay, that is both equally as important as it is annoying. I cannot emphasize the importance of practicing these once you learn about them in depth. I’ve found that warming up for a few minutes before any lettering helps immensely. If I don’t, I end up gripping the pen a bit too hard and my letters end up choppy or very flawed in some form of fashion. Do it.

I wrote this when I was angry (can you tell? LOL) and didn’t warm up at all. You can tell by the choppiness, letters being all over the place, and unnatural linking in my letters.

At one point, Benedikt and I did solely this for about 3 hours. Did I mention lettering requires time? Not because you’ll need it, but because you’ll get lost in it and not know where 3 hours went. Practice helps with creative exploration, too. Though my piece above shows my very creative side, it also shows the importance of the two going hand-in-hand.

Internet

Instagram
- Feel free to browse through the last 50 or so of the people I followed recently. Highly recommend all of them for inspiration.)
- Search terms like: “Hand Lettering”, “Modern Calligraphy” and more. Favorite them. Wait for Instagram’s algorithm to work its magic as it compiles your discover feed into all things lettering.

Get lost. Enjoy.

Pinterest
I created a lettering board for inspiration that I can easily refer back to for letter styles or quotes. I continually update it so feel free to follow it. Check it out here.

Travel or Get outside
After starting lettering, I pay more attention to the signs outside, on the windows, etc. I love this because often the lettering on signs is older, traditional and not something you’ll see often on Instagram or Pinterest. I dig it and recommend.

Books

I’m a reader and a doodler, so the combination of the two sent me into happiness overload when I saw that lettering books are like school workbooks to write in, except these are fun. Although not all of them are like that, the books in general are huge inspirations and great for referencing when you’re deciding how to style a particular piece.

Hand Lettering for Everyone (A Creative Workbook) by Cristina Vanko

Creative Lettering and Beyond by Gabri Joy Kirkendall, Laura Lavender, Julie Manwaring, and Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

Little Book of Lettering by Emily Gregory

Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller

Hand-Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt

Drawing Type by Alex Fowkes

Though there are a number of similarities, all provide something different. Just buy them all.

  1. You will not nail this on the first day. It is frustrating and exciting all at once.
  2. You need to practice, even if for only 5 minutes before you get going. It’s better than none.
  3. You will more than likely fray your pen tip(s) from not using it the right way. Order several.
  4. Overload yourself with inspiration and ideas. This will help when it comes to little projects or practicing that you do. Having quotes, lyrics, etc. handy doesn’t delay you in getting started.
  5. Explore with your pens and get creative. Throw water on them, rub the light marker tips on the darker ones to create a gradient, flick them to get a paint splatter effect. You’re limitless with what you can do.
  6. Be prepared to become completely lost in this. Before you realize it, it’s 3 hours later and it feels like you just started practicing.

Welp, that’s it for that jazz. If you read it all, RECOMMEND and share please ❤ Aha! Were you wondering why I didn’t include iPad stuff? It’s a trap. But intentional. Next up I’ll be writing a post on Hand-Lettering with the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro. I didn’t do it now because I want you to learn the basics first, this post would have been too long and also wanted you to get away from another screen to start.

If you have any questions or want to chat about all this stuff, feel free to reach out on Twitter @imcatnoone.

I’d say email me, but I honestly try to avoid it as viciously as the plague, and everything gets lost in it because nobody has mastered it and I just can’t deal. Twitter DM rocks.