Tips To Help You Get Better At Lettering
Do you feel like you are hitting a ceiling with your brush lettering? You can’t seem to break through to the next level of awesomeness?
I see this dilemma all the time, and hopefully I can help. I have put together a few tips to help you improve your brush lettering today. Let’s get into it.
Please note – This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience, but please know that I do not link to anything that I don’t personally recommend. If you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a cent more.
Improve Your Brush Lettering with Pencil Sketches
This may seem like an obvious one but often it’s overlooked. How often do you jump into using ink and pens too quick? I do it a lot.
Slowing down and sketching everything out first can really help with the planning stages. Lock your pens up if you have to! Limit your tools to the basics: pencil, ruler and eraser and you will be amazed at how much you can get done with these tools.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Using just a pencil can be a real challenge for some people, as they are used to brush lettering being mostly created with brush pens (as the name implies). Using just a pencil to sketch out and plan your piece first can remove all the distractions, help you see the negative space clearer and and challenge you to think outside the box.
What You Need For Hand Lettering with a Pencil:
Choose a pencil that has a darker and softer graphite so that you can distinguish between the up and downstrokes using pressure, just like a brush pen. Something like a 5B or 4B usually works fine.
A kneaded eraser will help you erase the pencil strokes beautifully for when you get to the stage of adding ink. Kneaded erasers are a great addition to a hand letterers toolbox.
Improve Your Hand Lettering By Learning Typography
I know that one of the first techniques letterers often learn is brush calligraphy. Don’t get me wrong, I love brush calligraphy, it’s my jam. It you want to improve your brush lettering though, I highly recommend diving into the world of type.
Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash
Typography, according to Britannica is the design, or selection, of letter forms to be organized into words and sentences to be disposed in blocks of type as printing upon a page.
If you want to improve your lettering skills, typography can help tremendously as it helps you gain the ability to dissect every word you see in the world around you.
What goes well together? What font styles are easy to read? Why does my lettering look weird? All of these questions can be answered through understanding elements of typography.
Elements Of Typography To Learn that Can Improve Your Lettering:
Here are just a few elements of typography to learn about that you can implement in your lettering to give it a whole new level of quality.
Tracking – The spacing between the letters, and how it effects readability, portrayed message and feel.
Kerning – Similar to tracking, but focused on the space between two letters. Getting kerning right can increase the flow and visual appeal of your lettering.
Leading (pronounced ledding) – It’s the space between each baseline. Increasing the leading can help with overlapping ascenders and descenders, and with readability.
Learning the anatomy of the letter can help you plan your work, pair fonts or give your lettering an extra pizzaz. Things like knowing whether or not to add serifs and ligatures can make a huge difference.
One great place to start learning typography is by visiting Canva’s guide to typography, as well as following some beautiful typographers on social media.
Stefan Kunz is one of my favourite typography letterers. His word is adventerous and his tips and teachings are invaluable. You can follow Stefan Kunz on Instagram here, or head to his website to learn more about him and enroll in his bootcamps and classes. I have his book on lettering which is great for getting ideas and inspiration on composition and letterforms.
Learn About Calligraphy To Improve Your Lettering
This one might sound a bit strange. I mentioned earlier that most letterers start by learning brush calligraphy. If you are in this group you’re probably thinking: don’t I already know brush calligraphy? Basic strokes, how to hold a brush pen etc…
I’m not talking about how to do brush calligraphy. I’m referring to the classical, dip pen calligraphy like copperplate or spencerian.
The best part about this is, you don’t really have to use a dip pen and ink.
Go back to the foundations and study copperplate calligraphy from scratch. If you can learn to translate it into brush pens then you have a whole new weapon for your lettering arsenal.
To do this, I cannot recommend Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters enough. It’s an old book but it’s just so great. It gives a beautiful dissection of every single letter and how it’s created in copperplate.
If you need to improve your lettering, then I definitely recommend going back to the foundations with this incredible book.
Otherwise, spencerian is another great calligraphy style to learn. It’s lighter than copperplace, and still very elegant and beautiful.
There are great resources on spencerian handwriting available, which can help you learn the main style of cursive that was written for correspondance in the 1800s.
How Learning Calligraphy Can Help You Improve Your Brush Lettering
It might seem like a bit of a stretch, but really skilled letterers end up knowing a lot about a variety of art topics.
Colour theory, letterforms, light and shadows, perspective, calligraphy in all it’s shapes and sizes and anything and everything to do with typography.
Learning about these can equip you with skills that can easily be modernised, stylised, and translated to paper.
So soak it all in, learn as much as you can about these topics and it will be reflected in your work.
Improve Your Brush Calligraphy By Holding Your Brush Pen Right
This tip is for anyone and everyone who uses a brush pen, whether it’s for brush calligraphy or hand lettering.
If there’s a lot of frustration when you are using brush pens, this tip to improve your lettering might be just for you.
Holding the brush pen the wrong way can give your hand cramps and pain, as well as make it harder to create beautiful brush pen strokes. Don’t be fooled; holding your brush pen correctly is a very important thing to learn.
I have explained how to hold a brush pen correctly in detail in another article so if you would like more information, make sure you check it out there.
Otherwise I will recap the main 2 points here.
Number One: The 45° Rule
Holding your pen at a 45 degree angle from the paper helps the thick strokes stay consistently beautiful.
Number Two: Perpendicular to the Downstrokes
The more slanted your angle of axis is, the angle of your pen should adjust as well. Make sure your pen is perpendicular to however you want your downstrokes to be.
That’s about it, those are the main two things to ensure that you do when using brush pens, so that you can use them for longer without pesky hand cramps, as well as create beautiful calligraphy & lettering.
Improve Your Hand Lettering By Practicing & Experimenting
This might seem like an obvious tip but I am going to elaborate a little to make it worth your while.
Malcom Gladwell talked about how it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Does that sound about right, or does it sound a little overwhelming?
If you spend time practicing lettering the wrong way, doing the same technique over and over again, then yeah sure: it might take you 10,000 hours to get anywhere.
I have seen it too often. People who want to become amazing at something (like hand lettering) but they create the same style of pieces over and over again. The same techniques, the same pens, the same comfort zone.
That is not an effective practicing method.
To improve, don’t just practice. Stretch yourself.
You can find the style you enjoy and stick with it when you are creating pieces for instagram, others or for monetisation.
If you really want to reach that new level and truly get better at lettering then you will need to experiment and take risks.
Here’s a couple of tips for you about practicing hand lettering
It’s Not Time Wasted
Let’s just say you spend some time experimenting with techniques and you end up creating something that looks a little weird, obscure and ugly.
Is that time wasted?
You can probably guess my answer: NO WAY.
Sure you could just throw that page in the bin and pretend like it didn’t happen, feel embarrassed and deflated, thinking you will never get better.
You could take the same page and get inspired. Get motivated. Have a look at it… why did it end up looking weird? Was it the font pairing? The composition? The leading? Did it look too busy? Were the colours all wrong?
Learn, and then adjust.
If you change your perspective on your “failed” experiments, then you will start to realise that every single moment of experimentation and practice is a productive, beautiful moment where you have improved yourself, learnt to analyse your art better, and gained new skills.
It’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.
Keep Your Pieces
Lastly, make sure you keep every. single. piece you create. Even if you have zero intention of showing anyone, keep the final piece. Put the date on it and put it in a folder.
One day, when you’re feeling less inspired, go back and look through your old pieces. You will see how you have improved and you will be amazed and motivated all over again.
Trust me, it works.
Conclusion: Improving Your Brush Lettering
That’s a wrap! I hope this article has helped you or inspired you to keep practicing and learning. If you are wanting some free worksheets to practice your brush calligraphy with, make sure you grab the password to the resource library here:
Otherwise you can learn more about the resource library here.
That is it! Let me know what you thought of these tips in the comments below, and if you think they will help you.
Until next time, keep creating!
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Add A Comment:
Great tips! Thanks for this.