How do I: Start lettering?

I’ve long been a handlettering enthusiast, dating back to the fourth grade where I successfully learned how to block letter. (Those damn S’s though… they get me still.)  By happy chance, my mother gave me some basic lessons in Italic calligraphy that started me thinking about creative and pretty letterforms.  It was a casual hobby and way I’d decorate various letters and posters, but I only started honing it in everyday life in the last three years when I started sketchnoting and discovered this awesome Instagram Community.

That casual lettering was matched by casual pens, with Sakura Gelly Rolls being the edge of fancy.  You can begin with any pen – simple is just fine! Some of my favorites for simple lettering are Pilot G2 gel pens, Papermate Flairs, and Bic Triumphs. More fun tools can be markers, watercolors, or Sharpies. Some of my favorites now are brush pens of most any kind. The point isn’t the tools, it’s just that you start.

There are some easier ways to start and experiment – I’ll show you!

Bloom All Booked Up

To the left for “All Booked Up” you can see the thick bubble letters I’ve played around with for a long time, making all the “holes” as small and legs as puffy as possible. I also added a shadow by adding thickness to 2 sides of the letter – in this case, the top and left.  The trick for shadows is to thicken up 2 sides, whether that’s bottom and right, bottom and left, just be consistent!

Farther left is “Above all else.” Another go-to style I use is going all capitals and moving the center line way down or way up.  In this case you can see how just that one choice adds flair to the letter.

Storms Friend

In the “Storms” quote on the right, I mimicked a serif font, meaning there are the familiar thicks and thins of calligraphy as well as the “feet” on each of the letters. With gel pens you can color in the thicker parts of the letter to get the same effect.

On the right is simple script with cursive handwriting, pushing harder on the downstrokes for the thicker parts and light pressure on the upstrokes. Simple is also great – I’m working on the consistency myself.

As you can see, there are so many fun possibilities out there! The only thing I can say is that it takes a lot of practice. Just getting used to the letter forms is work.  Lettering is one of the few things that I practice every single day – even if it’s in a space of 15 minutes, it’s become part of my routine and a calming one.  As they say, it doesn’t get easier, you get better.  So find fonts you love and start mimicking them to get familiar with spacing, serifs, and nuances in style. Just not Comic Sans or Curlz MT. Please don’t.  It’s not important what you use, just that you start.




2 thoughts on “How do I: Start lettering?

  1. Thanks for this post! I’ve recently become obsessed with lettering after seeing Joanne Sharpe and you’re right it’s the practice and getting over the “I can’t” feeling. Love how you broke it down, had fun examples and make it sound doable. Love your blog and your work! Thanks for sharing and for the encouragement!


  2. I love your articles! I was wondering though about whether there’s some styles I just won’t be able to master like brush calligraphy because I am left handed. Or would it simply mean putting more practice in? Love your blog! xx


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