I've wanted to create a complete floral alphabet for years---but I always assumed I would do it using a digital program like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Honestly, it never occurred to me that the best, easiest (and most challenging) way to bring my vision to life was to do every single detail by hand with a good old fashioned pencil and paper.
When I set out to do this little ol' challenge of mine, I never imagined it would be as daunting as it was in the end. Twenty-six individual characters seems like nothing when you're used to lettering long quotes or even entire songs! But, the need to be precise, to go slowly, and to actually complete the whole darn alphabet were the actual challenges I ended up facing!
But it wasn't all bad! In fact, this experience was very affirming. It affirmed that I CAN take time to measure, draw straight lines (if I, like, really concentrate), and figure out the mechanics of a sans serif block letter all on my own. It also affirmed to me that I DO have a personal style...it just took a challenge like this to bring it out and reinforce it.
MY STEPS FROM START TO FINISH:
1. Measure and Draw 26 Boxes:
Each letter was confined to little 7cm x 8cm boxes, so I made sure to fill my 11x14 Smooth Bristol with a grid of boxes before I began drawing my letters. When you knock your guidelines out first thing, that gets you chugging along on the consistency train.
2. Sketch, Perfect, Trace Your Letters:
After my grid was drawn, the true test of lettering skills began. I chose not to reference any typography when drawing my letters, because I really wanted this whole alphabet to come from my own brain. No, the block style of these letters isn't unusual, but I "eyeballed" what I thought the letters should look like and went with it! I wish I could say I sketched out all 26 letters in one sitting for the sake of "consistency," but I wouldn't lie to ya! Sketching, erasing, re-sketching, perfecting, and tracing a single letter took me anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Instead, I sketched 3-5 letters per sitting. After perfecting, I traced each letter with my Mono Twin Permanent Marker in prep for the next step!
As you can clearly see, my traced letters aren't perfect, but that doesn't matter! As long as the next step is clean, you are set. It doesn't hurt that the floral pattern I designed is very forgiving around the edges!
3. Re-drawing Onto A Blank Slate:
Sure, I could have finished my letters inside my original letter grid. But...I wanted the cleanest look possible for each individual letter. That's why THIS step involves re-drawing my letters onto a clean sheet of Bristol Paper. Because this paper is thick, I simply placed my letter grid beneath the clean sheet, and shone a light (iPhone flashlight works great) beneath a glass surface (coffee table works great...but you could also hold both pages up to a window and use the sun!) and lightly traced my letters with a pencil. Lightly tracing while being precise is difficult---so go slowly---but the soft pencil marks are much easier to erase, leaving your finished letter looking so fresh so clean.
4. Decide Your Pattern and Color Scheme:
This step should probably come a little earlier, but in my case, I had already decided both those things when I began incorporating more floral doodles into my lettering. My color palette wasn't inspired by anything other than just being the colors I gravitate to in my collection. When I began this alphabet, Spring had just begun, and I was more than ready to leave Fall and Winter colors behind for a fresher, brighter palette. I made sure to include 2 different shades of green for depth, a tan/brown for twigs and stems, and four bright colors that made the prettiest blooms. I don't count my black brush pen as a color because it's just there for detail.
5. Start filling in your letter!
I didn't get a shot of this step because I waited to write this blog post until I had finished the entire alphabet...you know #reflections.
But, I can tell you that I always started filling in my letters the same way: I began with the dark green leaves you see around the edges of almost every single letter. From there, I alternated colors and patterns, picking up whatever brush pen I wanted to use next, and so on, until the whole letter was filled in. Then, I went in with my Fudenosuke Soft Nib in Black and added the details. Here is an Instagram video, reposted from @LetterArchive that shows the full process:
Here is the full alphabet, after being digitized for Instagram!
ALL DA THANGS I LEARN'T:
Between drawing 26 identically sized and styled block letters, using the same 7 colors, and limiting myself to a select number of "flower doodles," consistency was the number one skill I honed throughout this process.
Measuring each letter and perfecting my straight lines were absolutely the most challenging tasks for me. With that being said, I don't feel like I honed those skills as much as I would have liked--most of my letters are not even close to perfectly straight. But, I'm confident that they would have been if I had taken a little more time and care when measuring. It is very evident to me, looking at my finished alphabet, which letters I put the most time and effort into, and which I sped through for the sake of getting them done. Good thing I'm learning to get over my perfectionist issue, right?
3. Pushing Through the Monotony
When I say this alphabet became a chore, I mean....it really became a chore! About 1/3 of the way in (yes, that soon), I was so sick of measuring (can you tell I really dislike measuring), using the same colors, and drawing the same flowers and twigs over and over again. Truly, the only thing that kept fueling my fire was public accountability. Yes, posting to Instagram, and having friends, family, and followers say "I can't wait until you get to my letter!" was the biggest and best motivation. Had I been left to complete this alphabet without any sort of public accountability, I'll be honest: I probably would have "taken a long, indefinite break" after letter E.
WHY YOU SHOULD DO THIS (OR SOMETHING LIKE IT) TOO:
I HAVE TWO WORDS FOR YOU: CHALLENGE AND DISCOVERY.
I am always in favor of challenging myself to grow or bust out of my comfort zone. Before this challenge, I wouldn't touch block letters with a ten foot pole. Now, after challenging myself to create an entire alphabet from block letters, I feel more confident about traditional hand-lettering styles and I feel inspired to play around with other styles of lettering that aren't my messy, twirly, go-to cursive script.
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post: I learned that I DO have a personal style. Before this challenge, I was only just starting to see bits and pieces of my aesthetic peek through in my work. Now that I've completed this alphabet, I really feel as if I've gotten comfortable with my style, and I have more of an idea of where I want it to go from here.
Now that this is over, I can't promise I'll be doing another styled alphabet anytime soon. Afterall, tomorrow, May 6th, is the opening of my Etsy Shop, and I'm getting married in 37 days...wait, what? Ha. Yeah. Hopefully, things are about to get real busy on my end...and I couldn't be more excited. Please let me know in the comments below if you've done your own styled alphabet, and if you have, PLEASE include a link so I can take a look! I love seeing styles and ideas different from my own!
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