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About two years ago, I picked up a pencil and began experimenting with the different ways I could write the alphabet. I did this as a way to pass the long days I spent sitting in front of a computer at a low-key desk job. You might think 'practicing the alphabet' sounds like an incredibly unproductive way to pass the time....but I'm the girl who taught herself to write left-handed her senior year of high school because I wanted to be ambidextrous.... you clearly don't know who you're dealing with! 'Unproductive' is my middle name.
But, all jokes aside, teaching myself the art of hand-lettering has been the best gift ever. In two years of hand-lettering, I’ve developed my skill set enough to confidently say goodbye to a career I didn’t love in pursuit of one I get to build. During this time of creative exploration, I've documented my lettering projects through my once-personal Instagram account, which has grown from a little over 700 followers to almost 30k followers---a number I thought I’d only see in my imagination. And thanks to the incredible community I've joined as a hand-letterer, I have met so many talented makers. Aside from building these awesome relationships, I have a chance to help others get started in their creative endeavors by sharing these free blog posts 1-2 times a week, co-hosting my new podcast, The Misses Ambitious Podcast, and most recently, launching my first online class devoted to style discovery! Whether it's via Instagram or my blog, iTunes or my online course, there's one question I am asked more than any other:
How did you get started in hand-lettering, and what are your tips for a total beginner?
1. Lower your expectations; raise your practice bar.
If you’re a total beginner, it is SO important (perhaps MOST important) to begin your lettering practice with the knowledge that it won’t look great on your first try. In fact, unless hand-lettering is your secret, undiscovered gift, it’s probably going to look like c-r-a-p on the first, second, fourth, and twentieth try -- At least, this is what I experienced. The point is not to be discouraged when your lettering isn’t ready for the front of a Papyrus greeting card in your first week of practice. Or in your first month. It took me at LEAST 6 months of daily practice (HOURS per day) to see my lettering transform from awful, to mediocre, to something I was proud to show off. If you're disappointed with your progress after weeks and months of practice, it's possible you're simply not practicing enough. I know, I know...who wants to put in all that time when you could be doing anything else?! But time, effort, consistency, and plain ol' practice is what separates the hobbyists from the hand-lettering gurus. Maybe being a hobbyist is for you! That's fine! Just decide what you want to be, and push forward!
2. It's all about the downstroke!
Ok, so maybe there are a few other things that play into ‘successful’ hand-lettering. Now that we've got our minds and hearts in the right place, let's start lettering! The number one thing I wish someone had emphasized to me in the beginning is: if you focus on making your downstrokes THICKER, no matter your method, your lettering will look like the calligraphy or brush-lettering style that is taking over the world right now.
You might be asking yourself: what’s a downstroke? That’s fine...I had to ask myself the same thing when I began. A ‘downstroke’ is any time your pencil or pen naturally moves in a downward direction in everyday writing. When I first learned this, I grabbed a pencil and quickly scribbled out the alphabet. I took notice of when my pencil naturally moved down, and I circled those lines.
*I'm using my iPad Pro for this demonstration. I swear by the Procreate App!
Doing this simple exercise helped me become more observant of those times when my pencil or pen naturally moves downward when writing. Becoming aware of your downstrokes is the first step in successful hand-lettering. Also, keep in mind that not everyone writes their letters the same way! Some of my downstrokes might be your upstrokes, and vice versa. First focus on YOUR natural downstrokes, and if they don't look right to you, switch it up! Once you're aware of your downstrokes, you can try 'faux calligraphy.' This is the simple act of "thickening" or adding extra weight to your downstrokes by adding in an extra line, as seen below!
For the sake of this blog post, I didn't color in the downstrokes in my 'faux calligraphy' alphabet, but that really takes things up a notch! This rule of thickening your letters by adding in an extra line can be applied to cursive writing as well! Simply be mindful of your downstrokes (circle them if need be), and leave a little extra space between letters, if writing in cursive, so your downstrokes can really pop.
Before moving on to my final tip, I want to briefly talk about brush lettering. Brush lettering is slightly more advanced and involves a specific brush lettering tool...whether that's a paintbrush, a paint brush pen, or a brush pen.
The same rule of "all about the downstrokes" applies to using a brush lettering tool. My favorite brush pens to use are Tombow Dual Brush Pens. But, the trick to using a brush pen is applying MORE pressure to your downstrokes. When using a brush lettering tool, you'll be dealing with flexible bristles or pen nib. Applying more pressure to your downstrokes while bend the tip of the ben (or flex the paintbrush) and create a bolder line. This kind of lettering always requires LOTS of practice, and that's why I won't get into it here...maybe in a future post!
3. Focus on YOU and finding your unique style!
The best and smartest thing you can do is work on finding YOUR personal style from the get go. I made the mistake of ‘referencing’ the writing style of an artist I really admired when I was first beginning. Although I was very conscious not to straight up copy their work, I allowed too much of their style to seep into my own. Now, a year later, I am still fighting to wipe clean all the traces of that artist’s style, and bring my own personality to the forefront. The key here is: don’t look too much to Instagram or Pinterest for reference on how to draw certain letters or add flourishes. Now, there are only so many ways the multiple thousands of us hand-letterers can think of drawing letters---there WILL be similar styles and there WILL be overlap. But, if you always dig into your own well of creativity (vs. heading straight to a search engine or an Instagram account) when you sit down to letter, you are more likely to come up with something that screams YOU; something that no one else has thought of yet. And that is what hand-lettering is all about: finding new and beautiful ways to express old sentiments.
If you're interested in taking an online course that is 100% devoted to helping you find your own style, you would enjoy my new online course, The Unexpected Lettering Class! In this self-paced online class, I walk you through 5 exercises that will help you find new perspective on your lettering, and show you how to uncover the personal style hidden deep inside you!
I hope these tips have been valuable to you if you're thinking of diving into the world of hand-lettering! These are three tips that I wish I had received when I first began...especially numbers 1 & 3! Maybe I'll see you around in a future blog post? Until then...happy lettering!