The Art of Hand Lettering

The Art of Hand Lettering

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It's always funny to me when people write me asking for tutorials or tips and tricks for hand lettering because even though I do hand lettering, I don't feel like a professional - by any means.

However, as these requests never seem to subside and I now have this space to write and share, I figured I might as well pass on whatever information/advice I have! I hope this helps you on your artistic journey or inspires you to get started!

I started my hand lettering journey in 2013 when I embarked on my 365 Worship Project. Honestly, I remember in detail the first time that I designed a poster for the project with my lettering - I was so embarrassed and nervous to post it!

At the time I was sharing an office with my cousin - a talented illustrator and designer David Creighton Pester of Scorch Design. He'd been helping me to experiment with my project, trying new styles with different typographic expressions. It was his suggestion for me to write that day's lyric for my project, which I nervously tried!

  My very first hand lettered poster (far left). Subsequent practice, using pen and paper (middle and right).

My very first hand lettered poster (far left). Subsequent practice, using pen and paper (middle and right).

The outcome, honestly wasn't that bad - which must've been the Lord Himself - because it gave me the confidence to try again and begin to really hone my hand lettering, practicing constantly, finding different lettering artists online and studying how they linked letter and created shape and form with words.

Those inspirations were Nathan Johnson at Blacklist Studio (who I still love and admire today), Jessica Hische, and the incredible Jasmine Dowling. Each of these lettering artists has uniquely impacted, inspired and taught me invaluable lessons about typography and the art of lettering.

If you're wanting to get into lettering, I can't recommend researching enough. It's vital.

Find your muse, find someone's work who you admire and overanalyze their work! That might sound crazy, but there's so much to be learned from any piece of art when dissected and investigated!

So, to begin the advice part of this blog, I'll start by telling you something that no one ever told me...it takes a lot of practice to master that "effortless, messy look". I started out rather naively believing that if I just scribbled on some paper, it would look deliciously effortless - suffice to say, it didn't. Ha!!

Whatever medium you use - digital iPad, or pen and paper, practice, practice, practice. There's no shortcut!

Having said that, practice doesn't have to be intense and rigorous, it's simply being attentive to your style and watching what you're doing every time that you write - no matter when, where, or what that looks like. For me, I started to pay attention to everything I wrote, be it to-do lists at work, signing things on errand runs, writing notes and cards to people etc. Everything became an opportunity to improve, practice and experiment with different styles and expressions.

Even now as I write this blog, looking back over my hand lettering journey, I see just how much my personal style has changed, developed and evolved.

  A look at my personal hand lettering journey, from my very first (left) to my final piece after my project was complete (right)

A look at my personal hand lettering journey, from my very first (left) to my final piece after my project was complete (right)

Take the early days of The Worship Project, I started out writing with chalks and crayons because I wanted a strong, gritty texture for the posters. As I learned and progressed, I began to use a ball point pen, then a sharpie, then a more specific calligraphy pen - all very different mediums that greatly impact your art and the limits of stylistic expression.

To this day, I've never used a digital medium to create any of my hand lettering art pieces. I create everything with an actual brush, ink, paper, scanned into Photoshop and cleaned up / edited from there.

Although it might look effortless and beautiful, I will usually write out each lyric/scripture for my project at least 10-15 times minimum - sometimes many, many more. I'm definitely better than when I first started, but if I'm not doing it every day, it can take a good 30 minutes of writing to get my hand used to it again.

Don't get discouraged if you don't nail it the first time you write! My personal rule for hand lettering is, if it's not naturally flowing, let it go. There have been many times that I've sat down to write a scripture or lyric and it's just not working. Rather than stewing in frustration - which always makes creativity flee - I pack up my things and move on.

If you're listening to Holy Spirit's leading, you'll know when the time is right to write.

  My favorite hand lettering pieces - so far!

My favorite hand lettering pieces - so far!

Another important piece of advice so many people are yet to grasp, is match your medium to what you're saying / trying to communicate. For example, I've seen good hand lettering posters that could've easily been great had the typographer just chosen a better pen/brush/medium. If you're writing "Jesus comes to us in love and breathes new life", but you're using a thick brush and writing in all caps it's probably not going to communicate the intimacy and delicate nature of the intended message.

Here's a list of links to my favorite products for hand lettering. These are the products that I use when creating my art pieces.

Higgins' Indian Ink - $5.99 from Michaels.
Pentel Aquash Brush - $13.79 (3 pack) from Amazon / Pentel.

No matter what products of things you choose to use, at it's core, hand lettering is just that - your own personal expression of the written word. It's you expressing whatever you want, however you want, for whatever reason. I can give you all the tips and advice that your heart desires but at the end of the day it's up to you to break all the rules, make giant splashes of ink on a page - or not - and re-define what the written word can look like.

Don't try and copy what I'm doing, what your best friend is doing, or what your favorite illustrator is doing. Yes, use them for inspiration and motivation, but never copy them - the world is yearning for authentic, unique creativity. That's what made my Worship Project such a success - it was me, doing my thing, my own way, not directed or guided by anyone else but Jesus.

I pray this is an encouragement to you! Whether you're a lettering veteran, or you're just starting out, I'd love to hear from you and see your work! Get in touch and say hi, I'd love to chat!

Behind the Artwork: Starlight - Bethel Music

Behind the Artwork: Starlight - Bethel Music

The Story of "The Worship Project"

The Story of "The Worship Project"