Hand lettering by Becca Coutrice of The Happy Ever Crafter.
Photo courtesy of Becca Coutrice
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The art of hand lettering has been around as long as people have been writing—think back to the beauty of the ancient scrolls. An art form that uses such simple tools, pen and paper, to create amazing works of art is one that is attractive to almost anyone. The trend of hand lettering seems to have exploded over the past few years, evident by merely walking into a craft store and seeing the array of open box pens, notebooks, and even the mass-produced home decor items that play off the hand lettering style.
I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of creating art with words. When I first started designing hand embroidery patterns, words were the first thing I used as my muse—mixing font styles to bring life to a quote or phrase. Peggy Dean, from her book The Ultimate Brush Lettering Guide, sums it up perfectly:
“Lettering creates readable art that comes to life, displaying a quirky, whimsical nature.”
Hand lettering often evokes the idea of calligraphy or typography, but lettering artists will quickly explain the distinction between the three different art forms. Calligraphy is about writing letters with some sort of dip pen with a nib and ink to create think/thin lines, and uses a single pass with the pen. Typography focuses on setting type. When you look at a typographic style, no matter the layout, the letters always stay the same. Hand lettering, which is often called “faux calligraphy,” focuses on drawing letters. Lettering builds on the same principals of both calligraphy and typography, but there is a building up of the letters with multiple passes and the tools can be as simple as a Sharpie or as detailed as a set of brush pens of varying widths.
Many people take up hand lettering as a way to de-stress, but figuring out where to start can be an overwhelming task. Type the words “learn hand lettering” into Google and immediately you are faced with an abundance of websites, Instagram accounts, and books to shuffle through.
The tools may be simple to procure, but where to start? Here are a few helpful resources to get you started:
Mary Kate McDevitt has been a hand lettering artist since 2010. She has created lettered art for a variety of publishing agencies along with other famous clients such as Target and Sesame Street. Her colorful and quirky style is displayed all over her website, including links to her books. She has two hand lettering workbooks, Hand-Lettering Ledger and Illustration Workshop, along with a guided journal filled with “inspiring prompts, upbeat affirmations, and interactive doodles,” called Every Day is Epic. McDevitt also offers popular hand lettering classes on Skillshare, perfect for beginners. Her books and classes reflect her encouraging message and her desire that the art she creates is an inspiration to others.
Mastering Hand Lettering, by Mye De Leon focuses more on drawing instruction for both uppercase and lowercase letters. Different lettering styles are included as well as an explanation of her process. Reviews mention that De Leon’s book is filled with down-to-earth explanations that are simple for beginners.
Another book that explains basic hand lettering, and is a bestseller on Amazon, is Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner’s Guide: Learn Hand Lettering and Brush Lettering by Paper Peony Press. The book includes step-by-step instructions for many lettering styles along with sample projects.
In addition to lettering workbooks, many hand letterers offer video instruction and other challenges via their websites. Veronica Zubek’s love of art began at a very early age and led to an art and design degree and subsequently work in logos and website design. But it wasn’t until she discovered hand lettering that she narrowed down her art form. Juggling her business and her two small children, she enjoys creating alongside (and sometimes collaborating with) her kids, and working with bright colors, letters, and abstract art. Creating is a natural overflow of her everyday life and keeping art supplies out and accessible is one way that she keeps the creative juices flowing amidst a busy life. She suggests tucking a sketchbook into your bag to have at the ready no matter where you are—you never know when inspiration might strike! Her Facebook group has over 3,000 members and she offers half a dozen challenges and courses on her website, TwoEasels, ranging from Lettering 101 to how to digitize your hand lettering in Illustrator. She also has a whole series of helpful hand lettering worksheets as freebies on her website.
Hand lettering practice pages from Becca Coutrice.
Photo by Ali Batoul Creatives
Becca Courtice of The Happy Ever Crafter is traveling the world sharing her love of hand lettering. She admits to having a fascination with handwriting even as a child. Her architectural hand drafting class during her interior design studies sparked a fire that burst into a flame. She quickly discovered that her passion for lettering was something that she needed to share. She started traveling the world, teaching students face-to-face along with developing classes online. When speaking to beginners, Becca offers two tips: don’t expect to be a master instantly—there is a ton to learn and practice really does make perfect. Secondly, don’t skip the basics! Learn your basic strokes and do your drills. Her Instagram account is full of instructional videos and tips, and her website offers an online class perfect for beginners called ShowMeYourDrills. Courtice declares that for her, inspiration is found everywhere and in the everyday. Just look around you.
Hand lettering supplies are abundant and every artist has their preference, but many share the same love when it comes to paper and pens. By far the most popular pads of paper seem to be the Rhodia paper pads. These come in a variety of sizes and page types, including blank, dotted, and grid. Strathmore Bristol and Watercolor art pads are also popular. When it comes to pens, Tombow brush pens seem to be the hands-down favorite. While you can buy packs of Tombow brush pens, the single Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen is highly rated. Palomino Blackwing pencils and Micron pens are favorites when it comes to basic writing.
Searching through popular hashtags on Instagram can give you an abundance of hand lettering styles, designers, tips, and tricks. Some popular hashtags to follow are #moderncalligraphy, #penandink, #handlettering, #learnlettering and #handmadefont. Many lettering artists have their own hashtags for different challenges they offer.
The continued draw of hand lettering seems to be its simplicity. Grab a sketchbook and a few pens and you are on your way. What I love most about hand lettering is with just a small amount of guidance on the basics, you can easily develop your own style.
Aimee comes from a long line of women makers. She sleeps under quilts that her grandmother made, her head rests on pillowcases that her aunt embroidered, and her memories are full of time spent watching her mom and grandmother create. The majority of her sewing and embroidery skills are self-taught, and she’d like to think there is a little bit of genetic love seeping through.