The first thing many people of think of when they hear “hand lettering” is “I have bad handwriting.” I wrote about how this is a bunch of nonsense here, but the gist of it is this: hand lettering does NOT equal handwriting.
They’re like soccer and baseball – both sports that involve two teams and a ball. From there, the similarities are pretty scarce. Similarly, hand lettering and hand writing both involve your hand and a tool to use for writing or drawing. That, my friend, is the end of it.
Hand lettering is the drawing of letters, meaning you really just need to master some basic shapes (helloooo elementary school!) and retrain your brain to look at letters as shapes.
“What the what?!” you might say.
Yup, retrain that big, beautiful brain of yours. Drawing is a motor skill and depends a lot on muscle memory.
Remember how hard it was to draw a circle as a little kid? Or master cursive? I freelance as a babysitter for a third grader, and trust me, that shit is HARD for kids. Us fancy adults only find it second nature because of that sweet, sweet muscle memory.
In hand lettering, it’s important to retrain your brain so that you can create a variety of styles instead of limiting yourself to fancier versions of your own handwriting over and over again. Looking at letters as shapes, rather than letters, is the key to master any style.
This is where the training in retraining comes in. Getting out of the habit of seeing an “A” as the letter “A” is weird. Like Rachel dating Joey weird. It takes practice to get your brain + muscles on the same page and can be slow going at first. This is where a lot of people say it’s too hard and give up on lettering altogether, but I can practically see you flexing those hand muscles from the other side of your screen, so here are some examples of how you can breakdown letters into shapes and kick some hand lettering butt:
P.S. You can jumpstart your training anytime + get my top secret pro tips with the Flex Your Muscles guide in the Letter Love Library
Above are three different sans serif A’s (sans serif = no little endings, aka a lot like your regular handwriting). I’m starting here because the sans serif style is the easiest to slip into your own handwriting because it’s so similar to actual handwriting.
First, notice the differences between the three. The first is tall and skinny, with the crossbar (the line going across) very high up. The second is much wider, with the crossbar pretty low to the bottom. The third is rounded on top with the crossbar centered but on a slight angle.
Grab some lined paper (or if you’re a lettering geek like me, the good graph stuff) and try to draw the three A’s. Start with the outer lines and then add the lines across.
Still with me? Good. Now, let’s try something a bit trickier. Above are three different script A’s (script = cursive).
Again, pay attention to the differences between the three. The first breaks down to a circle with a curved line adjacent to it. The second is more oval and doesn’t line up evenly with the line next to it. The third is a much skinnier oval and the adjacent line is less curved and more pointed.
Try to draw all three, focusing first on the circles/ovals and then adding the adjacent lines.
Last, but certainly not least, a whopper of a serif A (serif = it has caps, or end bits – think Times New Roman).
At first glance, this one is intimidating AF. However, if you break it down and look at it as a series of lines and shapes, it’s really just a teepee with some curvy bits (that, by the way, is possibly the least official sounding description of a letter ever written).
When conquering decorative serif letters like this, I always like to start with a rectangle to draw my letter in. From there, it’s all about eyeballing some lines + rocking your trusty ruler.
Start with the outer lines. From the bottom corner of the box, draw a line to the top middle. Do it again on the other side
From there, add your inside lines and then your crossbar (again – the middle piece)
Finally, add on the finishing touches, starting with small lines pointing out from each end. Then connect them with a curved line to meet in the middle.
Snag a ton of more practice letters + my #1 tip for retraining a brain that just won’t cooperate in the Letter Love Library: