Welcome back to the #LetterLove series! Part 2 is basically the things I wish someone sat down and told me when I started to pursue lettering, so pour yourself another cup of coffee, get comfy, and get ready to dive in to some knowledge bombs (or, more accurately, “oh duh, I should’ve thought of that” light bulb moments).
If you’re just tuning in, you might’ve missed Part 1 - A Cheat Sheet to the History of Lettering, Calligraphy, and Typography. I recommend reading that first!
All caught up? Good. Let’s dive in to my top 10 tips for aspiring letterers:
1. Just do it
As with a lot of things in life, many people wait until they’re “ready” or it’s the “right time” to begin learning or improving their hand lettering.
If that sounds like you, then I’m here to tell you that there’s no lightning from the sky A-HA! moment coming your way. You’ve got to go full Nike and just do it. If you have something to draw with and something to draw on, you’re officially Ready.
2. You do you, boo.
The hardest and most important part of lettering (in my opinion) is finding your own style. With such easy access to beautiful inspiration and traceable tutorials, it can be difficult to make a style that is uniquely you.
What do I mean by finding your style? Take the following examples of lettering:
Even at a glance, I can tell that the pic on the top is by Molly Jacques and the bottom is Valerie McKeehan of Lily and Val. They're both chalk lettered styles, but because these artists have such distinctive styles, it's easy to tell them apart.
Pay attention to styles your drawn to but then play around and see what you can make your own.
For example, when I first started lettering, I really admired modern calligraphy with an extra bouncy style and high contrast in the weight. I experimented with different tools that could give me that thick, brushy look until I found one I liked the best (Tombow dual brush!) and how I could incorporate bounce lettering into my own calligraphy. Years later, I’ve developed my own style of lettering that, though similar to other popular artists out there, is so uniquely me that I often have people tell me they saw my work in a logo or on a store window and new it was me.
3. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Finding your unique style is like the sixth horcrux, but don’t feel like it’s til death do you part.
Getting really good at a handful of styles is great for a career in lettering, but I’ve also found that trying totally new things has helped me hone and develop styles I love even more.
I’m always growing, changing, and improving, so it’s only natural that my letters do too.
Take a look at how some of my designs have evolved through the years.
4. Rock your lettering glasses.
Rose colored glasses are great, but lettering glasses are better. Pay attention. Keep your eyes open for inspiration everywhere. Pinterest and social media are amazing sources, but so are commercials and store packaging (Starbucks, in particular, makes my heart pitter patter every time I see their bistro boxes).
You’d be surprised at how quickly your eyes start to shift and gravitate towards lettering (and typography!) once you try.
5. Learn the rules…
Starting is key, but actually learning the rules of lettering can go a long way in taking your work to the next level.
Now, that’s not to say you have to run out and master Blackletter or Spencerian script to be good at lettering (unless that floats your boat, in which case, you go girl!), but knowing what those even look like and how they can impact the feel of a design is a plus. Read all about the history of lettering, G&B style, here.
Likewise, terminology isn’t necessary to start lettering (seriously – I ran a successful Etsy shop for over a year before even knowing that what I was doing was called hand lettering and calligraphy) but it helps in mastering new or tricky styles. Brush up on your lettering terms in the Letter Love Library.
6. …And how to break them.
As good ole Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” My AP English teacher always explained it in terms of poetry – you have to learn what the rules actually are in order to break them, otherwise you’re just being sloppy.
Picasso and Mrs. Green knew what was up.
The same goes for lettering. Playing around and experimenting with new styles will look 1000x better when they come from a place of purpose.
Even the bounce lettering that I love so much has a method to the madness. What looks casually haphazard is actually carefully thought out placement and disregard for the traditional base and x lines.
7. The devil is in the detail.
Not only are details key to your own style, they also impact the overall feel of each letter. Moreover, paying close attention to the details of each letter can make your work look more professional.
For example, things like evenly distributed weight, flourishes drawn in similar directions, and the consistency of eyes always jump right out at me when I look at lettered designs. (No clue what any of that means? Check out the Letter Love Library for a free copy of Terminology 101!)
8. Don’t let the bastards comparison bug get you down.
The comparison struggle is REAL, especially in the world of lettering.
It’s so easy to scroll through Instagram and see people who’ve been lettering for ages, practice for hours every day, or tried 100 other drafts before getting one that’s photo ready. Remember that 99.9% of the time, you’re only getting the highlight reel.
9. Practice makes perfect.
Ok, nothing is ever perfect, but consistent practice does make you a hella lot better. Even 15 minutes a day can make a huge improvement.
People are often amazed at how quickly I was able to learn lettering and get to the point where I could run a successful business from it, but usually forget that I was practicing in some form or another for hours every day. And that was before I quit my teaching position to pursue this full time.
Even now, I still try to carve out time to practice lettering and continue to learn and grow with the #100daysofGAB project.
10. Mess up.
You’re going to mess up All The Time, and that’s ok! Roll with it. Do a million drafts. Destroy erasers. Things rarely come out fantastic the first, second, or even third try. Don’t get discouraged because you saw that one person on Instagram making it look so effortless in that time-lapse video (which, by the way, I’ll often practice 10 times before I get one I feel I can use).
Stay tuned for next week’s post in the #LetterLove series, where I’ve rounded up some of my favorite places to find inspiration. Plus, you can access resources, tips, and tricks to level up your lettering game anytime in the Letter Love Library! Click the pic below to get access now!