Daily Hand Lettering Tips

Studio Saturday is on a short break. Please enjoy this blog post, portions of which were previously published on our sister site, ArtistsNetwork.com! ~ Jeannine

I am a reformed hand letterer. My ill-fated attempts at calligraphy made me fear and dread hand lettering to the point of being terrified at having to address an envelope. But when I realized that so many artists were embracing lettering styles that were all their own—quirky, funky, and most of all, imperfect—I knew there was a place for me. I still needed to improve, so I decided to practice daily hand lettering. Nothing major, just being diligent about lettering a few words throughout the day. Doing these 10 to 15-minute stints got me over my fear, ramped up my skills, and allowed me to play and have fun.

Based on what I’ve learned from this habit, I have a few ideas for adding a little bit of daily hand lettering to your routine, and you can start incorporating them today:

1. Write the date: I take work notes in a large spiral notebook, and since I use it every day, I incorporate lettering wheneverI can. Usually I just write the date at the top in different styles, but sometimes I’ll highlight something important with a lettered word.

Here, I wrote the date with a Pentel Arts Sign Pen, which has a flexible brush nib that offers thick and thin lines—a little pressure for thin lines on the upstrokes, and more pressure for thicker lines on the downstrokes. I added a few dots for good measure, and because I can’t leave well enough alone, embellished it with a flower.

Hand-lettered date
I use my notebook to practice different fonts when writing the date.

On this page I wanted to remind myself to call someone, so I wrote the reminder in Pigma Micron pen in a whimsical script.

Daily hand lettering practice
Lettering someone’s name as a reminder can be part of your daily hand lettering practice.

2. Write someone a letter: I know that emails and texting have eclipsed old-school letter writing, but I have a thing for mail art. Wanting to decorate envelopes compels me to practice daily hand lettering and send cards and letters to people. In doing this, I’ve discovered that any kind of fun lettering on an envelope is wonderful. It doesn’t have to be faultless copperplate script. Maybe there’s some magic that happens with actual mail, but all types of hand lettering look good. Search mail art on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean.

For this envelope I wanted to use watercolor lettering, but the envelope paper was super thin and I wasn’t sure how well it would show off the paint. So I brushed on a coat of Daniel Smith Transparent Watercolor Ground, which enhances the transparency and granulation of watercolor on absorbent surfaces, and let that dry (this stuff is also great for painting over papers like book text and ledger paper).

Applying watercolor ground to an envelope
Brushing watercolor ground to paper makes it easier to work with mediums like watercolor.

I grabbed my water brush, picked up some watercolor paint, and used my own exaggerated script to write “Lola,” going really slowly, and lifting the brush off the paper when I needed to reload it with color. If watercolor lettering intrigues you, you’ll find fantastic techniques in Lettering Lessons Vol. 11: Lettering with a Water Brush, by Emily Cromwell.

Watercolor hand lettering
Using watercolor for hand lettering is a can’t-miss technique.

I loved the look of the letters, but wanted some to be a smidge darker. I could have gone over them again with my brush, but instead I drew lightly over some of the letters with a Derwent Inktense pencil, then went over the pencil with the water brush. These pencils are water-soluble and have concentrated color, so a little goes a long way. If you use a different shade from the watercolor you can get a gradation of colors, or you can use the same color to shade the letters.

Enhancing watercolor lettering
Watercolor can be enhanced with water-soluble pencils and markers.

One more cool trick: Slightly outlining the watercolor letters with a 005 Sakura Pigma Micron pen gives letters an extra highlight. Simply draw a sketchy line around the word, allowing for breaks in the line.

I added Lola’s last name with a 02 Pigma Micron pen, and shaded the letters with colored pencil. The address was written with a calligraphy pen, which makes any handwriting look great. Just be sure to hold the pen with the nib at a 45-degree angle, and you’ll automatically get thick and thin lines.

Sending mail art to practice daily hand lettering
Make sending mail art an excuse to practice daily hand lettering.

Turning a plain envelope into mail art may be the most fun thing ever. Add collage, painting, image transfers, washi tape—as long as it can be sent through the mail, you are good to go. So add one more routine to your daily hand lettering practice, and make a promise to yourself that the next birthday or holiday card you send will include lettering.

3. Add hand lettering to an art journal or sketchbook page: I love to sketch when I’m out, but I rarely add lettering at that time for a couple of reasons: I’m not always sure what I want to write and how I want to write it, and I don’t always have the necessary tools with me. So I try to remember to leave some space and add hand lettering later.

This is a sketch I did while on my weekly date night with my husband, which is also my drawing night. As you can see, I drew my shoes. Not that fascinating, but I knew that enhancing it with hand lettering would improve things. I went to a great resource for inspiration: the book Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe. If you don’t have this book in your library, you need to get it. Joanne not only shows you fun and easy alphabets, but she gives you so many ideas and techniques for incorporating lettering with art journal pages, cards, sampler books, using all kinds of mixed media.

Unfinished sketches are perfect opportunities to practice daily hand lettering.
Unfinished sketches are perfect opportunities to practice daily hand lettering.

I used her Letter Liners technique to write “drawing night” on the side of the page, and it could not have been more easy or fun. From now on this style is going to be a staple in my daily hand lettering arsenal. I simply wrote out the word in all caps in pencil, then went back with a 01 Pigma Micron pen and drew lines over the lines, then drew more lines. I made sure to create spaces between the lines for adding patterns, such as dots, dashes, lines, and circles. The letters were then colored with colored pencil.

Joanne Sharpe lettering techniques
You can never go wrong using techniques from Joanne Sharpe for daily hand lettering!

Here’s the finished page, to which I added a little more lettering with the same Pigma Micron pen. Starting with a simple sketch, you can see how much the lettering has enhanced the page, and the process was easy and quick.

Adding hand lettering to an art journal page
Lettering adds so much to a previously ho-hum page.

Here’s an extra tip for making daily hand lettering even easier: Keep a small pencil case with you at all times filled with basic lettering supplies. Use whatever works for you, such as a graphite pencil with an eraser, colored pencils, permanent pens in various nib widths, and colored markers with various types of nibs. This way you’ll have no excuses when it comes to creating daily hand lettering.

Doing a little bit of lettering every day is a painless way to add it to your skill set. Once you start, you’ll have so much fun that it will be difficult to stop.

For another great lettering technique, check out this wonky lettering style that works great for art journaling!

Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe
Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe is packed with ideas for combining hand lettering with mixed media.
Cloth Paper Scissors Lettering Lessons 2016-2017 Collector's Edition
Get a whole year of lettering techniques in this Lettering Lessons 2016-2017 Collector’s Edition!
Happy Hand Lettering by Jen Wagner
Discover great techniques and projects for hand lettering in Happy Hand Lettering by Jen Wagner.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog


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