Lettering Lesson: Wonky Lettering with Mandy Russell


In the February Lettering Lesson, Mandy Russell shares her wonky, no-mistakes style of hand lettering. Working within “eights,” her guide for creating this font, these free-form letters come to life. I couldn’t resist trying this new hand-lettering technique. What a great way to add a special touch to a journal page!

The eights are the perfect way to learn to let your hand lettering depart from the norm. (Photo by Mandy Russell)

Mandy uses chart paper, the kind we all used in elementary school, but I decided to draw lines on paper. I set up a page with the lines 1½” apart and dropped the x-line (midline), as Mandy does for this lesson. Once that was set, I filled the page with eights, remembering to keep the circles lined up above and below the x-line. The “eights,” which also look like upside down snowmen, are drawn between the lines and are what Mandy devised to be used as guides for shaping these quirky letters. I added a variety of letters to my prepared page, using a Sakura® Pigma® Brush™ Pen and Mandy’s alphabet as a guide.

Thickening the downstrokes, and adding flourishes and color are just a few of the ways Mandy embellishes her letters. I thickened the downstrokes on some of the letters in my piece, added dots and lines in others, and enhanced some with serifs or ball terminals.

Add a variety of flourishes to your hand lettering to make the letters unique to you.

I hand lettered a short phrase, as Mandy did. I wrote “Be happy,” again using a brush-tip marker and the eights, then used a pink gel pen to add lines on the outside left of all of the letters, serifs, and six tiny circles inside each of the letters.

Add personality to hand lettering with color.

I decided to try writing a word between lines that were farther apart (I drew them 2½” apart), and again dropped the x-line. I chose the word Smile, and added a swirl on the S and a single bright orange line inside each letter. Enough practice for now.

A mix of upper and lowercase letters adds style and interest to hand lettering.

Along with the tutorial for creating these wonky letters, Mandy includes a few projects: adding a quote with an image, making a watercolor alphabet page, and lettering on a nearly finished journal page, along with a colorful gallery of her hand-lettered art.

You’ll enjoy all of these things, but I was particularly drawn to the challenge presented in the watercolor project: coming up with a collection of words that start with the same letter, and then using them on a colorful hand-lettered page. I chose the letter S and, though there is still snow on the ground here in Massachusetts, I decided on a beach-inspired sentence. After writing the words in pencil, I retraced the letters with a fine-point black marker and erased the pencils lines, except for the lines used for writing.

I dropped three colors of watered-down watercolor paint onto the page, which was pre-wet with water, and pushed the paint around a bit with a paintbrush. Once the page was dry, I painted the S and the frame blue to make them stand out, and painted the circles within the S yellow. I chose a deep pink calligraphy marker to trace the lines under the words, traced two sides of the frame, and added tiny pink circles in a corner within the frame. I also added pink to the dots above all of the lowercase “Is.”

Once you get the hang of using the eights, it’s great fun to come up with your own versions of the different letters. Mandy says she has a few letters that are “set in stone,” but she is still experimenting . . . You should, too. Imagine the possibilities.

This casual hand lettering style can really set the mood of any piece of art or journal page. Give it a try!

P.S. Click here for more hand-lettering ideas inspired by our Art Lessons!


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques