Studio Saturdays: Curved Lettering

I love to hand letter, but if you’ve read my previous blog posts about the subject, you know that I sometimes struggle with it. That’s why I’m not just the editor of Lettering Lessons, I’m also a customer. And the Number One Fan.

When a new Lettering Lesson comes across my desk, I can’t wait to try the techniques. Lettering Lessons Volume 7: Waves, Undulations, and Arcs, shows how to create curved lettering, something I’ve tried to do on my own with pretty mediocre results. Leave it to Kari McKnight Holbrook to show me how to get great results right out of the gate. The best thing about this and the other lessons in the series is that they’re geared for all levels.

curved lettering

Kari’s technique includes something we all have: chipboard boxes. Go to your recycling bin and haul out the last cereal, cake mix, cracker, or breakfast bar box you put in there. We’re using it. The box is going to become the template for the curves, which is completely awesome.

I decided to hand-letter a tag to use in another upcoming project. I figured a tag is small and contained enough that even if I screwed up, I could start again without much fuss.

Here are the materials I used, minus the tag. From left: A Pentel Twist-Erase pencil (this feels great in your hand and has a terrific eraser on it), Tim Holtz Distress Spray Stain in Cracked Pistachio, Sakura Pigma Micron pens in black (005 and 02), A Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen in black, and Faber-Castell PITT artist pens in Phthalo Blue and May Green, both small-size nibs. Also shown is a Joggles Rosettes stencil. The Pentel Fude pen is one of my favorites for lettering; you can get great thicks and thins with it, the ink is opaque, and the brush nib is really smooth.

Materials for creating curved lettering
Having a variety of pens provides lots of options for hand lettering.

I cut my own tag shape from off-white cardstock and spritzed it with the Distress Spray Stain. While the stain was still wet I went over it with a large wet paintbrush, which spread the color but left some of the visual texture of the dots from the spray.

While that dried I cut up a cereal box, freehanding the curves with a sharp utility knife. I cut a few different pieces so I’d have some options.

Using the cardboard templates and a pencil, I drew in light lines across the tag, moving and adjusting the waves to get a variety of shapes. As Kari points out in the lesson, where the lines are the closest together, the letters will be the shortest. That got me thinking design-wise how the words would eventually look, and I altered the curved lines accordingly.

Cardboard templates for curved lettering
Cutting cardboard into waves creates perfect templates for curved lettering.

I penciled in the quote, making a few tweaks so everything fit. This is such an important part of the curved lettering process, especially if lettering is new to you. Nothingworsethansquishedletters.

Penciling in words for curved lettering
Penciling in the letters first allows you to adjust the spacing before committing to the placement.

With the Fude pen I went over the pencil lines, then thickened the far-left stems and the left sides of the curves.

Lettering with a Fude pen
Going over the words with the Fude pen emphasized the shape of the curved lettering.

Dots were drawn along the stems and curves with the Phthalo Blue PITT pen, and serifs were added with the 02 Pigma Micron pen.

Embellishing curved lettering
The first embellishments were blue dots along the stems and curves of the letters, and serifs.

The letters looked like they needed more embellishments, so I added small green circles with the May Green PITT pen, and made three light black lines on the first letter of every word with the 005 Pigma Micron pen. I worked out the embellishments beforehand in my sketchbook; for this curved lettering technique, this helped me see what worked and what didn’t. When I was sure the ink was dry, I erased the pencil marks.

Embellishing curved lettering
More embellishments to the curved lettering: circles and lines.

To enhance the travel theme, I added a stenciled compass design and a vintage postage stamp, and edged the tag in green paint. A colorful ribbon tied everything together.

Hand lettered tag with curved lettering
To finish the tag I added a stenciled image and a vintage postage stamp to emphasize the theme.

I was so excited about this technique that I used it to add the word “Bloom” to an art journal page. I varied the embellishments, creating scallops on the stems and curves, and adding little scrolls. I love the way it looks, and I like the fact that because I put my spin on it, it looks like my lettering. I can’t wait to experiment more. Kari’s lesson includes much more detail and information about how to create and embellish the layers, plus other ideas for creating arcs and waves for different types of curved lettering. And don’t miss all the extra finished pieces that will give you even more inspiration.

Art journal page with curved lettering
This unfinished art journal page was the recipient of curved lettering.

I hope you enjoy this Lettering Lesson as much as I did, and don’t miss all the other lessons we have from incredible artists. There’s a new Lettering Lesson every month, so be sure to check the North Light Shop often!

Cloth Paper Scissors Lettering Lessons Volume 7: Waves, Undulations, and Arcs, by Kari McKnight Holbrook
Learn how easy it is to create curved lettering in Lettering Lessons Volume 7: Waves, Undulations, and Arcs, by Kari McKnight Holbrook.
Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe
Joanne Sharpe has a new book out! Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe shows you how to easily create fun, fanciful lettering.
Cloth Paper Scissors Lettering Lessons Volume 6: Hand-Carved and Hand-Cut Letters by Jodi Ohl
Discover more lettering styles in Lettering Lessons Volume 6: Hand-Carved and Hand-Cut Letters by Jodi Ohl.
Art Lettering Workshop with Joanne Sharpe from ArtistsNetworkTV
Learn how to personalize your mixed-media art with hand-lettered quotes and phrases in the video Art Lettering Workshop with Joanne Sharpe.
Cloth Paper Scissors 2015-2016 Collector's Edition Lettering Lessons: Lettering With a Personal Touch.
Get a dozen lettering tutorials in the 2015-2016 Collector’s Edition of Lettering Lessons: Lettering With a Personal Touch.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.