Studio Saturdays: Perfectly Imperfect Hand Lettering

I am the greatest admirer of calligraphy. I would gladly pay just to watch someone create words in Spencerian script or Copperplate, because it’s truly poetry in motion.

But I must confess, I am a calligraphy workshop dropout. My practice pages looked like Rorschach tests, and I was always the worst one in class. It dawned on me one day that what I gravitate to in hand lettering are wonky lines, funky shapes, and off-center spacing—the beauty of the imperfect. So I started creating lettering that reflects my artistic style, and found my passion.

Hand lettered journal
My food and cooking journal is filled with hand lettering.

I have more fun now, am no longer stressed about creating perfect letters, and I love the process. Although I add lettering to many of my art journal pages, my favorite journal to work in is my food and cooking journal. I started this book a couple of years ago not just for recipes, but also for keeping food memories and journaling about memorable dishes and dining experiences. Lettering just seemed like a natural element to emphasize for this book, and I use a variety of styles on a page—some that I make up on the spot—and they all add to the interest and individuality.

Here’s a page I did about my famous guacamole recipe. Okay, it’s not really famous, but it is super delicious. When I do a page like this I like to block out the letters lightly in pencil first. As much as I love wonkiness, there’s nothing worse than running out of room andhavingtosquishallyourletterstogethertomakethemfit.

I wrote “guacamole” in a neat version of my normal script, then went back and fattened up the left side of each letter to create space for some color.  I wrote “so good” in a goofy block font. Drawings of some of the recipe ingredients were blocked in, along with a chevron design. I thought I might add some collage elements and auditioned them at the bottom of the page.

Hand lettered journal page
When working on a page, I pencil in my lettering first.

After drawing over the pencil lines with a black Faber-Castell PITT artist pen and erasing the pencil, the letters and drawings were colored in a guacamole-friendly palette of red, orange, yellow, and green watercolor. I ended up hating the word “Yum!” where I put it, so I drew a salt shaker, cut it out, and pasted it over the word. As I always say, there are no mistakes in art, only opportunities!

The word “ingredients” is another exaggerated version of my own script; I just kept my pen very loose and left a lot of space between letters.

Hand lettering with watercolor
I added watercolor to make the words pop.

I always write recipes and journaling in my own handwriting. If I make a mistake I just cross it out or paint or cover over it with something—I don’t get too crazy about it.

With some space left over at the bottom I decided against the collage elements and brought back “yum,” but this time in script, using a Zig Clean Color Real Brush pen blended with a damp paintbrush. A drop shadow was added with a graphite pencil and a blending stump, and I glued bits of text paper around the border. By the way, if you don’t know that the lettering-friendly world of markers and pens is virtually bottomless, grab something and hold on tight, you’re in for quite a ride. You’ll have a lot of fun trying out new supplies, and most are inexpensive.

Food journal page with hand lettering
The finished page, with more lettering, color, and collage.

Here’s another page I did praising raspberries as the official taste of summer, based on a childhood food memory. I used a few different lettering styles, and again incorporated watercolor and collage. Quick tip: I use a page in the back of my journal to try out letters and pens to see how they’ll work. I either cut this page out later or collage something over it.

Hand-lettered journal page
A hand-lettered page about raspberries.

Most people hate their handwriting, but that’s no excuse not to try lettering. I can point to dozens of “mistakes” on these pages, but what good would that do? My lettering isn’t perfect, and I never want it to be.

If this has convinced you to add lettering to your mixed-media art repertoire, you can’t do better than these resources below. Each one will help you get started, or enhance the skills you already have. I suggest starting today!

Creative Lettering Workshop: Combining Art with Quotes in Mixed Media Joanne Sharpe’s Letter Love Lettering Lessons: Volume Volume 8 with Pam Garrison
Buy Book
Buy Collection
Download Lesson
Download eBook


The Art of Whimsical Lettering More Creative Lettering Art Lettering Workshop
Buy Book
Buy Book
Download eBook Download Video

Find more resources for lettering (and much more) in the

Cloth Paper Scissors Shop!


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog


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