Tutorial: Turn Your Hand Lettering Into Art

True story: If it weren’t for Joanne Sharpe, I probably would never have attempted hand lettering. My pathetic attempts at calligraphy convinced me that lettering wasn’t my thing, but the day I discovered Joanne’s techniques I realized that my own handwriting wasn’t just good enough for hand lettering—it was perfect.

Yes, perfect. That’s not bragging, it’s part of Joanne’s philosophy that everyone has the capacity to create beautiful/whimsical/bold/fanciful lettering, even if you hate your handwriting. Her methods are based on easy techniques that are fun to practice, easy to master, and result in fantastic mixed-media art that literally says something.

Joanne Sharpe’s Letter Love Ultimate Collection has everything you need to start creating your own unique hand lettering.

Haven’t you wanted to add words to your art journal pages? Or include a hand-lettered quote on a collage? Joanne’s techniques are the way to go, my friends, and Joanne Sharpe’s Letter Love Ultimate Collection is tailor made for mixed-media artists. The kit includes so much good stuff that it’s a no-brainer: four mixed-media lettering DVDs (Inspirational Art Journals, Art Lettering Workshop, Alphabet Soup, and Whimsical Words), plus her book The Art of Whimsical Lettering, a collection of her lettering columns for Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, a Tombow Dual Brush Pen set, and the Zentangle® Apprentice 3-Piece Tool Set.

One of my favorite of Joanne’s videos is Art Lettering Workshop. Like the rest, it’s packed with so many techniques, tips, and ideas, I had to take notes so I could remember what I wanted to go back to. In the video, Joanne says, “If you’re using these mixed-media materials, your handwriting becomes the artwork.” I love that this belief further reinforces the fact that you don’t have to know formal calligraphy to create beautiful hand lettering.

For my project I started with one of Joanne’s techniques for creating backgrounds for hand lettering with acrylic paint. I love the look of her no-stress painting style. Joanne works on a canvas in the video, but I thought I’d work on watercolor paper.

In the beginning of the video Joanne shows her beautiful handmade watercolor paper books that show off her amazing hand lettering. I had seen those books before, and I vowed to one day make them. This was the day.

In the videos you’ll see tons of samples of Joanne’s artwork, like these handmade books.

I started with a large pad of 140-lb. cold press watercolor paper, cut a few sheets to 9″ x 18″, then folded them in half for a 9″ x 9″ book. For some pages I created an extra flap, then trimmed the flap so it had a curved or jagged edge, just freehanding the shapes with a utility knife.

A utility or craft knife is perfect for creating curved or jagged edges on paper.

I nested the pages together; here’s what they look like spaced apart so you can see the shapes and sizes. I also threw in a smaller page, like Joanne had done.

Create any size pages that suit your artwork!

The book was bound with waxed linen thread using an easy 5-hole pamphlet stitch. Here’s a quick diagram that shows you how to sew it. When you finish, both the tail thread and the working thread should be inside the book. Make sure the threads are on either side of the center stitch, tighten the threads by pulling them parallel to the spine, and tie them in a square knot around the center stitch. Trim the threads to ¼”.

This 5-hole pamphlet stitch is perfect for binding heavyweight watercolor sheets.

I brushed a coat of white gesso over the paper, let it dry, then brushed on two shades of analogous acrylic paint (magenta and coral), plus white. Joanne uses this technique as a simple background starter, then builds on it.

Creating beautiful backgrounds will make your hand lettering pop.

I used the end of my paintbrush to scribble into the wet paint to create some texture, then scraped on some turquoise paint with a key card. The video includes tons of great ideas for adding visual texture to your pages, and they’re really fun to do.

Layering paint colors with acrylics is easy; just make sure one layer is dry before adding another.

A few stenciled designs were sponged around the edges as well, and later on I created a dotted border with a white paint pen.

Creating border designs draws the eye in to the hand lettering on the page.

Even though Joanne’s books, videos, and tutorials have given me so much confidence to create hand lettering, I’m still mostly a coward when it comes to writing directly on a canvas. That’s why her technique of lettering on tissue paper is so brilliant. Using permanent pens and markers, write your words on tissue paper. If you mess up, try again. Here are my sheets with a saying that I adapted from a Maya Angelou quote. As you can see, I wrote a few things over because I didn’t like the way I did them the first time. I used hand-lettering techniques included in The Art of Whimsical Lettering, which has become my go-to resource for alphabets and fonts.

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Hand lettering on tissue paper ensures you create the style and spacing you like.

Next, cut the words out, creating curvy instead of straight lines with scissors, and audition them on your substrate.

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Before adhering the words, audition them on the page.

Joanne shows you how to adhere them to paper or canvas with gel medium, and that’s all it takes! No stress at all.

For the cover flap, I brushed on two coats of black gesso in the middle to create a background for hand lettering; I used a white paint pen. I’m really looking forward to working more on this book. There are so many different techniques to choose from in the video—writing with a resist pen, using an ink dropper—and I know I’ll have a great time trying them all.

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This book is bound to be filled soon with more hand lettering!

Joanne made me believe that I could create hand lettering and love it. You will too—and this Letter Love Ultimate Collection is a great place to start!


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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