HAND LETTERING: HOW TO DRAW LETTERS

I am so excited for this new series on hand lettering. It's a topic I get emails (or Instagram comments) about almost daily so I thought it was about time I share a little something here! Today, I'm going to start with the very basics: drawing letters. Hand lettering, after all, is the art of drawing letters. I am not talking about typography (the art of arranging type) or technical calligraphy (though I sometimes refer to one of my styles as fauxligraphy!). A simple way to think of the difference between lettering and calligraphy is, calligraphy is writing, lettering (digitally or by hand) is drawing. It takes practice and experimentation, so don't give up if you're not an expert right away. I still practice every day!

Getting started is super easy and you probably already have most of these supplies laying around the house.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

 PENCILS:  I use these Faber-Castell Graphite Pencils I still have from college, but any ol' No. 2 (or mechanical) pencil will do.
 ERASER:  Again, you can use any ol' eraser (even the one on the end of your pencil) but I use Paper Mate Black Pearl Erasers.
 PAPER:  You can use copy paper but I prefer to draw in my sketch book so I can keep my sketches organized. I like to use the Darice Hardbound Sketch Book (9"x12") (this can be picked up at Walmart) because it's spiral bound. I usually have one sketchbook (or two) per year.

That's really all you need, but here are a few things that will make your life easier:

 TRACING PAPER:  I use my Canson Tracing Paper when I am reworking phrase groupings or am changing the format of a letter/word. It makes your life so much easier if you make a mistake. Instead of having to tediously redraw everything you can quickly trace the parts you're still happy with.
 RULER OR STRAIGHT EDGE:  This will help you when wanting to draw letters in a straight line. I also use it to create a rectangle with the same dimensions as my greeting cards. This helps me decide the best way to lay out a phrase when designing for a new card. I use this Pro Art 24-Inch Stainless Steel Ruler I still have from college.
 LIGHT BOX:  This is not something I have purchased yet (to be honest I'm not sure how much I'll use it when I'm just drawing letters) but I'd really love a Gagne Portable Light Box. I'm more interested in it for when I am using watercolors but I know a lot of letterers find these helpful and this is the exact version I'm looking to purchase.

None of these need supplies need to be super fancy. Just about anything will work. You can also invest in lined or gridded paper, though this can add some extra steps should you choose to turn your sketch into a vector (that's a post for another day). If I need to make sure I'm writing on a straight line I prefer to draw my own guides using a ruler. I've got a few more supplies I like to use but I'll save that for another post as well.

Whenever I teach hand lettering I always prompt my students to write out the alphabet first (lowercase and uppercase). This way, they can see what letter forms come natural to them and they don't focus so much on making a letter the same way I do. It helps them recognize their signature lettering style right off the bat. It's much easier to build off what you've already got than to try and start from scratch by mimicking someone else's letters.

It's also important to understand a few basic lettering types: serif, sans serif and script.

 

You will more than likely develop a favorite lettering type to work with (I prefer lettering scripts) but it's always a good idea to practice them all. Knowing how to draw different types of letters will give your hand lettering projects more depth.

Now, for the good stuff! One of my favorite drawing exercises is to draw a subject over and over. Since we're drawing letters, I want you to draw each letter of the alphabet 40 different ways. Yes, I said 40. That may seem like a lot but when you think about it, it's not that hard! Try and draw 20 lowercase and 20 uppercase of each letter and make sure you're using each of the lettering types we talked about above. That means you only need, roughly, 6 of each lettering style in lowercase and uppercase. You can do it! And you'll be amazed how quickly you actually can complete all 40.

 

If you do this exercise, share a photo on Instagram and use #letteringwithsteph (tag me too @winniejeanstudio) so I can see how you're doing!

I've got a few more hand lettering posts in the works: My Favorite Hand Lettering Supplies, How to Create Hand Lettered Phrases and How to Turn Your Sketch Into a Product. Are there any hand lettering topics in particular (that I haven't already listed) you'd like me to talk about? If so, just holler in the comments!


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