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Brush Lettering for Beginners

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All You Need to Know to Get Started

I don’t know about you, but when I got into brush lettering (or hand lettering, or modern calligraphy, as it is also known), I couldn’t find a simple, straightforward, instructive guide that would plainly list the tools and techniques I needed to acquire and master in order to start churning out Instagram-worthy inspirational quotes. There’s a wealth of information on the internet, of course, but I found that most of it was unnecessarily detailed and gave me too many options without really explaining how to make an informed decision. (Do I need a soft brush pen or a hard brush pen? And should I use a fancy Rhodia pad instead of plain office paper?)  If you’re in the same boat, I created this little blog post just for you. Although I’m still a beginner, after many, many trials and errors, I’ve acquired quite a bit of brush-lettering wisdom that could save you lots of time, frustration, and a bit of bob, too.

1. Paper

Shockingly, it’s not the pens, but the paper that’s most important in brush-lettering, and her’s why. Brush-lettering requires perfectly smooth paper. Since regular office paper is actually slightly perforated, a) your brush lettering won’t look as nice on it and b) you’ll ruin your brush pens because they’ll fray before your eyes. (Especially as your technique won’t be great in the beginning.) That’s why many brush-letterers use Rhodia pads, and while I’ve also found Moleskine notebooks to work, I don’t recommend either. FIrstly, they’re expensive and, at least in the beginning, you’ll go through insane amounts of paper; secondly, many Rhodia pads and all Moleskine notebooks have off-white paper, which isn’t ideal if you want to use coloured brush-pens. (And I encourage you to!) Instead, be thrifty and get a ream of super-smooth paper, such as HP Premium Choice Laserjet (or similar).

2. Pens

All you need are a handful of Tombow Dual Brush Pens in your preferred colours. The advantages of these pens are many: a) they’re affordable, which means you won’t have to break your bank even if you ruin a couple while practicing; b) they’re of excellent quality and really easy to use; c) practically all brush-letterers use them, which means you can watch hours of YouTube videos to copy techniques and find inspiration; d) you can do amazing things with them, like blend or mix colours! (The nibs are self-cleaning, so your pens won’t suffer.)

3. Technique

Brush lettering uses a very simple technique, but you need to understand its principles and get the hang of it before you get into developing our own unique style. This video is instrumental in explaining the process of brush-lettering, and I absolutely recommend it for all beginners. Even if you deviate from the rules later on, understanding the technique will ensure lovely results at all times.

4. Improving

Start by learning to write the alphabet (don’t worry if it doesn’t look great straight away) and then follow up with a pangram to practice writing all the letters of the alphabet. Experiment with different angles of holding the brush pen. Practice is essential. I cannot count the times I wrote ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’. And then, after a couple of weeknights of struggling, it suddenly worked! What I also found in the beginning was that I needed to go really, really slow. I’m used to writing very fast but with brush lettering, you need to give every letter the love and attention it deserves.

Once you’ve got the hang of brush lettering, it’s useful to watch YouTube videos of people brush lettering live. (I really liked this, this, this, and this video.) You’ll see different writing styles and pick and choose things that work for you. Bounce lettering is a popular form of brush lettering and there are many tutorials online. Funnily enough, I found that I learned most by watching other people do it and by just going with the flow when writing myself. Again, practice makes perfect, so relax and play with your lettering.

Once you’re ready to move on, I heartily recommend AmandaRachLee’s videos on YouTube (like this one!), which are super cute and full of useful ideas and advice on what pens to buy (I’m intending to get the Tombow Fudenosuke next, which is good for smaller writing) and what projects to undertake with your pens. Also, tell your friends about your new hobby! Having projects that are meaningful is a great way to improve, and you’d be surprised at how many people are awed and willing to “commission” brush lettering work!

That’s it! The best of luck with your brush-lettering!


{all images (and brush lettering) by Blue Jay & Bumblebee}


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