Entering the world of hand-lettering can be daunting. There are innumerable experts in the market, boundless supply options, and page after page of web tutorials on the topic. Here are just a few things I wish had been whispered in my ear when I was starting out.
1. Give yourself some time (and maybe wait a little bit before instagramming your first envelope)
There certainly remains some photographic evidence of my early hand-lettering efforts. Eeek. Everyone has to start somewhere. While time and practice have helped me to hone the craft, I’m far from perfecting it. I have oh so much still to learn, but looking back over my work, I see a steady progression of improvement. It cannot be rushed. Every stroke puts you on your way—practice, practice, practice.
2. Don’t be a copy-cat
It may take learning the basic strokes and getting the techniques down before you really have the ability to experiment with finding your own unique style, but it’s totally worth trudging through to discover. There are plenty of calligraphers out there, but what sets you apart? Copying the work of others is not only a discredit to your uniqueness as an artist, it’s unfair to those that have really worked to narrow in on their own craft. Be inspired by others’ work, but don’t steal it outright. Find your own hand and let it loose! It may even help to develop an “exemplar” of your go-to alphabet after you’ve had a chance to play around with different styles.
3. Learn from the pros (and then revisit #2)
When I first started, I took a six-week calligraphy course from a seasoned expert in a local church basement. It wasn’t a glamorous setting or even a well-known name (outside of my community), but the information I gleaned was invaluable, and it didn’t come at a hefty price tag. When I got ready to learn how to digitize my lettering, I sat down with a photographer friend who patiently walked me through the Photoshop editing process. If you have access to other creatives, just ask for some help! When all else fails, there are online tutorials and blogs abounding on every topic from ink mixing, to flourishing, to file manipulating. We are each other’s best resource.
4. Invest in the right tools for the right job
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to practice your down stroke and to repeatedly have your nib snag on the fibers of the WRONG kind of paper. Do your research and find out what supplies you need to begin. Set yourself up to succeed, and you’ll find the learning process will go much more … smoothly.
These are a few of my favorite calligraphy-related things:
Gold ink: Dr. Ph Martin’s Copperplate Gold
Way(s) to customize ink colors: Gouache Paint + water or Pearl Ex Pigment + Gum Arabic + Water
Practice paper: Canson Marker Paper
Ink: Sumi—it’s a workhorse, best for work that I’ll eventually digitize
Favorite letter: It changes, but I’m loving the capital ‘S’ at the moment