I have been promising you a post on lettering, but I will be honest with you. This has been a difficult post to write… from several viewpoints. First, I don’t do lettering for a profession, so I feel quite inadequate even giving advice on it. Secondly it is difficult just from the content. I can’t seem to narrow down lettering to one thing. If this was being written for you twenty-some-odd years ago when I was teaching calligraphy to children, it would be easy.
I would tell you to get felt tipped calligraphy pens (perhaps like these…),
some practice paper,
a copy of an Italic style alphabet,
and then, holding your pen at a 45 degree angle, practice writing your letters over and over and over. (And if you are left handed you will need to be careful to not let your hand smear the letters as you write.) You can put the letters together to make words and sentences from that. Just remember, you have to lift your pen after each letter which is quite different from cursive where you mostly flow from one letter to the next.
If that style of calligraphy is what you are wanting, then I will still tell you to do all that. With enough practice you will get comfortable with taking this basic style and adding your own flourishes to it to make it your own personal style of calligraphy. Doodle with it! But that is not the only style of lettering out there, and it is rare if I use it these days. So that complicates my narrowing down the topic of lettering for this post.
If what you mean by “lettering” is what I do for wedding invitations and other big projects then I would tell you something a little different. I don’t use the felt tipped pens for those projects.
I like cartridge pens for those. They do a much better job to me than the felt tipped ones. The ones I use are made by Sheaffer, and I prefer them because I am able to get a very fine line with them. (And I have tested quite a few.)
If I were a professional, I know I would practice with and use dip pens. The range of ink colors is limited by the cartridges you can find for the pens I use, but the range for the dip pens is pretty much unlimited. Maybe after I retire from my current job I will learn to use the dip pens.
Anyway, for these kinds of lettering projects, I look online for fonts I like, print them out, and practice on lined paper copying the letters until I feel I have mastered their style. You can, of course, print out the entire invitation or project using your selected fonts,and then just handletter it from looking at your printout. Nothing compares to the look of handlettering to me. (But then I am a little biased.) Here is one of my favorites from myfonts.com, (but there is a fee for its download.)
And here are a few free fonts that I like from dafont.com
In the case of my niece’s invitation, she brought me a wedding invitation she had received that she loved. We both looked online to find a font similar to it, but we could not find an exact match for it. So I used the letters in the invitation to develop my own alphabet from it. (Not all our needed letters were on the invitation she had, so I had to improvise to match the style.)
After practicing the designed alphabet (or any font style), I write out a mock up of the invitation on lined paper in pencil to begin with. I did this 12 times for my niece’s (no joke) until I get it like I want…the centering I like, the spacing, the flourishes that seem right for it. This is where I know you want a tutorial, but so much of this depends on personal preference. I will tell you that one crazy thing I do is write out each line (say 11 lines), then cut them into 11 strips, line them up underneath each other to get the centering and spacing correct,(shifting it until it looks right) tape that down, and then use that as a guide to help me with the finished ink version. The final version is shown to the bride for approval, and then it is taken to be printed (or letterpressed). Once the envelopes are in hand, the addressing process begins.
A shortcut for me in doing envelopes is to make a line guide. That is the messy notebook paper you see up there. I heavily traced over the lines so that when inserted in the envelope, I could see the lines visible through it (with my super x-ray vision :)) to help me write straight across. The heavy vertical line is the center line. I glue the notebook paper to cardstock so that it is sturdier. (You need it sturdy when you are doing hundreds of envelopes.) It is cut to fit inside the envelope.When inserted inside the envelope, I can tell where the middle of it is. I can then count the letters in the line I am writing, divide by 2, and can “eyeball it” to know about where to start my writing. For example, let’s say I was writing this:
There are 24 letters and spaces. I add in an extra letter space for the capitals in this case because they are so large. That makes 28 spaces needed for the line. Divide that in half, that’s 14. Count over 14, and you land on the period after Mrs. That means I have to start to the left of my center line so that there is just enough space to write Mr. and Mrs. With enough practice you can visualize how much space each letter will take.
I say all this to again say, get pens, get paper, get a font you love, and practice.
But…if you mean all the labels and tags that I do when you ask for lettering, that is different, too. (Do you see why I have had such a hard time with this post?) Again I would tell you to look for fonts that you like. But for little one or two word things (like labels, tags, etc), you can think of it kind of like drawing – but with words. My favorite pen for doing that is this one:
For those things, I use the narrow tip of this pen and write the word in cursive trying to make each letter jump either up or down on an imaginary base line. And I also try to not be consistent in whether each letter stands straight up, leans left, or leans right. This is just me playing with my regular cursive writing.
Then I come back and write another line to the side of every single down stroke in the word. (A down stroke is where you are pulling down with your pen in writing your letter.) This gives the lines of each letter more contrast in width.
If your cursive is not to your liking, then there are some fonts to look at that can help you. I especially love Jacques & Gilles available for purchase at myfonts.com.
and Unnamed Melody at Fonts101.com is a nice and free font.
Has this helped you any at all? I’m really not sure. We have discussed basic calligraphy, big projects with formal lettering, and casual small lettering. And I am still having a problem with this post. I have a feeling that when you are asking for a lettering tutorial many of you are talking about chalkboard lettering. Right?? Okay… this post is more than long enough, so there will have to be a part 2 strictly on chalkboard lettering with tips and tricks for you…But I cannot get to it until next week because of all that goes on as we start the school year here. So please come back then for that, and come back on Friday for a little something fun here. I think you will like it.
Until next time…