Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve been lettering a while. You can make thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. But somehow… your calligraphy feels off. You can’t seem to make your calligraphy perfect — and you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong!
If this is what you’re experiencing, you’re absolutely not alone here! There are 3 steps to take your lettering from scribbles with a brush pen to pretty calligraphy. They are quick and easy to apply, and best of all? They’re all here!
Tip #1: Break down your letters into strokes
If you’ve heard this before, I’m sorry. It cannot be said enough though: Lettering is not cursive. Cursive is designed for writing fast, so you rarely lift the pen.
Calligraphy — especially with more traditional scripts — involves tons of pen lifts. Just pick up this guide on Copperplate and you’ll see what I mean!
Who cares about traditional script? I want to do modern!
Yeah, no. Believe me, I tried diving straight into no-lift modern and I won’t recommend it. There are way too many things to consider!
Break each letter down into simple strokes. For example, a lowercase ‘a’ is an oval and an underturn stroke. This way, you can focus on getting each piece correct as you put it together!
And if you want to break the rules afterwards… All power to you!
Tip #2: Keep your strokes consistent
Looking back at my early work, my lack of consistency really made my work look like something really haphazard.
Think of your work as a Lego sculpture. You may use pieces in different shapes and sizes (different strokes and letters) but they all mesh together because they have something consistent: the studs are the same size!
When it comes to lettering, there are two things that can be considered studs: the angle my strokes are slanted at, and the thicks and thins of my strokes.
Yes, my slant may not be perfectly parallel throughout. Yes, there is a little variance in my thicks as well as my thins. It’s impossible to have perfectly identical strokes — we’re humans, not machines and that’s what makes hand lettering so gorgeously unique anyway!
But a general consistency definitely helps your letters look similar enough so when you look at it, you feel like they belong in the same word, sentence and piece!
Tip #3: Give your letters space to breathe
(Yes, I know letters don’t really breathe!)
When you write in calligraphy size, generally all your downstrokes get thicker. A mistake beginners — myself included! — often make is forgetting to compensate for that.
Take the lowercase ‘a’ for example. If I add thickness to my downstrokes in my normal handwriting, it looks extremely cramped and not quite right.
How do we fix that? Well, you’d want to nudge your stem (aka the ‘tail’ part) out to the right a bit so there is more white space and balance between the thick and thin lines!
Knowing how much to move your subsequent strokes outward is a tricky business — especially if you’re writing cursive style and not lifting your pen! This is where the first tip comes in! By breaking each letter into strokes, you can focus on getting the individual stroke right before considering the placement of the next stroke.
(Pro tip: A good rule of thumb is place the each stroke just beside the last instead of on top of it. This is because each stroke already has a balance of white space between thick and thin lines!)
Need some extra help with perfecting your lettering alphabet?
I know, when you’re starting out it may be hard to breakdown all the letters. And to make it even more difficult, some letters don’t even use the basic strokes but a variant!
I’ve been receiving requests for more traceable worksheets, so I put together a sampler for you focusing on letters that focus on ovals. As always, it is available for both large and small pens 😉
If you like it, get ready for this weekend — I’ll let you know how to get the full workbook covering the entire alphabet then (with a chance for you to get it free!)