Believe it or not, I almost never have a first draft that is Instaworthy — and the only reason why I say ‘almost’ is because I’m holding out for the day that happens! For most pieces that have more than one or two words, there are tons of drafts that happen before it’s something I’m ready to share with the world.

Today, I’m going to bend that rule a little bit and pull back the curtain. Yep, this is all about how I design my pieces!

Get a brief going!

Before any serious design work can happen, I need to know all the details from the obvious (what do you want me to letter? In what style?) to the nitty-gritty (what size do you want the final piece to be? In what colours? Are there any embellishments you want like florals?).

If I’m creating for myself, it’s perfectly fine to keep it all in my head since… Well, it’s my head! But if it’s for someone else, sketches and discussion are absolutely necessary ‘cause I can’t read your mind! And if I can’t read your mind, how can I translate your vision into reality without some talking, right?

So that’s the first thing: finding out all the details so I’ve a brief idea of what you want — and also if it’s possible.

I mean, if you want me to write 1 Corinthians on an A6 piece of card in watercolour… I’m gonna tell you that’s nuts. That verse is over 20 words long, minimum. And brushes write insanely bigger than pens or nibs — which don’t have a watercolour effect!

Materials and mediums have their constrains and this is the point to kinda hash it all out and set prices so there’s no blindsiding after all the work is done — on either side!

Designing proofs

Once an agreement as well as payment (depending on the project, it can be 50-100% upfront) has been made, it’s time to get crackin’. I always do a pencil sketch or five on lined or grid paper first. Once I’ve something, I grab the tracing paper.

Tracing paper is, honestly, my best friend for projects like these. I can make all the adjustments I want and still see the last iteration below — without the glare of a light pad!

Once I’m happy with the basic designs, I go back and add in thicker downstrokes with a brush pen and adjust the layout accordingly. Depending on the medium I’m working with, I usually have a brush pen that is close in size to substitute. A Kuretake Fudegokochi EF for example is a great stand-in for dip pen, while the Pentel Fudemoji M works well for paint brushes.

The designs are annotated with colour palettes and/or embellishment sketches, then sent off for approval. Sometimes, I can have up to 2-3 different pencil sketches (or ‘proofs’) if I’ve been given a lot of license or am feeling particularly inspired 😉

Finalising the design

If I’m very very lucky, Operation Letter This Design would be approved right off and I can get to lettering. If not, there’ll be some alterations that need to be made before I can actually letter it!

For most part, unless it’s a huge redo, most people (myself included) won’t charge for minor alterations!

Operation Letter This Design is on!

When it’s all okay-ed, then I can do the best part: doing up the final piece. Honestly, it can be quite nerve-wrecking especially if you’re lettering over a painting! It isn’t a terribly difficult process though: I simply tape the final proof onto my light pad with washi tape, then tape the paper for the final piece over it.

Then I take a huge deep breath or three and get to lettering 😉

Prepping for delivery!

After the final design is done, the work’s not over. Depending on what the piece is for, there are a whole bunch of other things that need doing.

If it’s a piece for Instagram, I’ll need to photograph it and edit (easiest, really). If it’s a custom one-of-a-kind piece, there will be packaging it and getting it ready to be mailed out. And if it’s a print/digital job, there’s scanning and digitising before I either email it off or send it print and package for mailing as well!

And there you have it: my little design process! (Take out the proofing bits and you’d have what happens for any ol’ design I create!)