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The Beginners Guide to Brush Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

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The Beginners Guide to Hand Lettering And Brush Calligraphy

Modern calligraphy and hand lettering are super popular right now. This comes as no surprise since it’s a great way to distress, practice mindfulness, challenge your creative side, and even make some extra money. Lettering skills are in high demand and getting started doesn’t cost much. With a bit of practice you will be able to impress all your friends and family with your ability to turn words into a beautiful piece of visual art.

I started lettering in 2016 and have poured hours into practicing and figuring out the best ways to create beautiful hand lettered art. What started as a hobby has turned into a business where I’ve had the opportunity to create chalkboards for businesses and weddings, murals for businesses, and meaningful custom prints and wood signs. Learning to letter has changed my life and I want to help you on your lettering journey too!

What are Brush Calligraphy and Hand Lettering? Aren’t They The Same?

Many people use hand lettering and calligraphy interchangeably but, while often used together, they are actually not the same.

Calligraphy is the art of writing letters and is created with specific strokes of a pen that when put together form letters. Modern calligraphy is often created with brush pens which have a flexible nib (tip of the pen) to allow the calligrapher to control the thickness of the brush strokes. Upstrokes are thin while downstrokes are thick and the calligrapher lifts their pen between each stroke, making modern calligraphy different than cursive.

Hand Lettering is the art of drawing letters. Typically hand lettering is done with a hard tip pen or pencil, rather than a brush pen. Hand lettering styles can vary greatly from block letters to script and other styles in between.

How to get started with Brush Calligraphy

To get started with brush calligraphy you will need the right supplies.

I recommend starting with a set of Tombow Fudenosuke hard and soft nib pens. In my experience teaching, most newbies prefer the hard nib because it’s easier to control.

You will also want to get some very smooth paper that won’t fray your pens. A great practice pad is is the Rhodia pad.

One of the things that differentiates modern calligraphy from cursive is the thickness of the downstrokes. Any time your brush pen is moving down towards you, you need to put pressure on the pen to create a nice thick downstroke. When your pen is moving any other direction (these are called upstrokes) use light pressure to create thin strokes.

The best way to get started once you have your supplies is to practice using your brush pens to create thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. Try different pens to see which one you like best.

How to get started with Hand Lettering

Hand lettering is one of the easiest skills to get started with because you probably already have supplies laying around your house. All you need is a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.

A quick way to build letters as a beginner is to write a word in all capitals with the letters spaced a little bit apart. Then go back to each letter, outline it and color it in to create block letters. Ta-da! you did it!

There are so many styles of lettering that you can really make it your own. Find styles you like and practice them with your own flair. It’s called hand lettering because it’s hand drawn so don’t stress about perfection. Nothing hand made should look perfect. Have fun with it!

Tips for Success in Brush Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

Both brush calligraphy and hand lettering take a lot of practice. It’s not as easy as it looks. Just like how we work out consistently to build muscle, you also need to work your creative muscles to get better at calligraphy and lettering. Give yourself 15 minutes every day to practice your calligraphy and/or hand lettering. If you stick with it, you will continue to get better and better.

FAQ About Brush Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

  1. Is brush lettering the same as calligraphy?
    • Lettering and calligraphy are often used interchangeably although they are not actually the same as I explained above. However, most of the time when someone says brush lettering they are referring to calligraphy that is done with a brush pen.
  2. What are the best pens for brush calligraphy?
    • There are so many different kinds of brush pens, but for beginners I recommend starting with a small tip brush pen. The Tombow Fudenosuke pens are the ones I provide for the students in my workshops. Try both the hard nib and the soft nib. The hard nib is easier for most beginners to control, especially for the upstrokes.
  3. Is brush calligraphy hard to learn?
    • We all learned how to write letters when we were small and calligraphy is just that. The difference is that you have to master control of the brush pen too. It might feel super tricky at first, but just like any skill, it takes practice. It’s not easy, but you can do it if you stick with it.
  4. How do beginners learn brush calligraphy?
    • Start by practicing using your brush pen by creating a wavy and and down line. Remember to use full pressure on the pen for downstrokes and light pressure for upstrokes. Once your mastered the change in pressure you can begin to learn the basic letter stokes.
  5. Can I learn brush calligraphy and hand lettering even if I have bad hand writing?
    • Yes! Because calligraphy is made from certain brush strokes put together to form letters, it doesn’t matter what your handwriting looks like if you can learn the basic brush strokes. Both hand lettering and brush calligraphy are art forms and are more similar to drawing than to hand writing.
  6. What are the most common hand lettering styles?
    • The main hand lettering styles are script, serif, and sans serif. Each of these styles can and should be adjusted to fit the expression of the piece. For example, serif letters can be written with simple serifs or very ornately.
  7. How can I make money as a calligrapher and/or hand letterer?
    • There are a number of ways to make money as a calligrapher and a hand lettering artist. Paid jobs may include wedding calligraphy, wedding signage, custom prints, art licensing, murals, book cover and interior design, magazine cover and interior design, packaging, logo creation, and many more. The possibilities are really endless!

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Brush Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

While it will take some time to learn the skills involved in calligraphy and lettering, it will be worth it in the end. Whether you are looking for a relaxing way to spend your evenings or hoping to create a side hustle or career from lettering, don’t shy away from taking the time to learn these popular skills.

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