Hand Lettering: even Practice does not make Perfect

When my fiance and I got engaged, it made the whole wedding thing more of a reality than it was before, and this made the whole cost of wedding thing very real, very fast. Knowing that I could attempt to DIY a thing or two made me feel better, and it made me excited to learn skills that could help cut costs. The first skill I’m beginning to grasp is “hand lettering”, which I often describe to friends as calligraphy’s easier-to-learn cousin.

My first exposure to the art of lettering was in elementary school. Though I was never (and I’m still not) fond of my own handwriting, I would play around with the way I wrote specific letters or numbers. I would obsess over writing an “a” with the little line on top, or a “z” with a line through the middle to differentiate it from a “2”. I would see someone write it this way so nonchalantly, so easily, and I thought it was beautiful, so I had to try it myself. Painstakingly, I would look back over my notes or my homework and find the letters I forgot to draw the extra line on, only to be disappointed it still wasn’t a fluid thing for me to remember when writing. Eventually, I forgot all about this, and just focused on what I was writing instead of the handwriting itself.

In high school, I was reminded of my terribly inconsistent handwriting when my best friend and I would pass notes during class (this was before phones or computers in class were a normal thing, so we played it old school) – her handwriting was fluid and consistent, and she wrote so fast! How did someone write so fast and have their letters look perfectly even with a similar slant to every letter? How?? Not only this, but she would doodle – her doodles were also perfect, but the font looked completely different! With my inability to perfect my handwriting alone, how could I match up to these perfect multi-fonted capabilities that people evidently have? It blew my mind. I will admit, I did try harder and harder to mimic my friend’s handwriting – so much so that, in college, I looked at some notes I wrote and it didn’t look like I wrote them at all. I couldn’t tell if I was proud of that or if I was giving up on my own style – my own paper equivalent to my voice – so I let my handwriting get sloppy again. This time, my weird mix of cursive and print is all mine!

I, once again, let all of the handwriting stuff go to the back of my brain while I finished college and focused on getting a job. At this point, Instagram had released its post-a-video capability, and with that, I stumbled upon some of the most mesmerizing calligraphers recording themselves practice their craft: @seblester, @lhcalligraphy, @calligraphymasters (to name a few). This inspired me again, but not enough to fully commit to learning, as it definitely looks difficult and the tools they use are so specialized. I honestly still have never figured out how to work a pen with a nib and ink, and that’s the first tool they teach you to use in calligraphy.

When I got engaged, everything kind of snapped into focus money-wise, and that’s where my journey to hand lettering officially began.

I started by trying to follow online calligraphy tutorials. Though lovely and helpful, I just couldn’t follow the strokes, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to hold the special markers (baby steps) I bought. The problem that was the most evident was that my letters were definitely not the right size or proportion (spacing and sizing letters is still a challenge for me, not gonna lie). This inspired me to go out and get the specially-lined paper, and in doing that, I ran across a couple of Calligraphy-for-Dummies-esque books that were great for people starting to learn. These books, though inspirational, did less for my confidence than I thought they would. Calligraphy requires so many hours a day of practice. Plus you have to learn different fonts, and the practice starts all over for each one. I was okay at writing some of the letters on lined paper – with the markers – but it never felt natural or looked much like the book was showing, so I decided to turn to instagram to see if I could be reinspired or find someone with an easier book to follow – this led me to the beauty of hand lettering.

Here, you can see some of the practice pages included in the Chalk Full of Love hand lettering book

Hand lettering, I learned, was usually larger than calligraphy when you wrote (perfect), had tips and tricks for “cheating” on the letters, so you don’t always need the special pens (also perfect), and had a lot of fonts that looked a little more fluid, so when a mistake is made, it isn’t so obvious (so so perfect). We had our winner! I learned you can use anything from Crayola markers and Sharpies to specialty paint pens, and I was sold. Using a seemingly-normal writing utensil was very helpful in inspiring me to give it a try. I ordered the book written by Instagram artist and designer @chalkfulloflove, and I learned so quickly! A few of my other favorite Instagram artists are @handletteredtruth, @allshewrotenotes, and @junipercalligraphy. To be honest, there are so many out there, so just do like I do, and follow all of them, so your Instagram is just flooded in awe-inspiring pretty things.

I started hand lettering around Christmastime so a lot of my doodles are focused on the Holiday Season. I have also played around with writing names, “Thank you!”, and “Congratulations!” more than I care to admit. I also get a lot of practice inspiration from song lyrics (thank you, Adele).  I still have a long way to go with word and page spacing, I need to go back and re-learn capital letters with embellishments, and I need a lot more practice with longer quotes. I have yet to write anything longer than 5 words that looks like something I actually want to show people, but you’ve gotta keep trying to get better.

The brush pens I found that work really well for beginners and large-lettering are the Tombow Dual Brush Pens on light paper (I just bought a sketchbook from TJ Maxx), and I really like the Zadaro metallic brush pens for dark paper. As for smaller lettering, I’m definitely still learning how to make my writing look less messy, and, as always, more consistent. My favorite pens so far for that have been the Tombow Fudenosuke (Hard/Soft) pens. Note: I’m definitely not paid to advertise for these brands, and I wish I had been sent the lovely tools for free, but alas, this blog is only two months old, and I pay full price for all my products. I’m just sharing the links, because, as a beginner, I love it when people tell me exactly what tools to use and where to buy them.

Hopefully this is a skill I can hone in on and use for some beautiful DIY wedding projects. Maybe some signs or some lettered crafts may be in my future. We’ll see. At this rate, I may not reach the point of hand lettering my own invitations (who actually has time for that?), but I can definitely write some pretty addresses on the envelopes.

If you have any suggestions for learning, project ideas, or any calligraphy/hand lettering projects of your own to share, feel free to share in the comments!

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