How To: Hand Lettering

I get asked often for advice about hand-lettering, so I thought I would share some of my answers here in case it could help anyone else. Lately I've been in a weird phase (maybe my return of Saturn?) of trying to figure out what I want to do with my life now that I'm in the field I want to be in. Of course, there will always be new things to learn, new positions to grow into, and new clients to work with – but I've been thinking a lot about what greater impact of my life & work. A big part of what I want to do is share and teach what I've experienced. Because I've always found nothing more reassuring than someone else saying "me too".

I've digressed greatly. Here's the how-to start on hand lettering.

If you're interested in hand lettering, it's crucial to have some type knowledge first. It's important to know about things like kerning, leading, sans serifs, serifs, ascenders, descenders, etc. You can google any of those terms and find a good webpage that gives you the basics on that (here, like this one). Here are some good books about type as well:

Books on Typography
1. Stop Stealing Sheep
2. Thinking With Type
3. Elements of Typographic Style

To get started, I would practice copying lettering pieces that you like. Analyze & try to identify the common thread between the pieces, if any. Copying them in your own hand will help you start seeing what your style looks like – and what you need to improve on. Do this just in your sketchbook, don't share it with anyone. It's okay to copy privately for practice, it's not okay to pass it off online as your own work.

Then practice lettering a new piece of your own in the style of a typeface you like. You can either find reference in books of vintage type (see below), or font websites like MyFonts. I created an account on MyFonts, which I used to create libraries of different families of fonts (serifs, san serifs, scripts) that I liked, so that I could reference it for projects. 

Typography Specimen & Reference Books
1. Custom Lettering of the 40s & 50s
2. Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s
3. Scripts

Here are a few key things to note:
– When lettering, it should feel like you're drawing and not like you're writing.
– Go slowly and really look at the piece as a drawing and not as words.
– Take a calligraphy class if you can.
 Modern lettering is rooted in calligraphy, and learning the rules of where thicks and thins need to be will help you a lot. Email me if you're in the LA area and would like the name of the calligraphy teacher I took classes with.

Finally, don't give up after a few tries. Like everything new, it will feel uncomfortable and awkward at first. You will want to give up, but that's the process of learning something new. You have to just keep practicing. Practice makes perfect.

Think of one of my favorite quotes by Jon Acuff, from his book Quitter :
"Hustle isn't just doing the things you love all the time. Hustle is doing the things you don't enjoy sometimes to earn the right to do the things you love."

Of course, all this advice is based on what I've done and what's worked for me. There are many ways to hand letter, so if you have tips or resources to share, please do so in the comments! Also, if you have any further questions on the topic – or about illustration in general, please feel free to ask.