When I was a kid, my Mom did calligraphy for our local funeral home. That lovely little book nestled near the doorway, where those who’ve come to pay last respects sign their names? Yep, that’s the one.
I’d softly creep into her room, carefully trying to avoid the creaky wooden board, and I’d sit on the bed near her. She’d watch me warily to make sure I was settled, and she wouldn’t get joggled, and then she’d set to work again.
The whole process fascinated me… the little ink cartridges, the various nibs, and the way the lines went from thick to thin. It so much prettier than my handwriting, and it wasn’t long before I asked for a calligraphy set of my own.
I absolutely adored practicing with it, and it was even more fun than my mother’s calligraphy work, because I got to use colors! Funny thing about funeral books.. they only come in black writing.
Later, my love affair with calligraphy developed into an interest in dip pens. I read about dip pens, and sealing wax. I was charmed with the romantic nature of it all… especially since letter writing seemed to be a dying art. When my husband was in the military I sent him a few letters written in dip pen, and sealed with wax. It felt like something straight out a delicious adventure story… the handsome Airman, serving his country overseas, receiving letters from his wife, sealed from prying eyes.
But last year, I started digging into modern calligraphy and brush lettering. I even gave it a quick shot, and I was terrible. Of course, I was impatient, and did all the things wrong… I used whatever paper, a cheap brush pen I picked up somewhere, and I was sprawled out on my bed. But that’s not where I went the most awry… I didn’t bother to read up on how brush lettering was done.
I foolishly assumed I already had the gist from having seen it, and that I could just dive in. And because of that, my lettering was pretty bad. So I didn’t touch it again for months. But it kept nagging at me. This little piece of me was dying to really give it a try.
So at the end of 2016, I vowed that instead of flitting from one class to another, I’d choose 3 topics to really bear down on for 2017. I even created a secret Pinterest board and found as many of the classes, and books, and tutorials as I could. I chose lettering, watercolor, and doodling as my 3.
But most importantly, I promised that I would give those topics everything I had. I wouldn’t give up on the rough attempts. I wouldn’t assume I had no ability, and I wouldn’t give up on myself.
If, at the end of 2017, I didn’t like it… I would stop. But stopping, just because I wasn’t “amazing” wasn’t going to be good enough. Especially if I loved it… if you love something, you shouldn’t have to be good at it. Do it for the love, even if you suck.
So here we are. I haven’t played with doodling as much (so I’ll need to give it some serious love for the next couple of months), but I absolutely adore lettering and watercolor. And just think… if I adore doodling, I have potential to create some very unique and fun pieces!
So How Can YOU Get Started?
Firstly, promise yourself that it’s okay for the first tries to not be amazing. You weren’t born knowing how to walk, or speak, or read… don’t expect that first go-rounds of lettering will be anything you’d want to pop on Etsy. If they are, happy news! If they’re not, consider them what they are… a piece of the journey. A marker to look back on, and recognize just how far you’ve come. In fact, tuck it away somewhere and forget about it for 6 months.
Secondly, let’s start with the supplies you’ll need.
The good news is, that there are tons of options, and generally they’re budget friendly. I’m personally fond of the 6″ x 9.5″ sketchpad from Master’s Touch (Hobby Lobby), and the 9″ x 12″ Bristol Vellum* pad from Strathmore.
*It should be noted, that the Bristol must be smooth/vellum. When in doubt, feel it! It should be slippy. If it’s textured, avoid.
Other fantastic options include
- Index cards
- HP 32# Laser Paper
- Marker paper
- Hot press paper
It just needs to be heavy enough to handle whatever pen you choose, and smooth enough to not tear up the lovely felt tips. If you’re using an actual paint brush (including water brushes) you can get away with more texture to the paper.
*Links below are affiliate links, which means I get a teeny kickback. All proceeds are put towards global domination, and Netflix fees.
Tombow Fudenosuke (hard and soft)
These are what I started with, based on numerous recommendations, and they’re what I recommend starting with. As you can see, they’ve got one of the finest t tips, which also means it’s easier to control. Their cases are covered in kanji, but fear not… they’re color coded! Silver is the harder tip, gold is the softer tip. They create very similar writing, the gold is just slightly thicker on both the up and downstroke. Only comes in black.
Pentel Sign Pen
This is right around the same thickness as the soft Tombow fude, but it comes in 12 colors. Once you’ve got the hang of brush lettering down, this is a fun way to expand your color options, while staying in with an easier size tip.
*Quick tip – Because these are water based, you can create an easy ombre effect, by dipping them into liquid watercolors, and writing your word/phrase out. This goes for any of the water based inks, but your mileage will vary, dependent on the color of the pen, and the color of the ink.
PITT Artist Pen
I haven’t played with this as much as some of my other pens… I feel like these almost came frayed already, so they don’t create nice clean lines when I write. That having been said, I really love the shades of their greys.
Marvy LePlume II
These are fun to play with. I don’t think their color saturation is as well done as Tombow’s Dual Brush, but these are a pretty solid option. One of the fun things about these larger tips, is that on a lot of the colors, there’s an ombre effect created by the varying pressure of the pen… darker at the top, lighter at the bottom. Comes in 108 colors.
Tombow Dual Brush Pen
Let me give you the lowdown on these… they’re expensive. Especially if you want the big grandaddy package of 96. Which, by the way, is amazing. They run around $145 in the States. So if you’re drooling over these babies, and you’re not named Ellen Degeneres (and if you are, then hey girl!!! Let’s do lunch, I’ve got some friends who are dying to be on your show… and tell Gladys I said hi!) then stick ’em in your cart, or wish list, and stalk them. Every once in a while the stars align (and Mercury isn’t in retrograde) and you can snag them for about $20 less. Still not a huge bargain, but hey… anything helps right?
I’ll be real… I don’t use these very often. But every time I do, I wish I remembered them more often. They’re a good bit thicker than most of my pens, so I have to pay attention to what I try to use them on, but they feel delicious on paper. My personal favorite is to use them on black paper. They’re one of my few pens that I can use on dark paper, and baby they gleam! Comes in 6 colors.
Jane Davenport Mermaid Markers
I saw these things making waves with art journalists, but hadn’t picked up any to play with. As it happened, I had a bad experience with another brand of brush markers, and to make up for it, I was sent a whole box of goodies to play with, including these. I haven’t played with them for very long, but they’re filled with liquid watercolor. Fun right? AND when they’re empty, you can refill them. Uhhhh yes please! Don’t be fooled by the watercolor part… the color in these is very saturated. Comes in 12 colors.
Spectrum Noir Sparkle
I haven’t written much with these, but when I have, I don’t feel like the tip stays together as well as some of the other ones I’ve used. These have nylon bristles like the watercolor brushes do, but they don’t hold together as nicely as some brands. That having been said, they’re fun for adding a little sparkle to your writing.
And last, but certainly not least… the water brush. These delightful little numbers can be filled with water, and used with watercolors, or they can be filled with ink. Or liquid watercolor. Perfect for crossing the bridge between watercolors and brush lettering. They come in a variety of sizes, but I haven’t the faintest idea which one I used up there, because my kids ran off with the other 2, so I have nothing to compare with. 2 year olds love to run off with things. They’re like pack rats, except they don’t actually care if an item is shiny.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are many other great brands to try. But hopefully this gives you some ideas to start with, and a visual idea of what each one looks like when used.
So that’s all the supplies you need… but what to write? If I may, I have a teeny tiny idea!
For the month of September, I’m hosting a lettering challenge. Here’s how it’ll work!
Each day I’ll be on Facebook Live, demonstrating that days prompts. I’ll also pop a video onto Instagram. You’re more than welcome to join the challenge on Facebook, or Instagram, whichever you feel most comfortable with.
If you join on Facebook, simply drop your lettering in the comments below that day’s Live. If you join on Instagram, post it to your feed, and use the hashtag #mitmletters, and tag me @amandasuehowell.
If we get enough participants, at the end of each day I’ll round up a few of my favorites from that days posts, and share them on my Instagram.
Want an even bigger challenge?
If you really enjoy a challenge, there’s a sister challenge to this one. Neesha of Paper Wand is hosting a 30 day watercolor challenge. Each day she’ll be teaching how to paint one element (leaf, flower, etc.), leading up to the final challenge?
The final countdown (errrrr challenge)
Yes, I went there. 80s music is awesome, and I ain’t ashamed.
For the final challenge, Neesha will be teaching how to create a watercolor wreath using the elements you’ve been learning all month. Then she’ll turn it over to me, and I’ll teach you how to put lettering INSIDE of the wreath.
She’s making this super approachable, and she’ll be using inexpensive pan watercolors for the challenge, so anyone can join. 🙂
But I don’t want to watercolor/I already know how to watercolor
No problemo. You’re more than welcome to bow out, or participate… totally optional. If we get to the final challenge, and you don’t want to watercolor, just hang out with us, supporting the ladies who are watercoloring, and then learn how to letter the final phrase that will be inside of our wreaths.
I hope this has been super helpful, and if you have ANY questions please don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below. 🙂