Brush Lettering 101

BrushLettering101

Guess what? You don’t have to pay money to attend a brush-lettering class to attain Pinterest-worthy lettering styles!

*cue clapping in the distance*

Okay, but seriously, a common misconception some people have is that taking a lettering class is essential in order to properly master brush-lettering. That’s a partial truth, but you can learn brush-lettering without taking a professional class. How do I know? That’s precisely how I learnt how to letter — with the help of the wonderful interwebs and the glorious programme known as YouTube, along with a handful of posts and Pinterest boards sourced from the net too. Today, I’m going to be typing out everything I can in order to help you on your brush-lettering journey, so good luck and have fun!

Step One: Start Simple

I know friends of mine who immediately started out lettering with a brush, and were quickly disheartened because they were unsure of how to control the flexible brush tip. (Don’t worry, I’ve been there, done that.) To begin your journey, start with a pencil. Google pictures of lettering, and just copy the letters. Take note of how each letter swirls up and down, and just ingrain it tightly into your brain. We’re going back to basics, because a strong foundation is very important in order to build up!

I wrote this without doubling back (colouring over the letter to make the downstrokes thicker) which goes to show you pencils are a brush pen in their own right! ;)

I wrote this without doubling back (colouring over the letter to make the downstrokes thicker) which goes to show you pencils are a brush pen in their own right! 😉 Even though the downstrokes aren’t that thick, I think pencils are fun to work with.

For pencils, one thing I recommend is firstly lettering normally, then filling in the downstrokes manually in a technique known as faux calligraphyProfessional calligraphy artists still do this when a brush isn’t applicable (for example, on a window or glass surface), and it looks the same. Another method you could try is going light on the pencil on your upstrokes, then harder on your downstrokes, but I recommend this only after you’ve begun to shape your letters slowly but surely. Also, kind of copy the letters you see, but also allow your own lettering style to seep through. It will come naturally. Let your handwriting mix with your lettering. It will come together to form this magical, whimsical blend of lettering that is unique to you and you alone. Sure, it may look similar to others’, but there’s always a signature touch that screams you! It might be the way you swirl your ‘y’s, or the way you swoop your ‘h’s’ upwwards, but there’s always a flair of something that is special to only you in the way you shape your letters, just like how everyone’s handwriting is so beautifully different.

Step Two: Simple Brushes

Once you have a brief idea of how you want your style to look like, it’s time to start the fun part: sourcing for brush pens! (Do you hear that — that’s the sound of me squealing excitedly in the distance because I flipping love shopping for brush pens!!) I’m gonna put a list of some brush pens I recommend for beginners because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did on my lettering journey: buying a crappy, terrible brush pen that squeaked like a mouse everytime I did an upstroke. One of the worst ways you can possibly kickstart your lettering journey is starting out with a brush pen that is either too flexible, or one that is too un-flexible, or worse — one that resists everything you do — that’s the worst lot of the bunch.

Here are the rough range of colours I have with these pens! Each of their respective names are written. Reference back to this from below if needed. (I just realize I wrote them kinda according to size!)

Here are the rough range of colours I have with these pens! Each of their respective names are written. Reference back to this from below if needed. (I just realize I wrote them kinda according to size!)

TOp 5 BRUSH PENS I RECOMMEND (From ULTRA beginner to expert Level)
  • Zebra Super Fine Disposable Brush Pen (blue body)
  • Level: Ultra Beginner
  • Price: $2.00
  • Where to get it: I managed to source out this pen from Daiso and was totally ecstatic when I did! (I seriously think the Daiso workers there were judging me in the aisle where I was triumphantly grinning to myself as I clutched the brush pen eagerly…Oops.) Daiso also sells other versions of this pen with different-coloured bodies, but don’t be fooled — those other brush pens have nibs of different sizes, and I haven’t tried them, but I can definitely vouch for the Super Fine pen.
  • Pros: The nib is a very good choice for beginners — being a superfine nib, it’s pretty firm but has enough give for variety in line thickness. Also, the pen’s body is pretty thin, making it easy to slide into pencilcases or even pockets deep enough for lettering on the go. The ink is a nice black that I’m quite fond of as well.
  • Cons: I’m kinda sad about the fact that they’re disposable…#savetheearth But my only complaint is that the nib can be too firm if you’re moving from beginner status to immediate level. The ink also hasn’t run out on me yet, and I bought this in January, which is a plus…but then again I haven’t used this pen much since the too-firm nib (personally speaking) puts me off, so I’m not really a fair judge of the ink level. But I highly recommend it for beginners because the nib is pretty tough!
  • Overall: 7/10
ZebraSuperFineDisposable

The Zebra Super Fine has a noticeably blue plastic body with glitter embedded in the plastic.

  • Pentel Sign Fude Touch
  • Level: Beginner
  • Price: Ranges from where you live; approximately $2-$4
  • Where to get it: You can find it in some Japanese shops scattered in Singapore, like Tokyo Hands or those obscure, nameless ones — try Takashimaya if you live in SG! Worst-case-scenario, buy it from JetPens or Amazon.
  • Pros: It has a wonderful nib that works well with beginners: flexible, but not too much. Also, I personally love the fact that they come in a stunning array of 12 vibrant colours! And the sparkly body is always a plus.
  • Cons: Virtually none. I just wish they were more common where I live — for $2.10 apiece, they’re a flipping steal!
  • Overall: 10/10
IMG_0389

Pentel Fude Sign Pen (Brush) From left to right: Yellow Ochre, Purple/Indigo, Black, Red, Sky/Light Blue, Pink, Gray

  • Zig Fudebiyori Metallic Brush Pen
  • Level: Beginner-Amateur
  • Price: Roughly $2.50
  • Where to get it: Almost every Popular that exists in Singapore sells this pen, but I’m not too sure for places outside of Singapore. You can try searching JetPens because they sell virtually every pen that exists!
  • Pros: The ink is a gorgeous metallic shade that looks majestic on darker-coloured paper. Heck yeah, sign me up! The brush nib is also good for beginners, but beware, because it’s slightly more flexible than the Fude Touch.
  • Cons: The nib frays way too easily. Holy cheese — after around 10 uses, the nib was already fraying. What even? Also, the ink runs out really quickly if you letter on a regular basis, which I do.
As far as I know, I've come across these pens in gold and silver — and they make for one power duo of brush pens. ;)

As far as I know, I’ve come across these pens in gold and silver — and they make for one power duo of brush pens. 😉

  • Pentel Aquash – Fine
  • Level: Amateur-Intermediate
  • Price: $4.00
  • Where to get it: I managed to find this easily in Art Friend.
  • Pros: This pen is so versatile — you can either put water in the hollow canister and use it to watercolour letter, or fill it with ink like a brush pen you’d find in stores! The brush tip is also pretty good for brush-letterers who’ve moved out of the beginner range and are now venturing into deeper waters.
  • Cons: If your ink is too thick, it will come out of the pen in sporadic bursts that can make your lettering look blotchy and irregular. Also, I’ve noticed that my ink is so thick that on some occasions, it won’t even come out of the pen at all, even with squeezing.
  • Overall: 8/10
My Pentel Aquash brushes have mysteriously disappeared in my house...I think they're in a corner of my room which I desperately need to clean. D: Pic credits to JetPens.com!

My Pentel Aquash brushes have mysteriously disappeared in my house…I think they’re in a corner of my room which I desperately need to clean. D: Pic credits to JetPens.com!

  • Kuretake No. 22 Brush Pen
  • Level: Amateur-Intermediate
  • Price: $8.00 (yes, my wallet was sad too)
  • Where to get it: Art Friend is one of my go-to sources for brush pens, so I was delighted when I found this.
  • Pros: It’s a nice inky black and the brush nib is pretty flexible, which really challenges you to push your boundaries and practice more with it. Also, the ink cartridge has lasted me from November till now (although I think it’s beginning to run out), so there’s that!
  • Cons: I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I got with this pen — towards the start of this year, sometimes the ink wouldn’t even come out of the pen at all, and when I squeezed the cartridge it would come out in one massive glob. Also, if you’re not too good at controlling nibs yet, I recommend sticking to the Aquash because that’s slightly firmer, or keep practicing, because this definitely got me slightly annoyed when I wasn’t ready for such a flexible nib yet. Despite these shortcomings, however, I still recommend this pen because it was the one that tided me over during my jump from amateur brush-letterer to intermediate brush-letterer!
  • Overall: 7/10

Some of the writing has smudged/faded off, but you can pretty much make out what it says.

IMG_0390

Some of the writing has smudged/faded off, but you can pretty much make out what it says.

OTHERS:

I’ve heard some of my other calligra-friends recommend pens like the Zig Brushables, the Pentel Colour Brush, and even Copic markers. Ultimately, what brush pen you choose to buy is up to you, and if it’s open stock, by all means, test out the nib to see what fits your needs!

Step Three: Observe Some More!

Once you’ve gotten the hang of your brush pen, go back to rewatching all those calligraphy videos you previously looked up. Observe how the brush moves and dips on the paper; observe how it flexes and bends; observes how it forms the letter. That’s how I learnt to shape my letters with a brush. Watching people letter is the best way to learn. Pictures and all are perfectly fine and dandy, but personally, I feel videos are the best way to go. Another tip I recommend is to make something I like to call an alphabet swatch. Basically, what it is is a whole pageful of nothing but your letters and numbers. Write all twenty-six letters of the alphabet and all 10 number symbols, from A to Z, from one to zero, and include other symbols if you like! I also highly recommend including uppercase letters since I find them exceptionally hard to write.

Step Four: Keep Practicing, Keep Growing!

At last, you’ve finally progressed from pencil to brush, from beginner to expert, and you can now begin to wonderfully display your amazing skills with grace!  But don’t forget your journey is never over — your letters will change with time. Don’t freak out if this happens — it happened to me too. In fact, I was just re-reading my old posts about calligraphy and was snickering to myself about how much my lettering had changed. I write my letters slightly differently now and some of my friends have noticed this, so don’t worry if it happens to you — it’s all part of this journey. Never forget that you’ll never stop growing and learning as a hand-letterer, and hey — you’re now an artist, because calligraphy is art. Welcome to the club, my friend!

That’s all for today, and I’m pretty proud of myself for writing a post after a two-month long hiatus. I’ll see you all soon! Hope you have a great week ahead.

<3, hannah

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3 thoughts on “Brush Lettering 101

  1. roxanne says:

    hah, and you say my lettering is good. pssh, i’m so darn jelly of yours!! stop being so amazing pls (just kidding HAHA keep doing what you’re doing because it’s rly gr8) 😀
    xx, roxanne

    Like

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