Chase Turberville

A Beginner’s Guide to Brush Lettering: Part 1

Alright, so say you’re into this thing called brush lettering. You see it all over the Pinterests and the dribbbles, and you’re thinking, “How the hell do I get that texture or stroke?” “Surely, these guys aren’t pulling this off with just Sharpies and Crayolas?” (Hint - they might.) Well, let’s batten down the hatches and get real with building a proper brush lettering arsenal that fits your lettering style, and get dirty with some basic brush strokes.

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HOLD UP: This is intended for people looking to start brush lettering. We could get into some very expensive sable brushes that are super fancy and make awesome strokes. But, we’ll start slow and recommend some really inexpensive options to get your feet wet.

In part one, we’ll go through some basic tools and some initial brush techniques. Later in the series, we’ll focus on refining the letterforms, in addition to putting some bezier curves to these things to make a final vector piece of lettering. But, let’s be honest, that final piece of penciled lettering looks SOOOOOO much better than vector. But whateves.

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So, the essential three-ish things you’ll need to start out will be:

Pencil/Lead Holder + Lead + Pointer + Eraser

This is where loyalties go to die. I’ve spent almost my entire life using cheap Bic mechanical pencils. They worked fine for their time, and if you still use them, no worries—they’ll do the job. But, just let me warn you that once you start to use a lead holder, start prepping that bag of Bics for the trash heap. The lead holder is superior in every way and highly recommended. It gives you tighter lines, better accuracy, plus the damn thing just looks cool.

Ruler

Pretty self explanatory. We need this for constructing straight lines on our guidelines. It is a must for making consistent pieces of lettering.

Vellum/Tracing Paper

I prefer Staedtler 25% Rag Vellum due to it’s super slick surface and it’s ability to take ink really well. Tracing paper has a bit too much grit (or tooth as the paper folks will tell you). But, if you need that texture, by all means, go tracing paper.

Brush Marker

The Tombow Dual Brush pen is my weapon of choice and a great tool for beginners. It has a stiffer nib and thinner in brush weight than it’s older brother, Copic Sketch. But again, this is all aesthetics. Go with your gut and pick something that matches the style you are trying to achieve.

Some other fun brushes to work with: Pentel Brush Pens, Sharpies, Micron Pens, Parallel Pens, Paint Pens. Each have their own unique characteristics and are fun to play around with.

Building out your Guidelines

One thing that is going to help with visual consistency across your brush script is making a guideline for your letter angles. Using your vellum or tracing paper, create a baseline and x-height for reference. Next, choose an angle that is comfortable for the eye to read.

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NOTE: The more extreme the angle the less legible your letterforms are going to become. Make your angled lines about an inch apart from one another so you’ll have a reference line pretty often. Place this piece of paper under the vellum you intend to letter on top of so you can continue to re-use it over and over.

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Basic Strokes

There are a couple of basic strokes that you can learn to get the ball rolling. Above all, brush lettering is about muscle memory. The more you get your hand comfortable making these strokes, the more consistent you’ll draw quality letterforms. I also preach that a faster and frequent stroke usually looks more natural than a slow and steady stroke. We can fine tune in a later process. Right now it’s about pumping out as many versions as you can to get that perfect (or near perfect) letterform.

SLANTED STROKE

For your initial run at this, it’s important to make a consistent pull of the brush nib from top to bottom. Plant the nib on the paper and pull down with consistent pressure to the desired length of the stroke.

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UPSTROKE

On the way up, your hand position changes, and you lessen the pressure you put on the brush tip. This creates contrast and makes the transitions between letters easy to distinguish.

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CURVED STROKE

The curved stroke is a sly mistress. Whether it’s the left bowl of the lowercase A, or that mischevious P bowl stroke. These don’t get old and it’s fun messing around with the sizes of these in relation to the other letterforms that come before or after.

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S STROKE

S’s can be the bane of your existence in any letter-building exercise, and it’s no different here. I’m not gonna lie, this one takes crazy amounts of practice to master. I tend to think the faster you come at this with frequency, the more natural and successful it’ll be.

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DESCENDER STROKE

Not quite as tricky as the S stroke, but this one can cause some headaches at first. But when you’ve reached mayor status, you’ll be able to sling this sucker all over the place to make swishes and swashes galore.

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Put those all together and you got yourself a good foundation to build most lowercase letterforms.

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And there it is! A quick introduction to brush lettering to get you going. We’ll be coming back atcha in Part Deux with some advanced brush techniques, and how to make refinements and start to nail down that final piece of lettering to show mom, significant other, or pet cat. Believe me, they’re going to love it.


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