My first real hand lettering project has also been my longest running one – I began sketching out ideas years ago, never really feeling completely happy with what I came up with. Returning it to it this year with a bit more experience and knowledge under my belt, I was able to steer it in the right direction and get it to a point where I’m happy with it.

As a designer, calligrapher and hand lettering artist, I wanted a logo that showcased my skills as well as my personal style – artistic but bold and strong, fun but simple. With my forays into calligraphy over the past year I experimented with the best way to get these ideals across with the tools I have, eventually deciding on a bold brush script.

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I began by trying different variations of individual letters and the words as a whole, experimenting until I found a general shape and style that I was happy with. My first iterations were quite swirly and influenced by copperplate style calligraphy, but eventually I decided that looked a bit more frilly than the brand I wanted to project, and settled on a more casual lowercase formation with extended crossbars on the ‘t’s.

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After settling on a general shape and style, I repainted it many times with slight variations, looking for the optimal balance of letters, kerning and weights.

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From there I traced the best options in pencil, adjusting as I went, then filled in with black marker and looked for any other little details to change. This process was repeated many times, iterating until I reached a design that I felt happy to take into Illustrator to vectorise.

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Although I use Adobe Illustrator often to create illustrations and image-based logos, this is the first time I’ve used it to vectorise letters. Even a cleaned up ink drawing doesn’t translate exactly into perfect vector, and I wanted it to be as smooth and simplified as possible, so an automated image trace wasn’t going to do the trick. I spent a lot of time agonising over getting the anchors and curves so that they flowed exactly right, but learned a lot to make the process faster next time!

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You would think that that would be the end of it, but no – from here I printed out my vectored version, and stuck it up on my wall look at and think about over the next few days. Getting a bit of distance and seeing the result printed brings to light those extra tweaks needed that aren’t so obvious straight after working on it for hours. I went through this process of refining, printing and pondering a couple of times before finally being happy with the end result.

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The colour was a simple choice for me – one of my favourite colours, I think this bright tangerine is bold and feminine at the same time.

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The final step was to make business cards, which I began working on during a letterpress course at CIT. I used a 3D printer to create a custom plate (sitting on another printed block to reach ‘type high’, filled in little gaps with epoxy resin and hand printed up some samples as a proof of concept. The 3D printed plate worked surprisingly well, even with my amateur printmaking skills. I ran out of time in the class to add the gold debossed details to the bottom, but I’m toying with making my own simple proofing press or at least some stamps to create more cards.

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Sorry for the long-winded post – this is mostly for my own record, but I hope others find it useful!

I’ve been asked a few times how to get started in calligraphy. I’m still very much a beginner myself, with only a few months under my belt, but here is my story.

I wasn’t actually interested in calligraphy at first – I wanted to draw letter forms, and copperplate style calligraphy was one of many styles of lettering that I was interested in. I bought a few lettering books, one specifically on copperplate calligraphy, and began sketching out words using them as a reference. It didn’t take long for me to become interested in doing it the proper way, with a dip pen and ink rather than a pencil.

The book I worked from is Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-By-Step Manual by Eleanor Winters, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in beginning calligraphy – even if you want to write in a modern rather than traditional style. Winters doesn’t just break down each letter into strokes and common mistakes – there’s also essential information about the space between letters, how to lay out a composition, how to create guide sheets and all the little things that you wouldn’t think were necessary until you read them. I’d liken practicing calligraphy in a very stylised style to stylised drawings of people – if your aim is to draw very simple cartoon people, then maybe you don’t need to study human anatomy and how bodies move. But having that base knowledge will only inform your stylisation, and will mean you’re not rationalising bad design by saying “But that’s just my style!”.

My first page of calligraphy practice - not even letters!

My first page of calligraphy practice – not even letters!

That book helped me to slow down and not try to run before I could walk. Practicing for an hour every day (sadly I haven’t been able to keep up that level of vigilance), I spent a good couple of days just drawing the basic strokes. Yep, not even letters – just lines and curves, which eventually led into miniscules (the lowercase alphabet), uppercase, variations of both, and special characters. Then it was learning how to connect different letters and control the space between them so that words flow naturally – this involved writing out every miniscule letter connected to every other miniscule letter. Even the ones that don’t make sense connected together, just for the sake of completion and practice.

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Every letter connected to every other letter in the alphabet.

Since then it’s been practicing by writing phrases and words, and experimenting with different styles. I really enjoyed Molly Jacques’ Introduction to the Art of Modern Calligraphy class on Skillshare to try out a more modern style, and have started following other calligraphers and lettering artists on Instagram, where videos are amazingly useful. Sometimes without intending to, I absorb influences both from calligraphy and from type in general, and slowly my style is starting to deviate from the traditional copperplate style beginnings.

Here's where I am after nine months of practice

Here’s where I am after nine months of practice

I’ve been practicing for nine months now, at least a few hours a week, and I still feel like I’m barely brushing the surface. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more I realise I still have to learn – I compare myself to the amazing work I see from others and feel like I’ll never compare. But looking back at where I started, actually I think I have come a long way!

Calligraphy is nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with practice and perseverance. If you can write (even badly) and have oodles of patience, you can become good at calligraphy. If you don’t have those things, all the talent in the world will not help you. I have a bit of a head start from a background in drawing, design and typography, but really it’s the hard slog that makes all the difference.

I’ll be posting more calligraphy tips and answering some common questions I get, so if you want to know anything in particular please do let me know!

A new blog (because apparently the other one isn’t enough) – for my work with and thoughts on design, lettering, calligraphy and illustration.

We’ll see how it grows, but tentative plans include case studies, tips and resources, and sketches as well as completed works. Digital design is my bread and butter, but I’ve found a new love for letters and rekindled an old love of illustration, so I hope to share a variety of things here. Posts will be sporadic, but hopefully worth waiting for.

If you have any questions, requests or ideas, please feel free to get in touch.