I’ve been brush lettering for years now, but I know it can be daunting to a beginner, so here are a few brush lettering tips to get you started!
Beginning Brush Lettering
When you’re new to brush lettering and full of excitement, you are ready to jump right in and begin. But once you put your brush pen to paper for the first time, you’ll realize that this is harder than it looks. Brush pens are hard to control, your hand isn’t doing the right movements, and it’s just not turning out like you hoped. This can be super frustrating. So how do you get past it? After lettering for many years now, I’ve come to realize that there are a few techniques that can help you overcome these obstacles and get to lettering the way you want. Here are my top brush lettering tips to get you on the road to lettering success and improve your lettering quickly.
Using Brush Pens for Lettering
Before I get into the techniques, I need to talk turkey about the pens. You can’t do brush lettering with any old pen – it must be a brush lettering pen (although you can create a faux lettering look with whatever you have on hand). There are a bunch of brush pens out on the market, but I started where lots of people start – the Tombow Dual Brush Pens. I like these because they are reasonably priced and come in enough colors to keep me busy for a while. I also love the fact that they don’t bleed through the paper of my Leuchtturm. There’s a little bit of ghosting, but it’s really quite subtle. That’s a huge plus for me.
These Tombows are a great first set, but there are tons of other options. Each pen has its own feel, personality, and abilities. You might be surprised which pen becomes your favorite. Here is a post to help you find the brush pens that are right for you.
Brush Lettering Tips
The first thing you need to know is that pressure changes everything in brush lettering. When you apply pressure at the right points, you can create a beautiful, flowing piece of lettering art. Brush pens make this possible with a single stroke. Since they have flexible nibs, you can create heavy and light lines in the same stroke to achieve this look.
A normal pen, however, can’t achieve line weight variation easily. If you go over your lettering again and manually thicken up the lines like in faux calligraphy, you can still create some line variation. But a brush pen, once you learn how to control it, can do it much faster and more intuitively.
Lettering that has no variation in line weight is called monoline lettering. This is a great type of hand lettering, but it isn’t what we’re trying to achieve in brush lettering. So you need to understand how to use pressure to your advantage while lettering.
The Ups and Downs
Ok, so you understand that you need to apply pressure in your lettering. But how do you know where to apply more pressure or less? Thankfully, there is one simple rule that will help you kick your lettering into the next gear.
Apply heavy pressure on downstrokes and light pressure on upstrokes. Downstrokes are the strokes that you pull the pen toward your body and upstrokes are, predictably, the strokes that you push up and away from yourself.
Practice the Rule
Now I will admit that this is easier said than done. Brush pens are very foreign and strange to write with at first. They might not always do what you want them to do because they are so different from anything else you’ve ever written with. But with time and practice, you will figure out your brush pens and know how to bend them to your will.
To apply the pressure rule to your lettering, you need to start thinking about upstrokes and downstrokes. We don’t usually think about the direction of our strokes — we just do them. But the next time you are writing, slow down and pay attention to where your strokes are going. Then try it with brush lettering and pay attention to the pressure.
The best way to get the hang of heavy downstrokes and light upstrokes is to practice slowly and deliberately. Drills like the ones I have for free in my Fox Den Resource Library are an excellent way to practice applying the pressure in the right places. Sign up here to get it now!
Here’s how you use it: download your worksheet and print it out. Then use a brush pen and slowly letter over the guides. Just once won’t do it — in fact, drills are perfect warmups before you sit down to letter anything.
Create a Clean Transition
As you’re practicing your upstrokes and downstrokes, it is important to try for a clean transition between two weights. This is a tough thing for newbies to learn, but it’s important to having a great lettering product. One of the tells of a new letterer is a sloppy transition between thick and thin. Make sure as you practice to go slowly and work on creating a clean break between the two strokes. It will be hard at first, but if you focus on this detail, you will grow your skill by leaps and bounds.
Play with the pressure
Once you start to get used to applying pressure in the right places, you’ll see huge improvements in your lettering. But there’s more to it! You can change the thickness of heavy downstrokes to completely change up the style of your lettering. You can make the weight difference small or gigantic for a totally different effect. Try playing around with the amount of pressure and see what kind of lettering you create!
Practice These Brush Lettering Tips
The world of brush lettering has a ton of techniques and tips to learn. But once you master this foundational set of brush lettering techniques, everything you make will look much more advanced. Focusing on these techniques might not be as glamorous as learning fun flourishes or shading, but getting these details ironed out will have a huge impact on the rest of your lettering skills. So practice, experiment, and work on these skills. I promise that if you throw yourself at mastering pressure, the rest of the lettering world will open up to you.
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