The Beginner’s Guide to Brush Lettering
Feeling a little intimidated by dip pen calligraphy? Or maybe your just want to try something new? Fake calligraphy is a great option, but as of late I’ve become a big fan of brush lettering. (Though I really do a sort of fake brush lettering with a felt-tip brush pen. Watercolor brush lettering will be up on the blog later.) Interested in learning along with me? Great!
Alright, friends. I have to admit that I like the brush pens I like and tend not to venture away from them. I may be biased (okay, I am biased), but I love my set of Tombow Dual Brush Pens. They’ve been touted by others as a great beginner brush pen, they’re fairly reasonable to buy, and easy to use. Plus, they can create some pretty cool effects like watercolor backgrounds and striped lettering. I also have recently been loving the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens (the hard tip and the soft tip), though the downside of these markers is that they only come in black. Though I will be showing you how I letter with the Tombow pen, this tutorial is applicable to all kinds of brush pens (plus, a lot transfers to watercolor brush lettering, too).
Stick around to the end for a cool blending technique video and hop over to Part II for even more brush lettering goodness.
Anatomy of a Brush Pen
At first glance a brush pen may look like a regular marker. Do not be fooled! Brush pens are specifically designed to act like a watercolor brush. Read: you can get hairline thin upstrokes and big-bellied, thick downstrokes. The nib (marker part) of a brush pen is cone-shaped with a thin point at the tip. The nib is flexible, with varying degrees of flexibility depending on the pen (or brush) that you choose.
The Tombow Dual Brush Pens have a fine tip on the other end for straight lines of writing.
The Basics of Brush Lettering
Brush lettering, much like dip pen calligraphy, relies on pressure. The bread and butter of brush pen lettering is the varying strokes: thick downstokes and thin upstrokes.
Note: Techniques for brush pen lettering vary. While this is what I’ve found works best for me and many others, do what works for you.
Holding Your Pen
Hold your pen like you would hold a regular pen or pencil. I found that I have more control over the pen by holding it close to the nib. Your angle will change as you write, but in general, hold your pen at about a 45 degree angle from the paper.
The video below goes into more detail about brush pens and how to use them:
Practicing the Basic Strokes
Just like in basic calligraphy, it’s advisable not to jump straight into writing letters. You need some time to get to know how your pen works. There are several basic strokes that are needed when writing the alphabet. These will form the skeleton of your lettering. Here are some basic strokes to practice:
Downstrokes: Whenever your pen moves in a downward motion on the paper.
When you are making downstrokes, increase your pressure. This should create a nice, thick line. The thickest downstrokes will be created with your pen at about a 45 degree angle from the paper.
Upstrokes: Whenever your pen moves in an upward motion on the paper.
When making upstrokes, decrease your pen pressure and write with the very tip of your marker. Often, I find when forming upstrokes my pen tends to move from a 45 degree angle to more perpendicular to the paper. I also hold my pen closer to the nib when making upstrokes. This tends to give a thinner line, but as I said, to each their own.
Downstrokes into Upstrokes
These will often be your connecting lines for your lettering, so it’s essential to practice. Transition from the downstroke to the upstroke by gradually decreasing your pressure. Start pulling up on your marker before the u-turn at the bottom of the stroke.
Upstrokes into Downstrokes
The upstroke into downstroke combination happens less often, but it’s worth practicing. Start transition to a thick line once you have made the u-turn at the top.
Your goal when making a circle is to have the left side of the shape thick and the right side thin. I generally start my circle at about 2:00 on the paper and make it going counterclockwise. Again, watch your transition from thick to thin and vice versa. You want to think about the transition before it happens.
If you’d like to see the basic strokes in action, check out this video:
Click on the image below to grab your free basic strokes worksheet:
To continue learning more about brush lettering, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Brush Lettering: Part II, which covers forming and connecting letters and trying new fonts.
If you’d like to add some flair to your brush lettering, learn how to blend colors with brush pens with a brush lettering bonus video. Want to practice forming and connecting words and experiment with fonts? Grab the brush lettering tracing worksheet below. Snag them both by entering your email below.
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