What is hand lettering, anyway?

It is true that I have read before about hand lettering – the art of drawing letters. I figured it’s a new trend in design because many illustrators and designers I regularly stalk online are already mastering this skill (Pretty Unexpected, Oana Befort). Despite all the attention it receives, I never researched deeper to see exactly what hand lettering truly means. Until one Saturday morning, about two or three weeks ago.

My perfect Saturday morning, or the day I tried hand lettering for the first time

My perfect Saturday morning, or the day I tried hand lettering for the first time

In an era of blogs and e-readers, I still read magazines. Plenty of them. Fashion, interior design, lifestyle, travel and other inspirational topics. On a regular Friday evening, not long time ago, I was “fishing” for something new at the bookstore. Even though the task was very difficult, I returned home happy with my new acquisitions: No2/15 of “Living at home” and No7 of “Flow Magazine“.

So the next morning, a wonderful sunny Saturday, I’ve spend my coffee time reading through creative lectures, until I discovered that Flows Magazine article about hand lettering being trendy again came with an extra hand lettering exercise booklet. Oh the joy! I had to try it out. Not tomorrow, not in a month, that precise day. So I took advantage of the sun and went out to buy the necessary tools for my new project: B2 pencil, eraser, fine liner, brush pen, and a brand new dotted Moleskine. I choose StaedtlerFaber Castell and Edding because I have worked with them before and I was happy with the quality. I know that many artists use Pigma Micron pens by Sakura, but I haven’t found them yet.

The pens I used

The pens I used

The article in Flow is nicely written because it’s mainly build on interviews with different illustrators, but it’s approaching the topic from a rather shallow perspective. So I had to turn once again to the good, old internet for some deeper understanding on what hand lettering is and what are the main differences to calligraphy and typography, as all of them are strongly interwoven concepts. This is how I fond Joseph Alessio’ s article for smashingmagazine.com where he explains these differences with a historical twist. Shortly, lettering (the art of drawing letters) and calligraphy (the art of writing letters) can be traced back to the stone age and roman inscriptions, along with engraving. Typography (the skill of setting type when it eventually goes to press) was revolutionized around 1439, when Johannes Gutenberg built his printing press.

Good, I was now equipped with the basic theoretical information my brain needed before venturing into unknown terrain. So I started drawing carefully, following the instructions offered by the dutch designer Deborah Van Der Schaaf in the exercise booklet.

I started drawing simple letters using a basic grid: base line, height of small and capital letters, distance between letters. I continued with free drawing a type style created by Elena Proskurova (seen in the word “BAR”) and with sketching some basic fill-in elements.


And then things started to get complicated 🙂 A series of different ways to draw the word “rain” was presented, alongside with objects related to this word, and I was requested to do the same using the word “flowers”. After this exercise was done, the reader was encouraged to draw Rumi’s quote “raise your words, not your voice/ it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder”. This is what came out.


One might think it’s easy. It’s not. It is quite difficult to draw the letters as you imagine them, keeping their height and width proportional. But it sure is fun to try! If you decide to try it out, don’t get discouraged if the first letters won’t look perfect, you will get better as you practise (at least this is what others say). Anyway, I took the guidelines the booklet offered to draw one of my favourite motivational quotes: “Whatever can be imagined, can be realized”.

Done after only two hours of playing with hand lettering

Done after only two hours of playing with hand lettering

Luckily, there are plenty of online free sources to learn more about hand lettering. Here is a short but useful tutorial explaining the step-by-step process by Made By Marzipan and a cool video for style inspiration by Leandro Senna. Enjoy!

This short encounter with hand lettering has left me with a sense of incompletion, so I know for sure that this is definitively a topic I would like to explore more.

Until next time, dare to play with your ideas!

Yours truly,