Hand Lettering_2nd encounter

I love holidays in fall, especially end of October – beginning November, around my birthday. This year we visited Lisbon and Porto in Portugal. The weather was amazing, and we discovered little treasures along the way.

One of these treasures is the impressive Lello bookstore in Porto. Here is where I found “In Progress”, the book about the design process of well known letterer and illustrator Jessica Hische. I had a reason for my second encounter with hand lettering (read about me falling in love with hand lettering here), and an idea for my next project.

lello book

The book is great for anyone interested in hand lettering and graphic design. The first half starts by describing the tools she uses, then goes through the creative process from sketch to vector, offers tips and things she learned along the way, all this while using comprehensive explanations, suitable for non-designers. The second part offers examples of her past projects, with briefs, sketches, evolution, and final work. Here a glimpse to the way the book is structured and the type of explanations it uses.

glipmseFor someone who is new to hand letting, I must say I could pick up some very useful tips that helped me a lot in making the project I am about to show you. Because I have no experience in Illustrator that would enable me to try out the vectoring tips Jessica offers (it’s on the list though), I limited my project to sketching. Here are the most important things I have learned from her book:

Tip 1: pick the phrase you would like to draw, and start by sketching several thumbnails. Decide how the arrangement and placement of each word would fit in the big picture, and what are the words you would like to emphasise.

Tip 2: after you pick your favourite thumbnail, you can start sketching by setting up the guidelines using a gridded or lined paper beneath your sketching paper. Depending on your thumbnail, mark the baseline, the x-height (the height of lowercase letters), and the cap height (the capital letters height).

Tip 3: choosing the lettering style – Jessica advises to choose a maximum of three lettering styles per sketch. Choose the more bold, big, interesting style for those words you want to stand out and draw viewers attention. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration in this regard – this is my lettering Pinterest board where I collect the styles I like.

Tip 4: sketch light, you will have to erase often as you go. Start by drawing the letters as simple as possible, using a single, thin line – this will help you determine the width of the letters, the cap and x-hight, and the proportion of the components. After you have the skeleton, you can start by adding serifs or any other decorations to the letters.

Tip 5: using the so called “pen logic” when drawing: thins are always used for upstrokes, and thicks for downstrokes.

Tip 6: Serifs evolve from entrance and exit strokes of letters in calligraphy. On lowercase letters, serifs on the ascenders (b, d, h, k, l) occur on the top left side only (the entrance stroke), and at the baseline, they can be both-sided (for l, for example), or occur on the bottom right (the exit stroke).

Jessica also writes about symmetry, crossbars, adding swatches and drop shades, as well as the overall boldness/weight and contrast.

Armed with all this knowledge and examples, I was ready to put them into practise. I choose the phrase “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello” and I started with my thumbnail sketches:

photo 1-1

After deciding on one (the lower right one, in this case), I quickly drew some letters style for the words I wanted to highlight, just to see how these would feel:

photo 2-1

I tried to apply all the tips Jessica explained in her book, and my final sketch looks like this (I used micron over pen, once I liked how everything looks like):

photo 3-1

Obviously, my hand is not yet used to the fine lines this sketch required, and the strokes are somewhat shaky where I haven’t used the ruler, but I am quite happy about how it turned out in the end. I can’t wait to start some online Illustrator courses and be able to vector the sketch and add some colour.

In the meantime, I finally have unlimited access to Skillshare classes (YAAAYYY!!!), and already enrolled for Lettering for Designers: One Drop Cap Letterform at a Time by Jessica Hische and for The First Steps of Hand-Lettering: Concept to Sketch (Lettering I) by Mary Kate McDevitt. Can’t wait to get started and show you the results.

Until next time, dare to play with your ideas!

Yours truly,



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