Committed to the Madness (Hand Lettering Part 2)

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So. One week later and the hand lettering obsession still shows no signs of slowing. Last week I talked mostly about my experiences with the brush pens, and realized when I got to about 1200 words that I had probably minimize the boredom infliction and split the non-brush-pen rambling into a separate post.

Real-Brush Pens

brush lettering tools

Hello my pretties! I wonder if I can get through the whole alphabet in different writing implements…

Golf and Hotel technically still count as brush pens, I’m aware. They, unlike the ones I talked about last week, have actual bristles. I think this gives them cause for distinction, as their behavior is significantly different than their felt-tipped brethren. Also, Hotel is about 2″ too long to fit in my pencil case, which is a minor stress in my life. I may be making a new pencil case…

Golf.) Pentel Pocket Brush Pen: A fun if slightly unruly addition to any brush pen collection

Hotel.) Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Brush Pen No. 22: A great tool with great line variation, good for large, expressive letters and strokes.

India.) Cotman #2 Round Watercolor brush with Black Gouache: More on this if you keep reading!

Juliet.) Straight Calligraphy handle with the Cretacolor Drawing nib. Great for detail work, and metal nibs are quite an experience! (more on this below as well!)

Watercolor Lettering

As I mentioned last week, I was very excited when I saw a post about using watercolors for lettering. I’m more of a gouache girl myself, but since the only difference between gouache and watercolor is the opacity, the techniques are identical. Use your favorite water-soluble pigment pallet and a smallish round brush, and you’ll be able to letter in a very similar fashion to that achievable with a brush pen. My brush is a Cotman #2 Round Watercolor brush, and as most watercolor brushes are, it’s very soft.

hand lettering with watercolor

I’m going to make everything rainbow and keep telling myself it’s not tacky- kay? kay.

I spent a fair bit of time learning how to use the brush: The consistency of the watercolor makes a difference in how the letter looks, and one of the most obvious differences as I mentioned, is how incredibly soft the brush is. For a head as small as this brush has (it’s the one at the far right in the photo above) the lines it can make are surprisingly thick. Don’t underestimate the power of a thin brush for impressive line variation.

hand lettering journal sketchbook page progress

…I need a bigger desk…



Jon made this watercolor book for my birthday last year! It’s leatherbound, it opens quite flat, and the watercolor paper inside is perfect for my needs.What he didn’t know at the time is that I have a crippling fear of ‘messing up’ very nice sketchbooks, so of course it took me over six months to work up the courage to paint something in it.

I love you to the moon and back hand lettering

This lettering was done with the same brush, and the wash with a larger flat brush.

For a first try, I’d say we went alright! I made an effort to try out a couple of lettering styles, which I think work quite well together.

If you’re looking to try brush lettering- regardless of whether you choose to go with a pen or a paintbrush, here’s a tip: There are two ways to draw a letter. You can either let the drawing tool determine the letter (your thin and thick areas, and the general flow) or you can carefully draw in the shape of your letter and control which areas you emphasize. The first, how I’ve been practicing with my brush pens, is great for consistency and as a hand-control exercise. The second is widely referred to on the internet as ‘fake calligraphy’ which I think is first of all a terrible name for a style of lettering, and also doesn’t truly illustrate its versatility.

Freehand Lettering

There. That’s a bit better, isn’t it. I would have opened with this style because you can do it with any pen you have available, and it’s extremely versatile-but with great freedom comes great responsibility. It’s very difficult to draw successful letterforms if you haven’t put the thought into their anatomy beforehand. If you’ve spent enough time on Pinterest studying other examples of lettering, or have a good idea of the look you’re after, freehand is a great way to start. If you’re newer to the party, trying a brush pen first isn’t a bad idea, because it forces you to think about the thick and thin areas of a letter.

how to draw freehand lettering

What can I say? I drew what I was thinking about…

The ‘rules’ are (more of guidelines, first of all) simple. Sketch your design, outline your line width variations in pencil, and fill it in! You can see each of the three steps illustrated in the photo above. You can use a normal pen, brush pen, or even a paintbrush! Go crazy. This is a good method to experiment with more unusual letterforms and decorations as well!

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even try filling your letterforms with something other than a solid color! Doodle art is pretty popular right now, and there are loads of possibilities there!

doodle art filled hand drawn letter

I’m very upset about this because by the time I realized what a good idea it would be to hide a word or image in the bubbles, it was already too late.


Metal-Nib Calligraphy

If freestylin’ isn’t really your thing, Calligraphy is a good alternative. Metal Nibs are a great exercise in calm, steady hand skills. It also has a very traditional background, although if you’re a rule breaking rebel (like me) you don’t have to follow them. I’ve started out with three different nibs.

calligraphy nib test example

Thirteen letters left in my phonetic alphabet!

Kilo.) The Cretacolor Drawing nib: also ‘Juliet” in the first photo. (so fourteen letters left if you exclude this little repetition)

Lima.) Hunt 512 Extra Fine Bowl nib: I’d use this one more for writing over a long period of time rather than depending on it for a lot of expression in a single word. It’s very stiff and fine, but its bowl holds a lot of ink.

Mike.) Hunt 101: Great expression in this one, it’s possibly my favorite, although you’ll have to refill frequently.

It’s very similar to the brush pen concept- light upstrokes, heavy downstrokes, and lots of practice.

India ink is a good place to start, and sumi ink is also good for dipping. If you’re interested in adding a pop of color, here’s a little gem of an idea: You can use calligraphy nibs with watercolor or Gouache pigments!

metallic calligraphy supercallifragilisticexpialidocious

Pro tip: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is Not. Worth. It. However, Metallic Gouache definitely is. Worth it, I mean. A very good use of $12.

I found a tutorial on The Postman’s Knock (A great resource if you’re looking to get more info on metal nib calligraphy). She mixes up her watercolor and uses a brush to paint it onto the nib. Not only does this mean you don’t have to buy calligraphy inks in every color of the rainbow, it also means you can…wait for it…mix colors! Gasp!

rainbow this way lies madness calligraphy lettered quote

Rainbow Madness is the Best Madness!

When you’re done drooling over the letters, Check.Out. That travelling watercolor set! I was inspired by the Altoids Container watercolor sets, but ended up finding a way better tin alternative! I’ll do a whole post about the making of this fella soon, I promise!

Here’s the trick: paint your nib with the first color, begin writing, refill your nib from the top of the bowl with the second color, continue writing, and watch as the colors magically mix before your eyes! Pro tip: Consider starting with primaries, otherwise your red blending to green is going to look like baby puke; and in the wise words of my Fibers professor, “Nobody likes baby puke.” Truer words.


Here we are! You’ve made it to the end of part two, which means I’ve successfully brought you over to the hand lettering dark side! Go forth, young grasshopper, and run wild with colors, brushes, and pens!

Next week I’ll most likely be taking a break from talking about lettering, but that’s only because I have a lot of other things to catch you up on!





2 thoughts on “Committed to the Madness (Hand Lettering Part 2)

    • Kat says:

      Thanks for the question! That’s the Hunt 512 Extra Fine Bowl nib with the Hunt straight nib holder. It’s also ‘Lima’ in the photo above the Supercali pic.

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