Learn hand lettering tips and tricks with David Sorrell's calligraphy technique in this easy thought process tutorial.
I’m really looking forward to walking you through the foundational steps of my lettering process! I began incorporating lettering into my design process (somewhat accidentally) in 2012, and it has brought me much personal joy as well as an immense amount of freedom in my design workflow.
While we all can jump right in and start drawing letters, there are a few things to understand about letter structure as we go from a perspective of utilitarian shapes of language to transforming these shapes into expressive, storytelling visuals.
Ever find yourself looking at “ghost signs”? Old, fading handpainted adverts painted on the side of seemingly historic brick buildings? Ever catch yourself envisioning the strokes of a lettering quill on storefront, handpainted signage? Or are you drooling over the lettering work you see in your social feeds? That is what inspiration is made of!
Observing the letters around you is crucial for style and skill development. Try drawing all sorts of letter styles to find out what you are personally drawn to and expect it to change and grow over time.
Here are a few of the basic points of letter structure that I use every time I lay out a lettering illustration.
- Baseline: The line which most of the letters sit
- Cap Line: The line designating uppercase letter height
- Mean Line: This line designates lowercase letter height
- X-Height: The total height of a lowercase letter, excluding ascenders and decenders
- Ascender & Descender: Part of the lowercase letter that goes above (ascender) or below (descender) the X-Height
Calligraphic Stroke Weight
Within my personal style, I find it incredibly important to have a fair understanding of stroke weights as it pertains to calligraphy and script style lettering. Calligraphy stroke weight charts can be found online and are an excellent resource, but if you are just getting started in lettering, here is a good basic rule of thumb. When you write letters in cursive, think of the strokes in which you pull the pencil toward you (down stroke) and the ones you push away from you (up stroke).
While there are always exceptions to the rules of creativity, keep this in mind.
- Down Stroke, thicker lines (heavier "Stoke Weight").
- Up Stroke, thinner lines (lighter "Stoke Weight").
Always be seeking inspiration! Curate your instagram feed for inspiration or open 300 inspiring browser tabs on Pinterest until your computer implodes! One of my absolute favorite resources for inspiration is Vintage Ad Browser. Plenty of fun old ads that will help generate ideas!
- Paper, whatever you have around you will work great (printer paper works well for smooth lines or a toothier, textured paper will give a gritty-grunge look to your letters)
- Copic Multiliner SP (0.2, 0.5, 0.7)
- Copic Classic Marker
- Kneaded Rubber Eraser (I prefer these kind of erasers because they don't leave debris behind, they don't smear or damage the paper
Step 1: Choose a Word
Try to pick something that has at least one Ascender or Descender. Or letters like R that have elements that you can pull to create interest. For this exercise, I have chosen the word, "Courageous".
Step 2: Boundary Lines
Lay out your boundary lines lightly with a pencil. Be sure the experiment with shape and angle. Maybe a circular curve, or a wavy upward slant. Start with your baseline, then establish your meanline. You now have your, x-height. This will give you a solid foundation to stick to.
Step 3: Cap Line and Descender Line
Sketch out your Cap Line and Descender Line. Note: your ascender line may be slightly above your capline, or it can be the same line.
Step 4: Add Vertical Lines
Add vertical lines to ensure your letters have the same vertical angle.
Step 5: Find the Center
If your word is longer, it may help to count out how many letters there are to find where the center of the work should land, and space out your letters accordingly. Go ahead and loosely and lightly sketch out the basic shape of each letter.
Step 6: Balance
Find letters that lend themselves well to embellishment and experiment with making them interact to create flow and balance.
Step 7: Details
Once you are pleased with the layout, touch up any final details in pencil before you begin inking.
Step 8: Inking
There are two ways I approach inking. Depending on final use, I may choose to use a Light Pad to trace over my pencil drawing, or I will ink directly on top of my sketch and erase the pencil marks after inking. Depending on the size of a lettering piece or how detailed I need it to be will help me decide which pen size is best, for this project I will be using Copic’s 0.5 Multiliner SP for the outline and I will be using a Classic Copic black marker to fill my letters.
Step 9: Erase
Erase your pencil lines. The Copic archival ink will hold up to the eraser.
Now you have your completed lettering piece! Hope you enjoyed this tutorial and can now look at letters a bit differently and be inspired by the thought process that goes into the different ways letters are combined to make amazing works of art.
Get other helpful tips by exploring the Copic Inspire Section!