Basic Hand Lettering reference sheet

I woke up early today and thought I’d organise my ideas about basic hand lettering into a reference sheet, and this is what I’ve come up with.

The foundation of hand lettering, to my mind at least, is to practice, practice, practice drawing your basic letter shapes, both upper and lower case. Bullet journaling can be a good way to practice hand lettering and to try out variations in letter forms and styles. My current bullet journal is very functional and minimal, but I do use different letter styles in the headings for each day and collections and so on. Mind you, I could do with a lot more practice.

Notice is said your basic letter shapes, not my basic letter shapes The reason I say this is that the more I’ve struggled with my hand lettering and it not looking like other peoples, the more I’ve come to realise that it’s MY hand lettering, my style, that I need to work on.

Yes, I draw inspiration from other people’s work, but at the end of the day I’d like my hand lettering to be mind, with my ‘stamp’ on it, my uniqueness, my quirkiness, my imperfections.

I struggled with this idea in the early years of my artistic journey, and now I’ve realised I’m having the same struggle with my hand lettering.

Hand lettering is exactly that – done by hand, not by machine. If I want perfect letters, then I can use fonts on the computer. What I can’t have is perfect hand lettering as in perfect like a computer font. 

What I need to work on accepting is that my hand lettering is good enough, it’s human, it’s an expression of myself.

I spent a lot of time and effort in my teenage years to change my handwriting. I realised it looked a lot like my mothers. I didn’t want to be anything like my mother, even down to my handwriting, which actually is more like fast hand lettering as I really do draw each letter. I gave up joined-up cursive writing at this time too. My handwriting isn’t entirely print, some letters do get joined up.

I came up with my own style of writing that I like, mostly. It’s usually teeny-tiny too, so writing BIG is a problem for me.

Hand lettering is, for me, an extension of my own style of printing/drawing my letters.

This doesn’t sit all that well with me at this moment, but it feels more authentic to me.

I want to use my own letter shapes as the basis for my own hand lettering, along with all the imperfections that my bring. After all, it’s all the little imperfections in my drawings that make them uniquely mine, that make them human. Even when I draw digitally I make sure that there are imperfections in my work – the slightly wobbly lines, the imperfect circles and shapes and so on.

I am working on having the same kind of attitude towards hand lettering and stop thinking that mine has to be perfect like computer fonts, that it is just another way of artistic expression and perfectly imperfect.

Notice that I say this is about me and my attitude towards myself and my hand lettering. I’m not criticising anyone who has different opinions. I just know I can be incredibly hard on and brutally critical of myself.

It’s so easy in this day and age with so much available on social media that you compare yourself to others and judge yourself as seriously inferior or a failure. As my inner critic already believes that I am a failure and useless at anything I do and tells me this, it can be a lot harder for me to believe that what I create is good enough. I believe that about my drawings, I don’t believe that about my hand lettering, yet.

What I’d like to achieve is hand lettering that stands out as being ‘Angela Porter’ and for me to be comfortable with my hand lettering, not worrying that it’s nowhere near even good enough.

Hand Lettering Ideas

Today’s blog post is a different kind of one from me, and it’s a sheet that’s full of hand-lettering ideas. Ideas I can use in my BuJo or in illustrated quotes, greetings cards, note cards, dangle designs, monograms, and so on.

Earlier today – around 5 hours ago by my time here in the UK. I started to watch a video on YouTube by AmandaRachLee and I liked some of her ideas there.

So, I thought I’d create a reference sheet of ideas for hand-lettering to add to my arty reference folder/visual dictionary. This sheet is the result. I’ve numbered the ideas/variations that refer to the notes below.

I’m going to start, however, with the last examples first! I realised when I finished the sheet that I hadn’t included examples of my basic hand lettering.

42 – My lower case hand lettering showing how I like to make all the letters the same height. This gives a cute, whimsical feel to the lettering.
43 – My upper case hand lettering.
44 – Variations on how I sometimes form some of the letters, whether I do that as a conscious choice or not.
45 – My lower case cursive script. My cursive is my least favourite of my writing types.

All of the other examples on this sheet are based on this hand lettering.

What I’m coming to understand is that my hand lettering is uniquely me. I don’t want it to be like other peoples, though I do want to be able to vary the style to meet different needs. That means I need a bank of ideas of how I can do this to refer to.

So, onto notes about the ideas.

  1. Draw the letters with a broad pen. I used a Crayola Supertip pen. Next, I added thick black lines to the left and bottom areas of the letter to create a shadow.Look carefully at where the black lines have been added so you can see where the bottom and left areas of the letters are. My preference for shadows is always to the left and bottom; you could choose a different combination, such as to the right and top.
  2. This time I added lines to the left and bottom of the letter mirroring the shape of the letter. Look carefully at how this is done in the centre of these letters.
  3. I drew lines from the corners that extend to the left and angling downwards to create a box around the letter and coloured them in black. This gives a very heavy, graphic box-shadow to the letter.
  4. This shows how the lines form a box-shadow around a letter. Leaving the areas uncoloured gives a ‘lighter’ feel to the letter.
  5. I used a black pen to outline the letter. This really defines the letter. It also allows you to smooth out any imperfections in the letter drawn with the broad pen.
  6. This is just like version 2, but the  shadow lines have been doubled up. If you spread the letters out more you could add more repeats of the shadow lines.
  7. A variation on the box shadow where diagonal lines have been drawn without an outline for the box. This gives a lighter feel to the shadow. It’s not at all fussed on it, but I included it as it may be appropriate to use at some point.
  8. A box-shadow where lines are used to fill in the outline.
  9. Seriously heavy drop shadows here. You can even draw them without outlining the letters and let the negative space form the letters, as in the ABC example. You can also see how lines were drawn to form the box-shadows here.
  10. Choose a point above or below the letters. Draw lines to this point from the corners of the letters. It gives a great sense of dimension.
  11. I drew the letters with a broad pen. Then, I added black lines within the letter re-writing it. 
  12. Instead of solid black lines I used dashes and dots inside these letters. The dashed lines give a feeling of the letter having been ‘stitched’ onto the pate
  13. White lines instead of black, with the E having the white lines added as highlights to give the letter a sense of dimension. This would be increased somewhat if black lines were added to the left and bottom of the letter.
  14. White inside black; the inner lines really show up. White highlights on a black letter gives a sense of dimension.
  15. Black solid lines, dashed and dotted lines within the letters, as well as partial lines as highlights.
  16. More rounded letters with a shadow and highlights. These have a fun almost comic feel to them.
  17. Write the letters using a broad pen. Use a fine pen to draw a line around the shape formed by the word. This line could be in any colour you choose.
  18. Outline the letters in black gives a bolder feel to the lettering.
  19. Doubling or tripling up on the outline gives a different feel. There’s also opportunity to colour between the outlines or to add patterns there, or shadows.
  20. An example of cursive faux-brushpen hand lettering. This time, the outline has had a shadow added to it.
  21. Here, the letters have had a black outline added. Look at how the lines help to give the illusion of dimension to the letters.
  22. Draw outline letters then use a broad pen to write the letters again, but offset them.
  23. The outlines have been filled in. I prefer this one as it gives clarity.
  24. Instead of a solid outline usde a dashed line.
  25. Fake brush pen lettering. Write in cursive. Then, add an extra line where the downstrokes of the letters would be.
  26. You can leave the spaces in the fake brush pen lettering blank, or colour it, or fill it with black or even a pattern such as horizontal lines.
  27. Fake brush pen lettering doesn’t have to be cursive! Just thicken the downstrokes of any letter you write.
  28. Combining drop shadows with various ways of filling in the outline letters.
  29. Colouring in the outlines and adding lines, both solid, dotted and dashed gives different ‘feels’ to the letters.
  30. Add a bold box-shadow to the letter gives a great deal of weight to it.
  31. Drawing a smaller version of the letter inside it and adding texture again gives a different feel to the letter.
  32. Outline letters are perfect for adding colour or, in this case, patterns. The patterns can be simple lines to more complex ones. They can be dots, stars, hearts, leaves, flowers, anything that makes your creative heart sing! Shadows help add variety to the letters too and here you can see how the shadows ‘lift’ the letters.
  33. Serifs are the little lines placed at the end of lines forming the letters. The simplest way to achieve this is to hand-letter your simplest letters and then add lines. Using a broad coloured pen to write over these letters add interest.
  34. Serifed letters can have their downstrokes thickened too. The serifs can become triangular in shape too. Adding a drop shadow helps to lift the letter.
  35. Adding white dots inside the letters adds a different feel to the letters – much more whimsical and less serious than serif letters can be.
  36. You can add serifs to outline letters. This allows patterns to be added. I particularly like the F in this word.
  37. Hollow letters are perfect for adding colour and here are some simple examples of how to do that. Putting the darkest colour at the bottom adds weight and the letter feels more ‘stable’. 
  38. Ombre colour fills from bottom to top and also from one side to another. You could also do them diagonally.
  39. Sunburst lines have been added to the word. You could also add them all around the letter to make it feel like it’s popping or exploding.
  40. Wiggle lines added to make the word appear wiggly!
  41. Big, bold block letters with circles inside create a marquee letter.
  42. A bold, black letter with white lines drawn across give a different kind of graphic feel.
  43. Curlicues can be added to the letters at the start and end of words. They can also be added to letters with tails or the crossing of a t. 

That’s a lot of words! Believe it or not, it’s a lot easier to do hand lettering than to explain how to do it.

Of course, I could start a YouTube channel myself and show how I do this … I’m thinking about that. Either way, I hope my reference sheet and words give you some inspiration. I think I’ve managed to cram a lot into an A4 sheet of dot grid paper!

Would you like to see more like this? Let me know!