Hello! In this week's newsletter, I want to write about the power of observation. I will give you two solid tips about what to practice in order to improve your lettering skills, and an invaluable concept about how to practice. In the first few years of my higher education, I learned in my drawing classes that we should learn to draw what we see, and not what we know. By drawing what we see, we are using the art of observation to guide our hand in the creation of the marks on the page. Below are two ways we can use our observational skills to improve our lettering.
1. Study Calligraphy - We can acquire a better understanding of fundamental letter construction through the practice of calligraphy.
In order to create a successful piece of lettering, it is important to base our letter construction off of a pre-existing alphabet. We can style the letters how ever we choose, but we must first build a strong foundation by leaning on examples of effective letter construction that has already been developed over the history of the written word. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book The Art of Calligraphy: A practical guide to the skills and techniques, written by David Harris. Below is an example of a lowercase letter "a" from an Italic hand scanned from the book.
This book is an illustrated guide that demonstrates the history of the western Latin alphabet. It is an exceptional resource because not only does it provide us with a wide array of scripts, it provides us with stroke-by-stroke demonstrations of each letter construction. I think one of the best ways to wrap our heads around proper letter construction is by getting our hands dirty (with ink) and practicing the rhythm and motion of each letter. Also, by learning a few different calligraphic hands, we can dramatically improve our understanding of what constitutes a structurally sound letterform.
Even a relatively basic understanding of calligraphic tools and techniques can aid us in the direction of our lettering. By studying different calligraphic styles, and the tools that are used to create them, we will more easily be able to grasp why letters look the way they do. In his book entitled Script Lettering for Artists, lettering artist and author Tommy Thompson writes, “...the character of the pen has formed the character of the letter.”. The key takeaway here, is that the study of calligraphy will give us the knowledge we need to more confidently execute our ideas. In a sense, it will demystify why and how letters look the way they do.
Learning a new style of calligraphy will help you learn other styles. Once you start practicing a few different calligraphic hands, you will start to see more and more relationships between the basic construction of each letter. I have noticed that practicing Italics with a flat pen, has actually improved my understanding of script lettering using a pointed tip brush. Below I hope to demonstrate some similarities between an Italic flat pen and script brush pen style.
2. Deliberately practice your drawing skills
During a lettering workshop I took at the Cooper Union in New York City, the instructor, Ken Barber said “If you improve your drawing skills, you will become a better designer”. This statement has stuck with me, and it is something I also find to be true.
Another way to improve your lettering skills is to draw an entire alphabet from A to Z. For this exercise, I will refer your to a lettering practice worksheet put together by the very talented lettering artist and entrepreneur, Ian Barnard. He has put together this worksheet for us and is offering it as a freebie on his website. He also offers an array of great products that can help you design in photoshop and illustrator, so while you’re on his company site, make sure to check out everything he has to offer! Below is a snapshot of the first few letters of his worksheet.
In this worksheet, Ian has outlined the steps we need to take in order to draw each letter. He recommends practicing with a fine tip sharpie marker.
3. The golden ticket: How to Practice
This is something that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked! Now that you have the above suggestions of what to practice, now you need to know how to practice.
It’s important to take your time with each letter to make sure you are fully understanding its proper construction. The method that I use when learning a new style is basically trial and error, but there is an incredibly important part of the process that should be recognized. Instead of passively attempting to recreate a letter, realizing it’s wrong and then right away trying again, make sure to stop after your first attempt so you can analyze what you have done. When you stop and analyze, ask yourself: How does what I’ve drawn look in comparison to the letter I am referencing? The next vital question to ask yourself is: What can I do differently next time, in order to improve my interpretation of the letter? Once you have decided what needs to be done differently in order to progress, only then should you try to draw the letter again.
Notice that after drawing the first letter “A”, I analyzed what I had done, looked back at my reference, and realized that I drew the bottom most right serif too large. I then actually wrote a little note, calling out that the serif was drawn too large. In my next attempt, I paid closer attention to make sure I didn't overdue the serifs.
In the example of the letter “C”, my first attempt was a little too condensed. So, I called out a note that I wanted to make sure to draw the curve with a broader arc. Drawing the round curve is definitely a challenge, and I admit that it’s something I need to continue practicing!