Improve Your Lettering with a Pilot Parallel Pen

I have written about How to Use a Calligraphic Tool to Speed Up Your Lettering Process in a previous post, but in the past I used a brush pen to demonstrate. For this week’s newsletter, I want to talk about how you can improve your lettering with a Pilot Parallel Pen.

I made this piece of lettering using a Pilot Parallel Pen to guide the process. There is definitely room for refinement, but this piece is at least starting to shape up. In the following paragraphs, I want to share with you some of the process that went into creating this piece, and I also want to share some of the insights I found as a result from working in this way.

"Practicing calligraphy will equip you with a basic understanding of letter construction, and once you have that, you can start to have more fun with letters."

First and foremost, I want to stress the importance of practicing calligraphy in order to better understand lettering and typography. I'm not here to say that learning calligraphy is the only way to better understand lettering, but in my experience, it really helps. I think a good way to look at it is, practicing calligraphy will equip you with a basic understanding of letter construction, and once you have that, you can start to have more fun with letters.

When I first started learning lettering, I was inspired by the silky smooth curves and attention to detail I saw in the work of professional lettering artists, and I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know how to practice deliberately. If you are just starting to learn about lettering, or if you have been lettering for a while, I recommend studying calligraphy as a way to deliberately push your understanding of letters.

When you first begin, there is a great temptation to try to create something similar to what you are seeing professionals do online. The problem here lies in the fact that the professionals are seen as professional for a reason. They have a solid foundation and understanding of letter construction, and with this, they are able to create letters that have nuance. There is so much to learn, and every piece of lettering presents its own unique challenges. Over the years, I have come to realize that there is a plethora of approaches for creating custom lettering, and using a Pilot Parallel Pen to direct a lettering piece is a process with unique advantages. 

Create More Realistic Letters - Let the tool do the work  
By starting your lettering project with calligraphy, you take a few pieces out of the equation. One thing that happens is, the width of the pen nib ultimately determines the width of your thick and thin strokes. As long as you hold the pen at a consistent angle, the width of your lines will be consistent. This is a really powerful technique, because training your eye to distinguish between very small differences in weight is difficult. Once you have written the letters with the calligraphic tool, you will have a solid foundation of consistent strokes to begin your lettering process. Below I give a demonstration of me trying to draw a gothic letter "a" from memory using a skeleton and applying weight with the pencil, and then I demonstrate how you can write the letter "a" with the Pilot Parallel Pen, and then draw over it. The result shows that we can start our lettering process with letters derived from a calligraphic tool. And in doing so, we are able to draw more classically correct letter-forms.

The Power of Iterations - Embrace the Process
Something that I have to admit is, during the first few stages of a lettering piece, I will often times feel a strong sense of inadequacy. I think this feeling is brought on by high expectations I put on myself and my lettering work. 

"The thing is, every lettering piece is going to start out kind of crumby, and this is ok!"

Great examples of lettering may look as though they were created effortlessly, but the truth is, there were countless revisions and decisions made along the way during its creation that ultimately ended in the final and refined piece. The following animated GIF demonstrates how you can begin with basic letters written in a calligraphic hand, and then refine those letters into a custom piece of lettering. 

In the demonstration above, I started by writing the word "Modern" in a Humanist Calligraphic hand. The first attempt is labeled 1, and this first attempt was improper on a lot of levels. The strokes weren't consistently straight, and the spacing was all off. But on the other hand, even though the spacing and slope were off, I at least was able to begin with consistent stroke widths and correct letter sizes! 

After laying down the basic size and shapes of the letters and word, I was able to use lettering to slowly refine. I started by adjusting letter spacing, and then decided to explore opportunities to add swashes / flourishes.

You will notice that I switch between pencil and pen, and there is a reason for this. For instance, when I wanted to adjust the size of the swash coming off of the letter "M", I first drew the path in graphite. I then used the Pilot Parallel Pen to draw over the path to help me create a more realistic transition from the thick to the thin.

For the second to last iteration, I scanned my lettering, and brought it into photoshop to make some adjustments. After all of my revisions by hand, I still neglected the fact that my letters were not perfectly straight. So, on the computer, I was able to set up guides to manipulate my letters into a correct position.

After all of the digital corrections, I printed off the refined lettering piece, and drew over it one last time. This time, instead of using pencil or my Pilot Parallel Pen, I chose to use a Micron. This way, I could spend some quality time with the lines, to make sure they were drawn as exactly as I wanted them.