Monday, March 7, 2016

Tips for Lettering with a Brush Pen

I've noticed a lot of beginning typographers have questions about how to create the look of calligraphy with brush pens. I do believe it is a learned skill--it takes practice to master it--but there are some tips that can help you get started.


For this example, I used the Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen Soft Brush (SB) in black. I wrote the letters on a Strathmore Mixed Media notebook. You can use any type of brush pen. I also highly recommend Tombow Duel Brush Pens (one end is a soft brush tip, the other end is smaller and firmer) as the brush tip is a little firmer than the Faber-Castell pen and can be easier to control.


The key to creating the appearance of calligraphy, with thick and thin lines, is using varied amounts of pressure. Apply little to no pressure on all upward/sideways strokes and heavier pressure on all downward strokes. Another way to think about it is in terms of the brush tip. Use the flat, long edge to create a thick stroke and the pointed tip to create a thin stroke.


In the above example, I used virtually no pressure to begin and end the letter "C." I simply rested the tip of the pen on the paper. As I arced over the top, I applied more pressure on the down-stroke, and ended with no pressure to complete the letter. The key is to switch up the pressure at the right moment to create the desired shape and style of the letter. This is the main difference between calligraphy with a brush pen and lettering with a standard pen in which you would use uniform pressure for all strokes.

I think the hardest aspect to learning brush lettering is mastering this concept of varied pressure. The best thing you can do is practice regularly, working through the alphabet or different words. Take the time to learn how much pressure you need to apply to achieve your desired down-stroke thickness. For some, a little pressure and a thinner line are best, while others (like me), prefer a thicker down-stroke.


The thin strokes are also what you will use to connect letters, as shown in the word "hi" above. As a visual guide, see the image below for which strokes have no pressure applied and which have heavy pressure applied. The double-line arrows represent the heavy down-strokes while the single-line arrows represent the no-pressure upward-moving strokes.


Most letters will begin with an opening light stroke, like the start of the "H" above. In my alphabet at the beginning of this post, the letters J, O, T, U, V, W, and Y are exceptions. Your lettering style will affect your starting strokes. If you start in a downward motion, you will start with a thick stroke. Any sideways or upward movement of the pen will be a light stroke.

In the letter H, the light stroke loops around and comes down in a heavy stroke, intersecting with the opening light stroke. From there, you will come back up with a light stroke and end downward with a heavy stroke. To transition into the letter "I," enter with a light stroke and come down with a heavy stroke, ending in a light upward tail.

As you are lettering, you may find it helpful to pick up the pen at transition points. The best times and points to do this are typically at the end of a thick down-stroke. You can lift the pen and continue with a light up-stroke to complete the letter or connect a new one. You can lift after a light stroke, but make sure it's at an ending point or at a place where you will begin another stroke. If you stop in the middle of a stroke, whether light or dark, it will cause your lines to look disjointed rather than smooth.

In the word above, I picked up the pen at the end of the first down-stroke in "H," and again at the start of the down-stroke in "I." The rest of the strokes were continuous. As you practice lettering words, you will begin to get a feel for when you should lift the pen and when to keep your strokes continuous. As with any form of typography, give yourself plenty of time to practice in order to master the still.

I share my typography on Instagram and Periscope @MrsEliseMance. Follow along for ideas, inspiration, and tips.

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