The Writing’s on the wall…..The importance of lettering in a drawing

In the beginning

I have long been an admirer of elegant beautiful writing and lettering. When I started drawing very regularly, I didn’t make much of my writing. Over the years it had become scrawly and non-descript although I had originally been taught italic writing at school (yep, italic dip pen and ink, wooden desks, lines of letters, you get the picture). I realized that I wanted to be able to write more on my journal pages, but not in that scatchy sloppy writing.   Sometimes I want to just add a title, but it is is often a longer narrative, about the place, the people, the conversations.   The storytelling in words needed to become a part of the drawing and so I began thinking about my handwriting and about making my pages distinctive and attractive. I returned to practicing handwriting and to thinking about italic writing and how to use it more stylishly on my journal pages. In conjunction, I was interested in lettering such as that of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and by studying this and watching artists like Pat Southern-Pearce I started to develop my own combination. It has been evolving now for about a year or so. Here are some examples:


Those of you that are familiar with my drawing practice will now that reportage and storytelling is my thing. With that in mind, I am keen to further develop my writing, perhaps using different fonts to match the subject matter or to create different types of artwork. Therefore I have recently been involved with two types of session about creative lettering. Much of the detail and visuals below comes from the work I have been doing as part of those. This is the first blog I have written about lettering and approaches but no doubt there will be more as my approaches evolve.

Developing creative writing approaches.

It is hard to work in a vacuum. I often find that although I am reasonably self-directed, it is useful to have a start in some form. In my case, this has come through two sources:

  • Andrea Joseph’s two session hand-lettering course held at the Studios in New Mills, Derbyshire, UK in which approaches to individual creative handwriting (using your own handwriting and adapting and developing that with various techniques) were shared and practiced, see below, as well as the use of existing fonts.
  • One of the week’s of Sketchbook Skool Expressing has also focused on lettering practice and the approaches to writing within a sketchbook. This teaching was focused upon the practice of self-selected fonts.

Both of these approaches have their merits, depending upon your interest and subject matter. I am currently progressing with both of these ideas. Time will tell how this works out.


 There are a huge range of books on all manner of lettering from Calligraphy (not really where I am headed, lots of measuring and not something I have a lot of experience of) to hand lettering and type. Here are a selection of books that I may well dip into, having reviewed a few lists and researched online:


The art of whimsical lettering by Joanne Sharpe: This is an instruction-type book about creating stylized fonts and expressive artwork from your own handwriting. Full of examples and unusual approaches.  I have just purchased and already finding it of use as a source of inspiration for presenting text in quirky ways and more importantly, developing my own personal style.

Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico This one is probably next on my list. Featuring images of hand-drawn type, part inspiration, part workbook. It includes real projects and sketchbooks of well known type designers including interviews about their processes.

Little book of lettering by Emily Gregory A tiny book which looks to be full of useful inspiration. Most lists recommending books on lettering seem to include it.   Perhaps a first one to buy if you have no other books on this subject.

Creative Lettering and beyond by Gabri Joy Kirkendall, Laura Lavender, Julie Manwaring and Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn   A step-by-step project approach makes this an intriguing book.


I am a big fan of fountain pens so these are likely to be my staple diet for writing. However, there are lots of interesting pens for creating artistic effects. Here are a few that I currently use:2016-01-25_0008.jpg


Using existing fonts are a straightforward way of developing your hand lettering skills although they certainly take time to master and you do need to just practice practice and perhaps make them your own!  There are many fonts out there and new ones are being introduced all the time. Here is a selection of the ones that I have been looking at recently. Rather than just writing out the alphabet, it certainly helps if you start to find quotes and statements that you like and use those to practice your given fonts. You may want to vary the fonts within a statement too. A great site for researching fonts and lettering is Also check out my pinterest board for ideas on lettering.


Individual approaches

Another approach in addition to essentially copying fonts is to start with your basic handwriting and then explore how to develop it and make it more interesting using a multitude of techniques. Warm up exercises as a start point for this work includes blind writing (without looking at the page) and writing with your non-writing hand. These are similar to drawing warm up exercises. In fact, creative writing is a lot like drawing.   Techniques for developing lettering to make it look more interesting include joining all the letters to create a single line of writing, without taking the pen off the page and then adding embellishments to the letters; letters can be filled in, lines and shadows added to make them 3D, outlines added, construction lines shown and dots added. Colour is another layer of this added interest. Another approach is to alternate upper and lower case letters to give a quirky yet regular look. The list is endless and this is without thinking about the page itself!


2016-01-25_0012Banners and shapes

One interesting approach related to lettering is to fill shapes on the page with the lettering; this can be as simple as a square, rectangle or circle, where the lettering goes exactly to the edges to form a crisp edge. This can be taken further to fill shapes relevant to the subject matter so that the letters become a work of art in themselves. This seems an especially relevant technique for storytelling and one which I intend to explore further.


And finally, here are a few tips/summary points I will try to follow as I progress:

  • Practice, practice and more practice!
  • Use pencil and then ink, that’s what putty rubbers are made for!
  • Use a ruler to keep the lines straight if they need to be, otherwise embrace the wonkiness! Variety is the spice of life!
  • Try not to rely too heavily on copying existing so that you can create your own creative identity in the writing, playing around with line, shape and form are key.
  • Try to use different materials, be that to write on or to write with.
  • Try to work with your strengths in your own writing rather than trying to remove what you consider are the imperfections. Perhaps extenuating them even more!
  • Collect phrases and quotes so that you have a basis for the lettering.
  • Don’t forget to include punctuation in the practice of artful lettering!

Watch out for more blogs on creative lettering, but it will probably be a while…. I need to practice!





8 thoughts on “The Writing’s on the wall…..The importance of lettering in a drawing

  1. What a wonderful world you are finding yourself it! In this digital age it is good to see the resurgence of hand lettering and fountain pens. You have given me so many resources to look into.

  2. I love your generous blogs they are so inspiring, full of great tips and resources, and always giving food for thought! Chris

    1. Thanks so much Chris-that is so kind. I am so glad that they have given you food for thought. I really like to share the tips I am learning so that people can have their own exploration.

  3. I do admire your lettering in your sketchbook. Writing by hand is becoming rarer – I read somewhere that little children in school are not able to hold pens/pencils very well but can use tablets! Have you seen whatidoisme blog – she has some beautiful calligraphy?

  4. I am enjoying reading your blog. Thanks for sharing. I’m also exploring lettering in my journal, not urban sketches though. You can see my daily postings on my blog , or Flickr and instagram. All under Ros Jenke if you want to take a look.
    I have been to all the places you visited in Oz on our big trip – lap of honour as its called here ?

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