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Lesson 3 – General Hand Lettering Theory

In this lesson we’re going to look at the general theory behind how shapes and words are made in the context of hand lettering.

As a benchmark, I’m going to use brush lettering as our starting point. We’re going to be covering a lot more than brush lettering as we progress, however, in my opinion the theory behind brush pen letters is a perfect starting point to build upon for later styles.

So! The key to all of this is pressure. That beautiful, handmade-yet-flawless feeling lettering art gives is due to the weight of the strokes, and that’s all controlled by the pressure of the brush pen on the paper.

This is the general rule we aim for here: downstrokes are thick, and upstrokes are thin. There are exceptions to this, but this is the overall rule you first consider.

Now don’t worry, we’re going to get into some specific drills for this in Module 3 and you’ll be able to start drawing yourself, but for now let’s look at some ways in which this theory is applied.

Let’s start by looking at this piece here by @azam.r15. You can see the theory in action, especially around the h and the n here. Notice the thick downstroke that lightly flicks up to the upstroke, and then back down again. Also, check out the thin upstroke on the l’s here. it seems like a small thing, but all together it results in a really well-balanced piece.

This work by Stephen Bradbury shows this quite well too. In this piece especially the contrast of the thick and thin lines conveys a really strong sense of movement through the whole word, giving an idea of the motions he went through when drawing it.

That’s the beauty of this technique, and why it’s so prevalent. An image is static, yet by giving an impression of pressure, which translates in the viewer’s mind as variations in speed, you create a moving, lively piece. Thick lines mean slow, and thin mean fast, so your audience gets a very real feeling of movement.

This technique is also found in non-brush-pen pieces. Check this one out by El Juantastico. It’s been made with a combination of microns and sharpies, yet the upstrokes and downstrokes are still present – check out the n, the l, and the tail of the e.

Even if we move to something quite a bit more complicated you’ll still see it there as a common thread. This piece by David Milan practically dances off the screen, the movement created by the combination of thick and thin strokes is gorgeous, and all he’s done is used that same technique of making his downstrokes thick, and upstrokes thin.

Keep this in mind as we work through the exercises and words to come.

Phew! The good news is you’ve made it through the bulk of the theory!

In the next lesson, we’ll be moving on to something a bit more fun. We’ll be discussing each lettering tool in detail,; comparing brands, looking at each part of each tool, how they’re used, and examples of what can be made with them.

See you then!