Hey everyone! It’s Erin from @the.lettering.fern and I am here to talk about the basics of lettering. I am going to break down all the basic strokes for you. These strokes are what you would call the outline, or the basic “rules” of lettering. I say “rules” in parenthesis because once you develop some muscle memory you are going to want to break the rules to start developing your own style! Let’s get to it.
To start I used a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen with a brush tip. You can tell the difference between the brush tip and the monoline tip by the letter on the cap and at the end of the pen. The brush tip will have a B and the monoline tip will have a letter that corresponds to the size of the pen, example S= 0.3mm.
Before we even talk about strokes, I am going to give you a quick anatomy lesson of line spacing. There are basically 4 lines you want to keep in mind. The very top line is the ascender. This is where all the tall letters like to hang out like h, l, k, t, the tops of these letters will touch this line. The next line is called the waist. Think about your waist is in the middle of your body and this is the middle line. Most of the basic strokes will hang out in this area (along with letters like m, n, e, r, s). Next you have the baseline, all letters will touch this line. The letters that have a tail like g, j, and p will go below to the very bottom line called the descender.
Now, let’s talk about the first two strokes: the upstroke and the downstroke. This is where you get the pressure of lettering into your muscle memory. One of the most important things to remember to get the different weighted lines is thin/light upstrokes and thick/hard downstrokes. When you are doing an upstroke you will start at the bottom of your line, the baseline. Then using the tip of your pen draw a light thin line to the waist. When you are doing a downstroke it is the opposite. Start at the waist, pushing with a pressure you are comfortable with, draw a slight S shape. For the downstrokes I have found holding my pen at about a 45 degree angle helps. Practice these about a billion times (you think I am kidding but the more you practice the happier your hand will be).
The next strokes are the overturn and underturn. The under turn looks just like a U and the overturn is, well, just an upside down U. These strokes help you combine your upstrokes and downstrokes in a fluid way. To form the overturn stroke start at the baseline and work your way up to the waist with a thin upstroke but as you approach the top slightly curve, follow an arch shape, and head back down to the baseline with your thicker (more pressurized) downstroke. The underturn is the exact opposite. This time start at the was it with a thick downstroke and as you approach the baseline start that curve into an upside down arch shape and head back up to the waistline just like you are making the letter U. Remember as you are headed back up to the waistline it should be a thin upstroke. Lettters you will need this stroke for: m, n, y, u.
After you have practiced the overturn and underturn a million times you can combine them into a compound curve. For the compound curve you start with the overturn but when you are finished you immediately head into the underturn stroke. This is a fun one to practice because you really develop your muscle memory of the pressure you need to get the ups and downs. Always remember up is thin, down is thick. Letters you will need this stroke for: h, v, x.
The next stroke is called the oval, well, because it looks like an oval. This stroke will come in handy for letters like a, q, o, g, even c if you can believe it. This stroke is also kind go tricky because you are going to want to start at the waist line and you really need to be starting half way in between the waist and baseline. You are going to start with a small upstroke, arch around on the waistline into a thick downstroke, arch around again on the baseline into a thin upstroke to finish off the oval. Starting in the middle of the two lines helps to give the oval a more rounded look. Letters you will need this stroke for: g, d, p, b, q.
The last two strokes include loops. Yes, I said loops. There will be a descending loop and an ascending loop. Do you remember the anatomy of the lines earlier? Then you guessed it! The descending loop will stretch down to the descending line and the ascending loop up to the ascending line. Let’s break down these strokes starting with the descending stroke. You will start this stroke at the waistline, do a thick downstroke to the descending line and then curve back up with a thin upstroke and connect the loop at the baseline. The ascending loop will start at the waistline, do a thin upstroke to start the loop, once you get to the ascending line curve back down into a thick downstroke all the way down to the baseline (make sure your starting point connects the loop to the downstroke). Letters you will need these strokes for: f, h, k, j, g.
And that’s a wrap! You know are in the loop on the basics of lettering. I have also included a short (but real time) video of myself writing out each of these strokes. Remember these things: don’t get frustrated if your hand isn’t doing what you want it to do right away, build up that muscle memory with practice, thin=upstroke, thick=downstroke, and have fun!
Erin O’Brien Dahlberg is a Born and raised Utah girl. She graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelors degree in Education and has spent the last 4 years as a second grade teacher! She took a few art classes in high school and college. She loves to try and inspire creativity in her students everyday! Because she’s busy during the day, the night is when her creativity gets to explode into the world through lettering and messing around with watercolors. Her biggest advice would be to not compare your art to other people’s art! Be uniquely you!