The ABCs of Hand Lettering is a series of posts (and a baby project I’m doing) on hand lettering – a few tips and guides by yours truly to kickstart your art venture into drawing letters and creating your own lettering style.
Hand lettering has become such a big thing lately (*confetti*), and while I have been working on my own letterforms since who knows when (my mom influenced me way back in grade school, when I used to be a consistent penmanship & calligraphy contest awardee, lol), most of the people I’ve seen dabble into this art form have just started out.
I’ve been constantly asked by most of you (guys, I have a FAQ you might want to check out for all questions) on what are the best basic materials to use for beginners, and while I have created versions of these (version 1 here and version 2 here), I figured that compiling everything on this updated post would be appropriate.
So with that, I’m kicking off this series with a comprehensive post on the materials I use. These materials are based on my recommendations, having used most of these tools as my weapons of mass creation. I hope you get to try out these tools and let me know which works for you!
Before anything else, here’s a neat idea for you: try segregating your pens. I have four pen holders: 1 each for fineliner/brush/drawing pens, colored pens, paintbrushes and markers. Obviously, I have a lot of writing and drawing tools – and categorizing them this way helps me get organized especially if I need to only use a specific set of materials for a project (e.g. paint).
While I have been hoarding pens for the longest time now, my top choices for lettering would be: a fine liner (the most basic), a brush pen and a water brush – these are the most popular as well.
Fineliners in different weights have different purposes – for outlining, coloring, adding shows and other treatments to your letterforms. Brush pens are basically a pen version of your typical paint brush, and creates more fluidity and solidity to your work (compared to using a brush), as well as having the advantage of continuous ink flow. A water brush is the most handy paintbrush for watercolors, as there is water storage inside the pen’s body instead of the usual water dipping.
On another note, my top brands would be Uni, Artline, Pilot, Pentel, and Zig. I’m not particular with brands, but I do consider buying the rare ones when I travel. Currently, what’s readily available in Manila are Uni, Artline & Zig.
Here’s a rundown of the pens I frequently use and how they look like when written.
(L-R: Brush pen from Daiso, Pilot brush pen & Kuretake brush pen from Tsutaya bookstore, Zig brush writer from Swirls & Strokes, Copic Ciao from Art Friend, Zig water brush from Art Mark)
(all markers from National Bookstore & Fully Booked – except for Copic markers, which I purchased from Art Friend in Singapore)
Most of my inks are black, but I also purchase specific colored markers and pens (in my favorite colors, mostly).
As much as I love lettering and using varied pens, I also dabble into calligraphy sometimes (but mostly for personal endeavors). I got my first set of calligraphy tools from a friend, and I then bought another set at Scribe. Most of the nibs you see here are from The Craft Central (thanks, Alexis!). They carry a variety of calligraphy tools and materials, as well as a Scribble kit for beginners.
Paint & Brushes
I use watercolor as my medium for most of my colored pieces, which is why I invest in more than one brand.
My initial preference was Prang (I have 3 sets!) but over time, my pans were invaded by ants (apparently it tastes sweet) and the pigment quality did not reach my expectations. Of course, that was because I discovered Sakura Koi and Daler & Rowney recently. My friends have also recommended using Dr Ph Martin concentrated watercolors (specifically if you are particular with the color mixing and such) and other big brands such as Van Gogh, Holbein and Windsor & Newton.
I use Prang for simple projects (it’s the cheapest, at around less than P300 for a set of 8 colors), while I use my Sakura Koi set (costs around P500 up) a lot especially because I take it with me to my travels. The Daler & Rowney Aquafine set is my recent purchase (it costed me around P3,900 at Fully Booked – no regrets!) and I’m still experimenting with the pan but so far, the colors are very vibrant and concentrated, which is a good thing.
For brushes, I recommend getting at most number 0 brushes and below, if you’re looking into using these for intricate details and for more control of the letterform thickness.
My current brush stache includes a Pentel brush (the black one), random brushes I scoured at a nearby shop in Chinatown, Singapore, a 000 brush I purchased from Alessa Lanot a few months back, and the basic brushes I got from Valerie Chua’s watercolor workshop 2 years ago (I know, I should get new brushes, lol).
My recent discovery probably made painting 100000x easier – it’s the water brush. I don’t know which store carries a big quantity here in Manila, but you can definitely purchase these in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Best brands would be Zig or Pentel. I use 2 Zig brushes (small & medium).
Pictured here is the water brush included when you purchase a set of Koi watercolors (available at Hey Kessy).
Notebooks & Paper
I have a lot of notebooks (not exaggerating, maybe around 50 total) – but I only have selected ones for painting and drafting. Currently, I use a Daler & Rowney sketch pad I got from Art Friend in Singapore, plus a handy plain notebook for all my drafts and studies. As of this writing, I am using a graphed notebook for my drafts, just to try it out.
As much as there are a lot of types of notebooks for drafting (lined/unlined/graphed/dotted), I still prefer unlined because it gives me more opportunities to go crazy with the lay outing and such. If you’re hesitant to completely draw without a guide, I would suggest getting dotted ones (Muji carries most of these) for subtle guidance.
My Nuuna notebook (picture on the left) is a favorite for more of the watercolor work I do, because the paper, while not textured, is relatively thick and can hold water very well. (BTW: I also shared some artworks I did inside my Nuuna on Fully Booked’s website)
I only use two brands of watercolor paper: Canson & Berkeley. This is because both of them are widely available in National Bookstore (in different pad sizes) and thickness wise, it’s perfect for my lettering needs.I usually cut them into smaller sheets if I need a small piece of work and such.
Where to Buy
Pens / Paint / Brushes / Paper
Personal favorite would be Bras Basah Complex. Yes, I’m telling you now to visit Singapore because you will cry happy tears at Bras Basah Complex – especially Art Friend.
1. National Book Store (all the basics you need are here)
2. Fully Booked (they have a lot of paint and pads – watch out because their stocks of Rhodia pads get easily sold out!)
3. Hey Kessy (for more hard to find brands in Manila)
4. Bras Basah Complex: Art Friend & Art Mark (Singapore – read all about my experience here)
5. Tsutaya Book Store (Japan)
Paper / Notebooks
Functionality wise, I prefer plain notebooks and these are the brands I’ve already used:
1. Sunday Paper (the Simple notebook always works)
2. Sketchnotes (they have a variety of notebook sizes to choose from)
3. Muji (they carry a lot of dotted notebooks – great for drafts)
4. Fully Booked (I’m recommending Nuuna, because it’s what I use, as well as Rhodia)
5. Bookstores in Singapore & Japan
1. Invest in good materials. They don’t even have to be expensive to be good. Start small!
2. Think before you hoard. Oftentimes, going to bookstores and art stores make you want to get EVERYTHING. Always create a comprehensive list of the things you really need and focus on that.
3. Know which works for you. If you’re keen on just trying out, let’s say, watercolor, then don’t spend too much time choosing which fine liner brand to get. It’s that simple.
4. Ask around and read up on reviews. Just like what I’m doing now, I’m recommending some of my favorites so you guys would know which brands and types of materials to buy. I’m sure there are a lot of letterers out there who are also sharing their thoughts on materials, so read up!
5. Attend workshops.
Woohoo! I am having more workshops this year thanks to the release of my new guidebook which is only available at my #learnbyabc workshops. Schedules coming this January 31!
Also, I am working closely with a few people for a secret dream project – we’ll announce it soon. :)
Hoping this post was of help to you! Feel free to comment below, should you still have any questions or concerns you’d like to share.