Artist and designer Seb Lester is one of the world’s most famous and successful calligraphers. He has created type designs for NASA, Apple, Nike, Intel, The New York Times, and The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, but he is perhaps best known for starring in a series of short videos that showcase his talent for using calligraphy to faithfully recreate famous logos by hand. As soon as his clips were posted on social media they went viral, and have stayed perennially popular since. Some of Lester’s most watched videos have recorded more than 15 million views by last count.
Lester’s artistic abilities are now world-famous (a BBC video report called him “Banksy of Calligraphy” in 2015). He says that seeking out, and experimenting with, different calligraphy pens has been an important part of his creative development. “When I started out, I was kind of like a kid in a toy shop” he says, “I…hadn’t had any formal training so…I was kind of left to my own devices, really, to experiment and see what things did. It [became] quickly apparent that different tools have different strengths,” and that he could use different styles of pens, markers and other materials to create interesting type and other designs.
Lester is still on the hunt for unorthodox ways to make new marks. “I’ve seen amazing things done calligraphically with lollipop sticks” he says, but in his regular practice, he’s come to rely on a few favorite tools that he knows will help him create his beautiful letterforms. “A tool is basically a tone of voice, or it’s a range of voices” he says. “One of the pleasures, of calligraphy is finding what the strengths of respective tools are and what you can do with them.”
If you’re curious about what’s in Lester’s calligraphy toolkit (or want to beef up your own) take a look at our roundup of the eight pens, markers, and other tools that Seb Lester loves to use.
Lester uses these pens to create more formal script, the kind defined by smooth transitions between fine hairlines and thicker strokes.
2. Ruling Pens
Ruling pens (sometimes known as “folded pens”) are, in essence, metal that is folded in half and retains ink. Lester uses ruling pens to get very dramatic strokes and splatter effects. He says that he particularly enjoys using ruling pens because “you can get a lot of variety width depending on the angle” at which you use them.
As it turns out, some of Lester’s fanciest flourishes are made with his simplest tools. Lester has found that taping together two ball point pens allows him create a double-line flourish, perfect for italic and italic flourishing.
Lester says that when he uses pointed brush pens, “pressure is a big factor in terms of the results.” Use a controlled hand, and brush pens create a more flowy, organic, and warm lettering style.
Lester turns to the Manuscript Fountain Pens when he wants to make gothic-style letters.
Fans of Lester’s online videos know that he often creates large-scale calligraphy projects. When he wants to make his biggest letters, he uses a copic wide marker for the best results. “It’s good for italic on a big scale” he says.
Automatic wide dip pens are one of Lester’s most versatile tools, he says. If you want crisp letterforms or hairlines, this is tool to use. They also lend themselves well to black lettering italic.
Because Lester is always experimenting, some of his favorite tools are less traditional than others. “This is literally a kids toy” he says, but it allows him to create fun colorful results that fans love.
If you want to learn more about calligraphy, its history and its techniques, check out Seb Lester’s Fundamentals of Calligraphy: Letterforms and Flourishing, now on Skillshare!