Brush Lettering: The Beginner's Guide | Peggy Dean | Skillshare

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Brush Lettering: The Beginner's Guide

teacher avatar Peggy Dean, Top Teacher | The Pigeon Letters

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (49m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Choosing a Brush Pen

    • 3. Basic Strokes

    • 4. Bounce Lettering

    • 5. Ombré Effect

    • 6. Watercolor Background Using Brush Pens

    • 7. Project Time!

    • 8. Conclusion

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About This Class

This class breaks down the fundamentals of basic strokes necessary to correctly use brush pens of all sizes. Beginning with brush pens is a learning curve itself, aside from hand lettering. You must get familiar with how to properly use the brush tip, as its varying pressure and thickness will make or break your piece.

This class does not cover how to hand letter, so if you need to establish your letter formation (which I highly suggest before jumping into using brush pens), first take Hand Lettering: 4 Easy Steps to Modern Calligraphy

You will learn easy methods such as when to perform different motions with your fingers, wrists, and applying varying pressure, along with the highly desirable techniques such as adding bounce to your hand lettering, blending color throughout your letters while drawing them, an creating additional effect.


Meet Your Teacher

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Peggy Dean

Top Teacher | The Pigeon Letters

Top Teacher


Hey hey! I'm Peggy. I'm native to the Pacific Northwest and I love all things creative. From a young age I was dipping everything I could into the arts. I've dabbled in quite an abundance of varieties, such as ballet, fire dancing, crafting, graphic design, traditional calligraphy, hand lettering, painting with acrylics and watercolors, illustrating, creative writing, jazz, you name it. If it's something involving being artistic, I've probably cycled through it a time or two (or 700).


I'm thrilled to be sharing them with you! Visit my Instagram for daily inspiration: @thepigeonletters, and subscribe to my blog for freebies and updates.

I'm an author of the best selling books - Nature Drawing & Watercolor, The Ultimate Brush Letterin... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi guys, my name is Peggy. In this class we'll be going over how to get into brush lettering. Everything that you need to know that breaks down information on using brush pens, the flexibility, the anatomy of them, how to properly hold them and use your strokes and also how to incorporate your wrist rather than just your fingers in writing with a brush pen. I think that it's a skill and of itself, completely aside from hand lettering so it's a great resource to have that intro. If you've been using brush pens for a while and maybe you're having some hiccups with that, this would be a good landing spot for you to revisit those basic strokes and we go over that and really emphasize what it is that you want to really practice to get formation and that flow going naturally. Not only are we going over these basic fresh lettering fundamentals but we are also going to be introducing some fun special effects such as this ombre lettering, among some other fun activities. I look forward to seeing you guys in the class. 2. Choosing a Brush Pen: When it is time to select your brush pen, the options are really limitless. There are so many to choose from. I only have a very small amount here that I'm going to show you out of all of the options out there. But these are my personal favorites, particularly a few in the middle here, by Pentel and Tombow. I'm going to demonstrate what these look like and give you the basic idea so that you have a brief guide into what might be something that you'd want to try out or what may not be right for you. Then I will at the end of this, give you a sped up video of how they write so you can see that as well. But as far as strokes go, I'm just going to show you that. We're starting off with these four. These are the Kuretake pens, and we're just going to start with the Kuretake Bimoji Extra Fine and full pressure and light pressure. Then next we have the same pen in fine, so it's not quite as thin and it's a little more flexible. The thing I like about the extra fine tips is that they're a little more stiff, so I think you have a little more control. This is just a Kuretake disposable pocket brush. This is the extra fine. This is coming down on your downstroke and then nice and fine on the upstroke. Same thing, Kuretake disposable pocket brush pen and the fine, and downstroke, and then back up, so a little bit thicker there. Next, this is the Copic Multiliner brush pen in medium. This is going to be a lot thicker, but it will give you an idea of how this writes, coming down and back up. These are a really flexible tip, they don't really keep that nice clean line I find that they lose their shape after a little while, but you're doing larger pieces they can be helpful for those. Then we have the Pentel Touch, it's the same pen. This one's one of my favorites I think it has one of the darker black inks than the Tombows do. It's a little more crisp and deliberate and then there's a lot of control to be had with their downstroke and upstroke. For a fine brush pen, it's more of a flexible tip. To get started, the Tombow is are really a good way to go. These two are by far my favorite just because of their versatility and the sizes you can get very small with writing with these ones. I'm going to start with the Tombow Fudenosuke hard tip, which you could also consider the extra fine and your thick downstroke and back up. That's another really thin one. Then your Tombow Fudenosuke soft tip could be considered just regular fine, downstroke, back up. Notice that this line here, gets very similar in size to the Copic which is really helpful because you can write larger but notice that the upstroke with a real thin line is also very small, so the versatility here is excellent. Next we have the Prismacolor brush tip marker. This one's real flexible, also really good for beginners. It's going to be similar to the sizing of what we just used the Tombow soft tip, so coming down and then back up. It is a little more difficult to control, but good if you want to do a little bit larger writing. Show you the Docrafts artiste, it's the dual tip pen. I think that they write it just like the normal brush pens. But this comes in a huge set of all the colors for pretty decent price. So coming down and back up, it's another one similar to the Prismacolor. It's got that flexibility to go real bold and then real light on the upstroke and this is also a dual tip pens, so it has this hard tip at the end. That doesn't vary with size. It's not pressure sensitive, that's nice to do any fine line work around your brush lettering. Then the staple of those dual brush pens are the Tombows. These are a lot larger, so they're really good for those bigger projects. If you want to just write like three to five words on a 8.5 by 11 or 8 by 10. This is what that tip looks like. They are water-based and self-cleaning, so they work really well to do those ombre affects, color, blending and whatnot, they also work really well to give off a watercolor effect, which I will show you an example of in a later segment. But coming down, note that these are much larger pen. That's your downstroke, and your upstroke. The versatility here is pretty endless, a little more difficult to do those real fine strokes for smaller lettering, but definitely a staple and I would recommend grabbing at least the primary color pack. Then you can also use watercolor paints to do brush lettering. Any round brush is good. You can use a number 2, this guy is a number 4. Anything that you want to use their and then we also have the Pentel Aquash, and you can actually load this up with ink, end your ink you can load it up with water. You can load it up with a mixture with paint and then dip this brush into the paint and squeeze. Then that is what creates that water. But if you put it down on paper, you control the water amount and then you can do that nice full belly. I don't know if you can see that because I don't have paint, but it is nice and thick. It's certain here, and then my fine spout here. Those are some basic options. They give you a good variety to get started with. I have all of those listed for you in the class directory and links on where to get them for the best prices. Whichever you decide you may want to try, I would grab two or three and go from there. Then you look at a better idea of the route you want to take further down your brush lettering journey. 3. Basic Strokes: Before you jump right into your brush lettering, you need to be sure that you have a good understanding of the basic strokes of the brush pen. We will be going over those strokes, there are eight basic brush strokes. The first one is your entrance stroke, which leads up into each of your letters. You will use this in every letter of the alphabet and it's very light, any up strokes are going to be a very light hair line and any downstrokes, you're going to apply more pressure and have those be nice and bold thick full belly of the brush strokes. For entrance strokes, you're going to start at your baseline up into your x-height, which is your waistline so the midway, basically the top of the lowercase letters. Entrance stroke, just real light, just like this. Just a slight curve, nice and light pressure, so that is your entrance stroke. We also have our under return stroke. What that looks like is a U-shape. You're going to bring your brush down and that's going to apply that pressure, curve as if it's a U and then as you're curving, lighten your pressure and bring that backup. You're going to apply pressure down and lift up as you come around. Apply pressure down in your curve, lift up on the pressure and don't be afraid to go really slow just to get your hand familiar with that motion of down with pressure and lightened through that stroke. Don't worry if your hand is shaky, that's totally normal until you get used to how to have more control, but for right now we're just focusing on the shape. If you lift up, you have some shakiness, don't worry about it, just get these shapes nice and consistent. Our next basic stroke is our overturn stroke. It's just like what we just went over only it's the upside down U, so you're going to start with your real light hairline, come up and then do your turn and as you're coming in near turn, you're going to press down for more pressure on your downstroke. Come up as you turn, more pressure on your downstroke. Notice that my pressure starts to increase, but it doesn't really get into its full pressure until I'm coming on my way down. A nice light hairline, come around and around with pressure. Really get familiar with the way that your brush pen feels. Each pen has basically its own anatomy and will work differently. You'll get the feel of different ones, you'll figure out what your favorite is but really get to know all of your brush pens and these are great exercises. If you get a new brush pen and you're not certain as to what the flexibility is going to be or how much ink it's going to give off, so always come back to these basic strokes and these are great exercises even for the most seasons letterers. For the next basic stroke we're going to go over the compound curve. What that looks like is a mixture of the two here. We're going to do our overturn into our underturn. What that will look like is you're going to come up, come back down, and then instead of stopping, you're going to act as if this stroke is this stroke and you're going to turn and come back up again. We're going to go up, come down with pressure, and curve and come back up. Up light hairline, curve down with pressure and then back up with that light hairline. Then another way to do this would be to start with your underturn and so rather than coming up with that hairline, you're going to apply more pressure, come down, scoop up, and then use an arch, come back down. These are really good way to practice having a stroke that's a bit longer and getting familiar with following through the entire way without lifting your pen. Our next basic stroke is going to be our oval. This is going to be the base of a lot of your letters. If you took my four basic steps to modern calligraphy than you will remember that I had these four corners as a base and the oval fits really nicely in here, a way that I think about it is to go from this top-right to the top-left, down to the bottom-left, and then straight back up to the top-right, so it's almost this triangular shape. My oval, if I was on that pattern, it would come up and around down and then back up. It's basically allowing me to have that shapes. If I want to do my G, I have that nice crisp line. If I want to do my D, it creates a nice shape. Practice your ovals, you can do those upright, you can do them according to my example here with the four corners. I like to start just a little bit lower than that top corner because I feel that I have more control doing it that way rather than guiding my upstroke up and around because that is where your hand can get a bit shaky. I'm going to start in that top-right area, come around, press down, and then hairline backup. Again, if you were to use these four corners right here, backup. If you use your wrist to come out, you going to feel it pulling rather than using your fingers. It does give you a little more control so practice utilizing your wrist in those moments as well. Once you're done with your oval, we're going to move on to your ascending stem loop. You will use these a lot in your lowercase letters that have that tail, like you're B your D. You will come up real skinny area that you're leaving in a pocket counter area. You're going to come up, skewed around and then nice thick downstroke. Start in the middle, come up and around, thick downstroke, up and around, thick downstroke. Makes sure that your curve upward is nice, then upstroke and you can start higher, you can start even lower. I keep it right around the middle usually, you can come a little wider. For practice, whatever you decide to do practice the consistency to stay there. Now, we're going to go into our descending stem loop. It's similar to what we just did, but we're going to do our downstroke first, so that's nice and thick and then curve up and stop. This is going to be used in our Ds, Ys, Js and then typically you'll find that with your exit stroke out like this. But for now I just want you to practice this descending stem loop to keep that nice inconsistent. Make sure to really lift right here to create that nice thin upstroke. Think of a hairline like a little strand of hair like a fishing line, you want it really thin. Our final basic stroke is our full pressure stroke. All that means is that you are applying your full pressure the entire way down, similar to this downstroke, but you're not going to start go into that and then come up. It's just going to be the minute you lay down your pen, you're pressing to its full capacity, dragging down as its full capacity lift up. Just nice full pressure downstrokes. Don't mind this pen as it is losing its ink. Let me show you with the different one. There we go, so nice full pressure strokes. Those are all your basic strokes. These are great practice, there are some practice guides and the class resources for you guys so that you have a good understanding and base to follow. These are the main strokes that I want you to come back to anytime that you're getting used to a new pen or anytime that you find that you're having struggles with letter formation. Just real quickly another way that you can do these as at a slant. If you want to get used to that oval-shaped we talked about, you can do all of these strokes on that oval shape as well. 4. Bounce Lettering: In this video, we'll be going over Bounce Lettering. What creates that whimsical, nice, bouncy, modern calligraphy style. In the class resources you will see a guide that you can use that makes this a lot easier. Just for the classic, I created this little template quickly with a ruler. It's just a little bit larger so you can see it better. If you're going to write the word hello. What that would normally look like, you have your cap high and your baseline here. You would normally come up and having that all fit inside your letters that automatically want to come down. Your H would dip below because that's the direction that it goes to before it connects. Then your E comes right back up before it connects. Then L can go either way, it can come down, it can also come up. As you're writing your letters, you're going to kind of see exactly how this is going to go up and down. Your H, instead of stopping at your baseline, you can dip below and then come back up. You don't have to come all the way up, you can actually stop even lower to have your E connect and then your E comes up. You can have that come up even higher so that your L baseline is higher. To create that word with a bounce, your H drops below. Your E is a little below, but it's coming back up, so it goes a little bit higher. Then it creates kind of more of that bouncy, playful appearance. If we write the word whimsy normally in its baseline with its cap high, even with a slight drop, you might keep it within these lines, but you do not have to. You can create some bounce with it. With your W, it comes up, your H comes down, your I down, your M down,you can come up with it. Your S, comes up, Y you can do a little dip and Y definitely a longer dip. Some different variations of that would look like, drop your W just a little bit below here. Where it comes up, it can come up little higher. My H, I could reach that as high up as I want to. I'm going to stop at the baseline, come back around and then dip below. Then I'm going to stop at baseline again, and I deep below here and then go to baseline. I want to connect to baseline enough to where you can see that my word is supposed to be more of a bounce and not just all over. My S below and then my Y, bring it up higher and kind of have this real short descender. Then another variation of that can look like this, where my W deeps below right away, comes back up, and to my H it's also going to dip, kind of stop short. My I comes up a lot higher, my M and my S is going to start lower and then my Y is still that shorter descender. You'll see here since this is coming down, I did my drop here and then I resumed normal here, came up, almost hit my cap high. That's about what I would have done normally anyway. Then coming down, drop below the descender, drop below the baseline, came back up, I was just shy of it. Then I reached my I up a bit higher, and then my M, stayed at baseline, stayed at baseline. On just this final tail, I decided to drop below the baseline as its own descender. My S, same thing. I started real low, below the descender. Then Y stayed off base line altogether at the same height as my beginning letter here. Came down and then kind of had a shorter tail. Another way you can do the whimsy would be a lot more airy. Kind of it will tilt and then I'm going to have some really long tails, so my exit strokes and my lead-in strokes are going to be real long. This has a little bit of bounce. Then I'm going to go into my H and I'm going to have it come out quite a bit and quite higher. Then I'm not going to come all the way down to baseline, but I'm going to bring the next stroke below. Then come up into my I, which I'm going to have say a little bit lower match my baseline, come up with my M and my S is going to be lower and then my Y is going to come up again. Here my W stays at baseline, drops below on this stroke. My H, it's going to be right above baseline here and then drops below. My I stays at baseline. My M, when I come up with my I, I'm taking that higher, so my M starts higher, it kind of creates its own baseline. I think that composition wise this would look better if these were not even. You could bring this up a little bit or even keep it low and then have this part come up a little bit. You can kind of play with variations. Pencils are really good idea to use as you are playing around with different heights and bounce. That's kind of the same as what we just did, but you can kind of see a different variations or pencil works really well to do that. Then you can go over it. Once you're happy, and you can see what that looks like with a brush pen. I'll get some different ideas. Lastly, let's try your name. I'm just going to do a couple of names as an example. First I'll start with my own name and I'm actually going to switch to pencil. If I'm doing Peggy, this is what it would normally look like within its cap and baseline. If I'm going to add bounce to it, I can draw my P below. I can on this stroke, bring it up higher. On my E, I can drop below but because it comes back around, it would actually be better if I extended this up even higher. My G in this drop, and it comes back around. As it comes around here, this can even go up higher if I want it to. Obviously, any of my tails can dip quite a bit lower. Then the Y gives that same idea as the G does. An example of bounce lettering from my name. Notice my tail drop below my E coming up. That can come up quite a bit higher. My G higher, but then it can dip a lot lower, which will bring the tail lower, so my next G is a little bit further down as well. Then my Y probably bring that up just for balance. That's kind of more of a bouncy version. One of the things to keep in mind as you're doing bounce lettering is, notice that my base shape here, the size of it, remains consistent the whole way across. Notice that it's much smaller on this side. However, I did maintain that shape, the whole way. As you're doing your Bounce Lettering, it will be easy to lose that shape because you might go have this E and then have this G and you go into this bigger and then you might lose track here. You want to make sure that these are all consistent. If we're going to do another name, let's say I will go with Anna. What that would normally look like. You can use any sort of alphabet style that you want to. I'm just showing you as far as height and base go. That's what mine would look like within its guidelines. So to break that into Bounce Lettering, then bring this below, and then my N, bring this up higher here, as I mentioned, and stop here, come back up. I'm going to start a lower, bring this down and then back up. Since my N is coming back up, anytime these strokes come up or down, that's where you can really extend them. It's a little higher than I'd want it to be normally. My A, and there I have Anna. I don't have to have this at the baseline either. I can also create my own as long as I remain consistent and I am always returning to some sort of guide. That's why those practice sheets that I have that have the multiple lines. They have the ascender height, descender height, and then they have options to break that, but they also have your X-height and your cap height and baseline. It makes it really easy to have those guides. I do recommend using them. All right, so for one more name, I'm going to do the name Kyle. For my K, it would normally be here. To break all those rules, my K, I'm going to bring it up higher since this is my upstroke. I don't have to connect to the next letter. I can actually bring it up quite a bit higher. I can do something like this or I can bring my L a lot higher. That's an example of when you could go above and below. You can really play with these up and down strokes for Bounce Lettering. Then go over your favorite with your brush pen. You can see what that looks like. Then you have this fun kind of whimsical structure. 5. Ombré Effect: In this video, I am going to show you how to create an ombre effect using the Tombow dual point brush pens. They have a blending palette that you can use. It also has all of the colors listed on the back. If you don't have a blending palette, you can use any plastic type of material and it will work the same. What we're going to do, is lay the darker color that we want, out of the colors we choose, onto the blending palette. Then we're going to take the lighter color, saturate it in that darker color and then begin to write. You'll see it lose that color and go into its normal color. That's what that looks like. 6. Watercolor Background Using Brush Pens: In this video, I'm going to show you how to create a watercolor background using a page protector and a thick card stock, or watercolor paper and the Tombow dual brush pens, and then their spray mister. You can also use a spray bottle. What we'll do is apply the color, spray that really well with water. Then turn this over and apply it directly to our paper. Then you can slightly drag this as you're bringing it off. Then go back and dab, and then it has more of that splatter, which is really cool. So we're going to let that dry. 7. Project Time!: When it comes down to composition, there are so many aspects that you can consider. You will see people using different sorts of methods like tracing paper. You can use a light path with a guide. Those are actually great light source to have. They look like a tray that has a white covering and then they actually turn on and you can see whatever is underneath the paper and use that as a guide. Those are great options. I am going to show you exactly what I have always done, and it has worked just fine for me. I would grab a ruler. This is helpful when it comes to where you're going to place your piece. It also is helpful with how far you want to stay inside. I just like to stay about an inch of the way in. I'm just going to mark my paper here, just so that I don't come off the sides or have anything to close to the edges. Just a regular pencil is good, I wouldn't have it too sharp you want to dull just because those lines are a bit easier to erase. Once you have those guides, figure out how many words you're putting in, and if you have the smaller words, if you want to write smaller, you can always do two words on one line, if you will. You can also do some an arch. That is, if you have a geometric type of ruler, you can use that as a guide. You can use an object that's found in your home. You can also free hand it by just setting your wrist in the middle of the page, and then you're only moving your hand and that creates a pretty consistent arch. Then notice that I put my markings toward the middleware. That is odd as well as I'm writing. Let's say you have three words that you're putting in, so I'm going to ignore that what the market just made and get my center word guided here. I know I have about this much space to stay in. Its okay, if you come up and down out of it. It just gives you a general idea, which will give me about this much space for my top word and this much from my bottom. I like to lay my middleware down first. That way I know where my bounce reaches, where I can work with on the top and bottom, just because those are the words that are going to be framing. This is entirely up to you were using a pencil, so this part is not going to be seen. What I'm doing actually is a simple middleware. It's just the word to, so I'm going to come down back up. Then if you don't like something it makes it really easy to erase it, and then restart. These Prismacolor Magic Rub Erasers are amazing. They don't make much of a mess, but they're almost like a rubber. In compositions for me, whenever I have a tail, I try to deliberately make it so that the outer part faces away from each other. It wouldn't look bad if it was together, sometimes that would be an intentional decision. But for this piece, I want it to be separate because I want it to be more wispy and less uniformed. Then I'll go into my top word. I don't have to use this guideline. It just gives me an idea of where that straight base line will go. Then on the bottom, I see that this dips, so I want to be mindful of that. Notice I have that come right in between these two letters to make it so that everything fits. Then I want to fill this empty space. I'm going to bring my arm up a little bit higher. Then from here, you can begin, when you are happy with the composition and you can obviously make more edits. But from here you can go into actually lettering the piece with the brush pen of your choice. Notice that I didn't actually follow my pencil completely and that's okay. It just gives you a basic guide of your composition and how you want that to look. Then once that sets completely and it's dry, you can erase those pencil marks that you put in. You do want to wait until it's dry. The tumble appends usually dry pretty quickly so you don't usually have to worry about the smudge there. Then that's finished, and I'm going to show you one more with different type of lettering together in a composition. That's totally up to you as far as what route to take. You can do some Sands sarah. If you can do some Sarah fluttering, you can do all caps. We will go into that and I'll show you what that will look like. I'm just going to mark about the middle here. Give myself about an inch away from the edges. You don't have to do the markings, but I find that it's very helpful. I certainly am one to cut corners. Every time that I do, I find that, I'll start right here thinking that's a perfect centerpiece, and then I end up way over here, almost off the page. Then sometimes have to shrink these letters down. Another way to really get that good composition would be to in-between your letters and map out how many letters there are. My first word is going to have three letters. I know that my center is about right here. I can mark that so that I know that that word will be centered. Then my next one has four so I have all that space. If I don't want to take up that whole space, I can have my center, and then have those markings little more inward. That's a great guide that's helpful as well if you're getting started and not really sure as to how much space each letter will have. My lettering is going to go here and then I'm just going to have a smaller two words just right in here. Then once that's laid down, you can go ahead and go over it with your brush pen. Then go back when you're finished and erase all this pencil lines like you did in the first one. 8. Conclusion: Thank you so much you guys. It has been my pleasure and I'm really excited to see what you guys come up with. Please, do be sure to upload your projects, not only your projects but your progress because it's a crucial learning point. I want to see how you guys were able to break down in practice and those basic strokes, and then also what your layouts end up looking like. All that information is crucial for everybody else to see as well along this learning journey. Thank you guys again and until next time.