Hand Lettering: 4 Easy Steps to Modern Calligraphy | Peggy Dean | Skillshare

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Hand Lettering: 4 Easy Steps to Modern Calligraphy

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

7 Lessons (34m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Tools and Materials Overview

    • 3. Step 1: Forming Your Alphabet

    • 4. Step 2: Connecting Letters

    • 5. Step 3: Adding Weight to Bring Your Letters to Life

    • 6. Step 4: Intro to Brush Pens & Optional Letting Combinations

    • 7. Project: Create a Short Phrase

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About This Class

Welcome to the hand lettering craze!

Join letterer and illlustrator Peggy Dean in an exploration of your very own hand lettering style using items you already have in your home! In this simple class, you will learn through bite-sized lessons with step-by-step instructions for how to use variants of your own handwriting to craft your own modern script. You'll discover tips and tricks for basic letter formations, connecting letters and phrases and even illustrative concepts! This class is focused more on letter structures than on design, so you'll be prepared to take on all stylistic approaches.

Practice makes progress.

The beauty behind hand lettering is in the imperfections. Learning how to master flaws and channel them into character is what makes your brand unique to you. Breaking down these elements will give you a foundation that you can confidently build your craft upon. 

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, I'm Peggy. In this class we're going to be going over modern calligraphy hand lettering. It is very popular right now and a lot of people are having some thoughts that they want to get into it, but they don't know where to start. They think that their own handwriting isn't that great so they think they can't do it. But I'm here to tell you that's not true. You do not have to have good handwriting to be a hand letterer. I would love to introduce to you the steps to get there. It's different than traditional calligraphy. It's a lot more fancy and free form and a lot more airy and wispy. In this class, we'll be going over the structure of lettering, the formations of how to form your letters and what to look for for consistency along with our spacing and adding weight and being able to graduate into brush pens or nibs. I look forward to being able to show you these easy stops that'll get you right on your way. This class project, you will end with a beautiful quotes or a phrase, or a couple of words that mean something significant to you. You can use it as a gift, you can hang it on your wall, whatever the case may be. You will have a lovely finished product that I cannot wait to see. I can't wait to take this journey with you. 2. Tools and Materials Overview: Now before we jump right into learning, I want to go over some basics about tools and materials that I personally love to use when I hand letter. I've narrowed it down to my absolute favorites so that I don't bombard you with all the different options. There are so many and you will see in the class resources that I've listed many different selections for you. The number one thing that I recommend having is a pencil, especially when you're first getting started, because that way you can really map out what it is that you want to put down on paper, you can center it. You will have to go through so many sheets just trying to figure out how to do your layout or how to do your letters. Have some softer lead pencils available at Art stores and Amazon carry them and those are great options so that you're able to lay out what it is that you want your composition to look like. Moving into ballpoint pens, which you're welcome to do when we get started, I use these Sarasa zebra pens, these are just real basic. I use the point fours and the point three. I like to be able to write smaller and I like to make my lines a little more wispy. Moving under brush benzenes we get there. Tombow has a great line, they have a real thick brush on the end here. On the other side here you have a fine tip marker, so you can use that to do some topography, you can do some outlining. I have some thinner brush pens that I use sometimes, they're nice and micro, so they write really small, these are the Docrafts Artiste. My absolute favorite brush pen is also by Tombow, they have a softer point too, but it's nice and fine, but it has great flexibility, so that creates a little riskier line. One that's similar to that one is the Pentel Touch Sign Pen. There is also right quite as fine as the Tombow pen I just showed you that's a really great option to have a little more flexibility. Another great one of these Prismacolors. They're brush tip markers, they're real similar to these guys in that there really fine. These pens here are excellent for having that nice opaque white, so you don't have to go over and over there they're unit ball. This white, I'm not kidding you guys, it's opaque. You can write on anything, I've actually written on rocks with this, and it shows up grades it's a brilliant white. This is my favorite, favorite Gold, it is more of a paint. Pen and it's quick dry, it's permanent, it's the pen touch. Out of all the Gold I've trying tried a lot, this is by far my favorite. It's not too yellow, it's not to brassy. There's also the Microns; these are great pens that ink does not fade, it lasts a really long time. You'll get a lot of use out of these, so that's another good option to use. If you want to go into a true brush, you can always use an actual paintbrush. The round brushes are what you'd want to use, and these come in all sorts of different sizes. This is a number 2, so it's a medium size. It's probably going to write the same as the Tombow's. The Aquash brush pen is excellent, mine is a little bit dirty, so bear with me here. But what it does is it actually distributes water through the end here by squeezing it. So you can put water inside the base here, and then you can dip it in a watercolor or some ink of your choosing and then distribute it by pressing and getting the water to come out. What you're also able to do is actually fill this area with the ink that you want to use. Another thing that I like about this pen is that you can watercolor with these with no mass. You don't have to use any water to the side, it just comes right out of the base, so this is a great pen for a hand lettering and for painting. I really need a fact as those Andre pieces that you've probably seen where the ink actually changes as you go along and as you write. These are the best pens to do that, the way that they are obese, they're so cleaning. You can actually take this blending palette here and lay a color down and then go over it with a lighter color, and then what it will do is it'll pick up the color that was laid down first. Then as you start writing, it will get lighter and lighter, and it creates a great Andre in fact, and it doesn't stick on the marker because they are self-cleaning. They also have these clear markers that you can use without having to mix it with solid color already. So there's a lot of really neat options that these Tombow pens can do for you. The more that you practice, you'll find the things that you like the most. It just comes with putting the time in and feeling what feels right for you. That the anxiety you can use anything in your house, you can use a pencil, you can use a ballpoint pen, whatever you have, just grab a piece of paper and a pen and we'll get started. 3. Step 1: Forming Your Alphabet: When you begin forming your letters, it's so important to remember that you're not just writing, you're not using your normal handwriting. This is actually more of a form of drawing and that's when people go wrong in the very beginning, is they think that they need to do their normal handwriting then they end up giving up because it's just not connecting into the way that they want it to. There's four points to look at. This is the top of your letter, this is the bottom of your letter. You want to make sure that the way that you're forming your letters will be consistent throughout each and every letter of the alphabet. For example, if this is going to be my base here, I want to make sure I can do an a off of it, I want to make sure that I can do a b off of it, I want to make sure that it goes into my c, and all of these are consistent. I usually start right under where I'm about to form my letter and I'll go straight up into this and then it curves around, and instead of doing that full circle, I come all the way down, and once I hit this bottom point, I'll go right up and meet that point again. So I don't go all the way around. It's more of a nice curvature, straight down, and then this point connects with this point, and then from there I'll come straight down and do a nice tail, this line will match this line. There aren't a lot of resources out there that will show you the actual formation of these letters. That's something I want you to really pay attention to as you're moving forward because it will give you a really good, solid idea of how to form the rest of your alphabet. So for my b, I'm going to come straight down, and so it's the same idea here. This is the corner I want to meet, because I'm going to go up and then do that nice around curvature down. I'll start with my a, I'll come up and come down and then I'll meet this corner with this corner and then I'll shoot down and bring my tail up so that the tail is parallel here. My b, I'm going to come straight down, bring this corner to this corner, and then do a nice loop down. My c, come down and then straight up. My d, I'm going to come up, down and then bring this corner to this corner, and you can stop and actually bring your tail down like that. My e, I'm going to bring it straight up, around, curve down, and then this is going to shoot into this invisible corner here. So you can see that my letters are actually starting to form. They look very similar. My f, it's not as structured, you just want to make sure that where you cross is in line with here, here, here, here, here, and here. So all of that starts looking consistent. Moving into g, it's going to be the same idea as your a. You're going to start, bring it around, once this corner meets here, you're going to bring it straight up and your tail will come down just like that. My h, I'm going to start up here, and then it's like my b, where my b is shot from this corner to this corner, my h is going to do the same thing and come straight down, so that all of my centers, my main foundation of my letters are looking consistent the entire way through. My i will have that same parallel line and the tail. My j, just straight down, k, straight down. I like my k's to look somewhat unfinished. I have I'm just shooting off. Sometimes they look a little bit like [inaudible] straight down and then I'll have the tail come at this parallel line as the rest here. M is one of my favorite letters because I'm able to pull from this corner up a couple of times and it just looks really pretty. So if I bring that down, remember that here's your box, so you're going to bring this corner to this corner, and then straight down, bring this corner to this corner, straight down, and then you have your tail. Your n is going to be real similar, straight down, this corner to this corner, straight down and your tail. You're o, this one can be different. Your o can be a little tricky because by default, you're just going to want to do this o, but you have to remember that when you're forming your letters, all the centers are looking similar, so I want my o to match that. So I'm just going to do it a little bit off the center here. So it is this o, it's just that once it gets to this bottom corner, it hits a slant right here. Once it gets the bottom corner hits a slant, goes up. Then my p, I'm going to bring my line straight down. These are my corners. This one, this bottom left one hits into this top right one, so it goes straight up, and then a nice curve around. My q, here, here, here, here, I'm going to start a little bit under here, bring it right around, once it hits this bottom corner, I'm going to bring it straight up, and then pull this down. If you like to have a tail on your q, just make sure that the tail is parallel to this line here. My r, from this corner to this corner. My s; your s can be basic if you want to write it as slant like this, I like my s' on the top to be a little broader, so that's just personal preference again. Then my t's straight down, my tail goes up. Remember that when you cross, you want your cross to be about the same height as your letters here. My u, straight down from this corner to this corner, and then straight down again, my tail will match and be parallel here. My v's, I tend to have them go straight down and then do a little curvature up. W, the same idea. These ones I do a little bit softer. So I bring it down and up, bring it down and up, you can also come sharper, curve up, sharper, curve up. X's, you can come down and up. You can come down, do a little bit of a tail, up. My y, my four corners again, I'm going to bring it [inaudible] straight down, and then I usually do a little bit of a bump here. Another way you can do this is do a bump here, down, little bump here. So I have attached some practice letters and the class resources for you to practice your lettering. There's a couple of examples, but again, you're welcome to do this at your own terms. You just want to keep in mind to make sure that that middle part stays consistent along the board. So if you're going to go a like this, you want your b to match, you want your d to have the same effect. 4. Step 2: Connecting Letters: When you start connecting your letters, you want to make sure that your spacing is consistent. So if I'm going to write the word fox, I want to make sure that my line, wherever I put that, is right on top of the rest of my letters. Notice that this is my baseline here, and I'm going to move up. And I'm just going to stop once this tale comes up because from there, that's when I'm going to start my new letter. You're not going to go into a normal cursive, where you finish the whole word. You're going to start with your O over here, and then it's going to just connect into that line. Like so. Then if you bring this up, you can start drawing your X, and you want to make sure your spacing is consistent. That can be one of the most difficult things when you first get started is having these lines be consistent. For example, let's say you want to write the word fox, and you want to have it on more of a slant, you want it to be more wispy. You might write F, and then you want it to go to a nice long line. So you want to keep in mind how long it is from here to where your O starts. So if I stop right here, I'm keeping this in mind, and then my X, like so. What I want you to really notice here are my tails, what I bring up. Every single time that I bring something up, I'm going to start a new letter. I'm not going to connect it. I'm going to stop and start a new letter. So if I do the word garden, I have a little tail here and then I'm stopping. I start my G where I would normally start my G, bring it up and down and it has that nice space shape. Then I'm going to bring my G down. I'm going to do this nice curvature, and then I'll stop. Then I'll start my A over here. So this is not coming up and over into my A. I'm going to stop, I'm going to come over here and keep in mind these four corners which match these four corners, start my A, bring it down, it connects right here. Then my tail stops. So that when my tail stops, I'll bring it up into my R, bring my R down, and stop at my tail again. My D, I'm going to start it over here. It's going to connect, come straight up, then I come up, bring it back down. I want this to be about the same length as my G so I can keep consistency. It would actually be even a little bit better had I made that a little bit wider so that it matches consistently. Then from here, once I come down, I'm going to stop at my tail. My E, I'm going to start normally, bring it down. So these letters eventually will look like they're all connected but really, I'm stopping every single time, so that I can make sure that all my letters are formed correctly. Then this tail can actually turn it into something more like this. Let's do the word robin. So let's make it a little bit more of this style, and I'll show you how it's going to be the same thing with these tails. If I go into my R, I come down and then I go into my tail and then it stops. My O I'll start, and then I'll bring in my tail and stop. Notice how it's about the same amount of space. My B, you can choose to bring it down right away. You can choose to start here. I'm going to start from right here, I go up and bring it down, and then I'm going to meet this corner to this corner, down, and then I'm going to bring my tail out. Then it's about the same amount of space, again, I'm going to bring my I straight down, tail comes out like that. Then I'll start my N like so. It's so important to formulate your letters before you start going into brush lettering, before you start trying to bounce them, to bounce your letters just making sure that you can maintain that consistent form. So let's practice a couple more words. Let's do the word succulent. So with my S's, you can come up, down and out. You can come up, do something like this. These are how I tend to do my S's more. So I'm going to start with a small tail, bring it up, down, and stop right here. Up, down, another tail. My C, I'm going to start where I normally would, C, my tail matches this length and this length. Another C, up. I'm going to start my U right here, and you can start pushing in these loops here if you'd like, where it actually comes up and down, more of a cursive style. U, same amount of space. L, my tail comes out, my E will start normal spacing. So what I want you to really notice here is that I'm not attaching the base of when I write my E to where the tail ends. I'm coming where I normally would. My N, put the same amount of spacing. And then my T. I'm not starting my T from here, I'm not pulling this up. I'm just writing my T like so. 5. Step 3: Adding Weight to Bring Your Letters to Life: Once you have a good idea about how you want your letters to form, you can start adding weight to them. This is where your calligraphy really starts to come to life. So if I'm going to write the word sparkle, I'm going to bring my s up, and my tail come out, bring my p down, tail up, a. I'm just ascending a little bit of bouncing here. Bring that up, start my r. Once I have my word, just hover above it, and figure out where all of your downstrokes are. Here I'm going sideways and up, here is a downstroke. I'm going to come sideways and up. Here's another downstroke, up, downstroke. On all of my downstrokes, I'm going to come just off of where the line is, and I'm going to add a line right next to it. Then I'm going to connect it at the bottom, right here, real close. Right here, downstroke, downstroke, downstroke. One right here in my k, right here, down. I come up upstroke. My l comes up and down, up, my e, downstroke is here, then it goes back up. Once this is done, you can color it in, you can do designs. Then you can also do fun things like lines, you can do little patterns, really anything that you want, but typically it's just adding the slate. You can do this with a different color. You can do it like a hot pink, or gold, or something fun like that, but you get the idea. It'll eventually be all filled in. This isn't the best pen for it, but they'll have that nice thick line the whole way through. 6. Step 4: Intro to Brush Pens & Optional Letting Combinations: Now, this isn't required to go into actual brush lettering, but I wanted to do a quick segment on how to get there if that's something that you're ready to start doing. If I am going to take a normal brush pen, I'm going to write the word flower. The way to do this is, if you remember your upstroke and then your downstroke is where the weight is. My upstroke, I'm going to press very lightly, bring it up, and then when I'm ready to curve around and come down, I'm going to press a lot harder into my pen, and that is what makes the brush flattened and it has this nice bold line here, and then bring it back up real lightly, and then I'm going to come up, press harder, bring that up, press down, lift, press down, lift, press down. On any downstroke, bring that out real light as you come out, press down, bring it nice and light as you come up, curve around and as you come down, press down, and then you press down and back up. That is how to properly use a brush pen. This really is something that just comes with time. One of the easiest ways to practice this is just to go across thick, thin, thick, thin, thick, thin, and just try to do a pause. Another way is to bring it down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up. Just keep doing that and practice what that feels like because you're going to hold it the same way the whole time. If I'm going to write a letter, bring it up. Remember I don't have to connect all of my letters right away because that's when I connect a new one, come up and then I start my new one over here. Nothing changes with the way that I'm writing. It's just a matter of also adding pressure and then bringing it up to your letters. Somethings fun that you can do if you discover that you're finding different ways that you enjoy writing letters is mixing and matching them. You have your base here. Let's say you have an A that you really like writing that doesn't fit the rest of what you're doing, throw it in there because it can look so cool when you have different types of letters. I start my C, and normally, if I'm going to write the word cedar, my E would start here and come around. Only I actually want to throw in that B. Then my D, I can do just a normal capital D. My A. I'm actually going to come from over here and come up like this into my R, which finishes normally. This can be really fun to mix and match one word or a phrase or something that you really like, and then you can add weight to it. I fill that ends and it looks neat. Let's see over the rainbow. I'll do this funky R, bring that down. Let's say I want to do the same type of A again. My I, I'll add some serifs right here. Then I'll do a normal N, bring it down for a little bit of bounce. Let's say I want my B to be a little curved in here. It's not straight down, but it's a little curved. I'm going to keep a space here. So I'm not going to start my B up here and actually give it space and have a little soft curve like that. My O. Then I'm going to have sharp W up. Then let's say I want to do a little bit of a flourish on this B, I can do something like that. Then I'll bring some weight down here, some weight here. You don't have to keep using this pen if you feel comfortable using a brush pen, but really get used to forming your letters before you graduate into the brush pen because I promise you it will make your life a lot easier. Just play with your letters because there's not really a wrong or a right form once you learn how to keep that consistency because notice my R is on a slant, my A has this angle here, my N has this angle, my B has that angle, my O has that angle. The formation is the most important thing. Then moving into the brush pen to create the same effect. That's basically what you need to know when it comes to forming your letters, keeping the space in consistent, adding weight to your letters and the introduction to brush pens. Let's start our project. 7. Project: Create a Short Phrase: I like to use a little bit thicker paper when it comes to my actual finished products because I want to make sure that it's a nice piece that I can keep and hang on my wall or gift it to somebody. I'm going to do a short phrase. When you're starting a short phrase is best because you're able to keep the composition nice and clean. There's not a lot of fuss to it. It makes more sense when you're forming letters and trying to construct where everything fits on the page because it can be a little bit confusing when you're getting started. So short phrases are best. You can do one word, you can do two or three, but I would keep it at that. So find something that you really like and then we'll construct it. I'm just going to take a pencil to start, and I'm going to do a really light line down the center of my page. So I know or that centers out, and then the same horizontally. What this is going to allow me to do is make sure that my letters are centered because I am going to write, "Every moment matters." I want to write "Moment" first because that's going to be in the center of those two words. Moment has six letters. So I have M-O-M-E-N-T, but I want to find the center of that word, so I have M and E as the center. You can do small lines on the outsides here to keep your guide, so M-O-M-E-N-T, if that's helpful to you. Then I'm just going to write my word. If you want to write a small guide, you can. Then I'm going to write "Every". You can write the top word, you can do the normal typography behind the word if that's something that you want to do. You can see what that going to look like. What I'm going to do is give the illusion of having an overlap for moment and bring that up. One of the things you want to keep in mind is you don't like something so your eraser is your best. You can do it over and over and over again until you like it. I'm going to use a red pen and then I'm going to trace what I just did in pencil if I'm happy with the end result here. I'm going to offset mine a little bit, so don't let that confuse you. I just found that I was a little close to the side here. But you're going to want to trace exactly what you like in your final pencil marks. After you do that, you're going to go back and add the weight to your letters on all of your down-strokes. Then once it dries, let's go back in and erase all those pencil marks that you have, then you will have your finished piece.