Transform Your Modern Calligraphy Style One Step at a Time | Molly Suber Thorpe | Skillshare

Transform Your Modern Calligraphy Style One Step at a Time

Molly Suber Thorpe, Calligrapher & Graphic Designer

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3 Lessons (17m)
    • 1. Welcome!

    • 2. Transform Your Lettering: One Step at a Time

    • 3. Tag me! @mollysuberthorpe

13 students are watching this class

About This Class

The "one step at a time" approach is my favorite exercise for modern lettering artists who are looking to transform their style, or add more styles to their repertoire. In this video, I'll walk you through it in real time, and give you detailed commentary and tips as I go.

The exercise is also a great way to break out of habits you've developed over time that can make it hard to create fresh-looking work. We'll talk about how to critique your letters PRODUCTIVELY, then make target changes so that you can create a unique lettering style you really love.


I created this exercise for my intermediate and advanced workshop students, and find that they get something new out of it each and every time. It's ideal for all types of hand lettering, such as dip pen, brush marker, fountain pen, and even pencil. I am demonstrating using a pointed calligraphy pen fitted in a straight holder (linked below).


Get my FREE Lettering Toolkit, including practice sheets, lettering guides, and Procreate brushes, at:


➤  Tools used in the lesson:


➤  More tutorials:

+ My three calligraphy books offer more lessons and inspiration

+ My YouTube channel is full of free, bite-sized tutorials and demonstrations

+ My other Skillshare classes are all about hand lettering, from how to digitize calligraphy and make flourished layouts, to mastering the art of lettering on the iPad.


+ Tag me in your projects on Instagram: @mollysuberthorpe. I'd love to have a peek at your work!

+ Sign up for my Workshop News Bulletin to stay informed about my upcoming, in-person classes.

+ Visit, my massive online resource guide for lettering artists and creative freelancers, with 1,000+ recommended supplies, books, online classes, and helpful links.


1. Welcome!: I'm Molly Suber Thorpe. Today I'm going to walk you through my absolute favorite exercise for modern calligraphers when it comes to creating a unique style all your own. This is an exercise that I created for my intermediate and advanced workshop students and I found that it has really helped people break out of habits, even good ones that they may have in a lettering style that they're already comfortable with to allow them to form lettering styles that are new and different, that they can offer to clients or using personal projects. Ultimately, this exercise is all about learning how to critique your work productively. It can be a very dangerous mindset to compare yourself as an artist to another artist that you see, and it can meet quite self-defeating. In order to transform your lettering, either improve it and bring it up to another level, or just change it into something new and different, it requires you to really critique your work in a way that allows you to make targeted changes rather than just give up and feel deflated. Ultimately, my goal here is for you to have a lot of fun. I don't want you to follow along and try to emulate the exact lettering styles that I'm making, because as you're going to see, this is really about making changes to existing lettering that you already do, and in a step-by-step process, transforming one style you're comfortable with into another new style. Please follow along, leave your questions in the comments section, subscribe so that you can stay up-to-date on my new tutorials and demonstrations and tag me in your work on Instagram, if you create projects using my books or tutorials or free downloads, or even if you do this experiment, because I'd love to see the work that you're doing. Now without further ado, let's dive right in. 2. Transform Your Lettering: One Step at a Time: I have here just four basic grid lines that I've drawn with my transparent ruler. Specifically, I'm not using a grid today because the whole point of this exercise is not to adhere to specific slant lines, x-height lines, cap height lines, and all of that. It's really about, in fact breaking free of habits and finding new modern calligraphy styles that you might not have found if you had otherwise tried to create them just from trial and error. I'm going to get started by writing out a word in a style that I'm most comfortable with. Essentially I'm just writing it in whatever style comes most naturally to me without thinking too much through it, and again, I'm not using a grid. If you know me, my modern calligraphy style is already quite loose and varied. But I'm going to stick with the basics now and just write out a word, "Single do calligraphy ", quite simply. Here you'll see that I wrote this out with slightly varied distances between the letters, but I kept to the baseline so there is, among other things, a consistent baseline and a relatively consistent cap height with ascender height. What I mean by that is that the top of the c and the tops of the l and the h come to basically the same line and same with my descender length. My g, and p, and y, come essentially down the same length. On top of that, even though I wasn't adhering to a grid, I did keep my letters at roughly the same metallic slant. I can see the access of my letters matches, okay? When I look at the x-height now, that means the distance from the baseline to the top of any lowercase letter that does not have an ascender. Traditionally, that's an x. But in this case, my a and i and the top bowl of my g, they all come to my x-height, right? You can see that in this particular exercise, I also made a pretty consistent x-height. My a are roughly the same height the bowls of the g and the p overturn of the age all roughly the same. I would go so far as to call this a modern style. It doesn't adhere to a traditional style like copper plate but it does adhere to a lot of the traditional rules about uniformity. Now I'm going to do one change at a time and the first change I want to do is decrease the x-height. Basically, I want to keep everything else the same. I'm going to aim to keep the same slant, the same distance between the letters, the same pressure on my pen so I get the same boldness and essentially the same uniformity in ascenders cap height and descenders and the only change is decreased my x-height. Let's see what that does to the overall look and feel. This is a hard exercise because already with the a. Already forgot what I was doing really and I made it taller than I was planning, that's okay. Okay, so my attempt that uniformity with the first version was pretty close and I do have a slightly lower x-height now, which did make my word and slightly sooner because lower x-height means that the letters shrunk a little bit too, I want to lower it even more. Let's just get more dramatic here. It can be hard to write that small with such a thick nib is what I'm using. But you can see how even though the height of my cs are all the same and my ascenders and descenders all come down to the same size. This bottom one already looks more formal and just because the x-height is lower, it already made that change. Now, in this one-step exercise, we're always going to take the last version that we made provided that we like it. If you hate that version, you can go back a step, but we're going to take that version and continue applying a single change at a time this time I'm going to spread out the letters, which means I'm taking all the connect the strokes and I'm going extend them. I'm going do it really dramatically so that we can see a huge difference right off the bap. But again, everything else remains the same. Okay, so you can see what again an immediate difference is created just by taking the same letter forms, the same shapes, and stroke patterns, and just increasing those connectors strokes. Here I have a fresh grid line sheet, and basically I'm just going to keep this first sheet here for reference, only as I proceed with my next step. What I think I'm going to do now is vary the baseline, because you see I'm still adhering quite closely to the baseline, and I want to see what happens if I make, let's say the a sit above the baseline and this l come below it, but again, keeping everything else from this version the same. All right, so one little tip is that if you're doing a bouncy baseline text, and you keep the first letter and the last letter, at roughly the same baseline, then the calligraphy itself won't look like it's tilted or moving up the page or down the page, it will have these anchor points on the left and right sides, where the letters in the middle just look like they're moving up and down or bouncing. I'm starting to like this and if I come back quickly and compare my first version, to this version, knowing that I'm only on step number what, let's not count this step really, because it almost the same, so we have 1, 2, 3, 4. Only with four steps, I've gone already from this to this, but let's keep going and see just how different we can make this. Now that I focused on connector strokes, and baseline, I'm going to focus on slant. I've still kept a pretty even access in all of these letters. But what I'm going to do now is very vital a lot, and that's going to mean that some of my letters sit more upright, and some are even more slanted than they already are. I think while I'm at it, I'm still varying the baseline, I'll vary it slightly differently, why not? Now let's take a look at this varied slant. It looks slightly different, it just looks funkier, so, for example here at this slant, whereas the slant is more upright, here I have a pretty dramatic slant, I see somewhat as well, but my g is much more upright. This was step number 5. Let's see what we can do with step number 6. I think this time I'm pretty close to the final style that I want to achieve. I'm going to try making the first letter lowercase, and I'm going to add a little bit more flourishing as I go, and by that I just mean more loops. For example, I'll probably put a loop at the top of this r, and maybe increase the loop sizes, of these ascenders and descenders, they have natural places for flourishing and adding decoration. Lowercase plus more decorated. I think you can see now just how different that is and how we've really ultimately achieved an extremely whimsical fun style. When we bring back our first design, comparing this to this number 1 to number 6, you can see here we have six steps that have created two completely different calligraphic styles. 3. Tag me! @mollysuberthorpe: I would really love to see how you do this exercise on your own, so if you undertake it and post it on social media, please do tag me because I'd love to have a peek. I always love to see what you're up to. Till next time.