Hand-Lettering Workshop: Illustrating with Lettering | Mary Kate McDevitt | Skillshare

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Hand-Lettering Workshop: Illustrating with Lettering

teacher avatar Mary Kate McDevitt, Lettering and Illustration

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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Assignment


    • 3.

      Finding Inspiration


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Creating Thumbnails


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


    • 8.

      More Creative Classes on Skillshare


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About This Class

Join Mary Kate McDevitt as she brings lettering to life with illustration. This 35-minute class explores using concepts to drive the style of your lettering and finding inspiration in reference materials. Focused on sketching, you’ll explore 3 different approaches:

  • illustrations alongside typography
  • letters taking the form of objects
  • subtle motifs throughout letterforms

By the end, you’ll create your own hand-lettered illustration inspired by your favorite animal. This class and project is perfect for beginners seeking a fun project as well as intermediate and advanced students looking to deep-dive into a sketching challenge.

More than 25,000 students have learned to hand letter with Mary Kate's first 3 Skillshare classes: The First Steps of Hand Lettering, The Final Steps of Hand-Lettering and Vintage Hand-Lettering: Styling Phrases for Timeless Appeal.

Meet Your Teacher

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Mary Kate McDevitt

Lettering and Illustration



My new book Illustration Workshop is available for purchase on Amazon and a book store near you!

You can purchase it online here!

I'm excited to announce my new journal Every Day is Epic is officially out today! This journal takes the pressure off documenting a regular day by framing it with illustrations, funny quips and plenty of places to doodle.

To celebrate with all of you, I'm offering a giveaway to 5 Skillshare students to win a copy and one grand prize winner will also have a 30 minute portfolio review/consultation. Use the hashtag #EPICSKILLSHARE to enter through instagram with a link to your project.

Contest Details:

To be eligible, you have to have already submitted a project or submit a new project in one of Mary Kate's 6... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Mary Kate McDevitt. I'm an illustrator and letterer in Brooklyn, New York, moving to Philadelphia. This class is about integrating illustration into lettering. So, we're going to be lettering a word, phrase, or even a drop cap based on the animal of your choosing. We're going to be using the animal's color, texture, pattern, or even historical importance to integrate into your lettering. When I got into lettering myself, I started more on the illustration side. So, I was working with a hand-drawn lettering style to just match my illustrations. That's how I got into lettering, just making my lettering more illustrative. I've been working on these little sweet tree illustrations, reacting to weather, and one of them is a popsicle. He's walking like this, and in the background it says hot shit. In this particular illustration, I wanted it to feel really bright and sweltering hot, and the lettering reflects the popsicle's style, and mood and tone. I think it's important to integrate illustration into your lettering because it only helps you create stronger concepts. It also makes a more varied and more personal work for your own projects and styles. This can help you break loose of those things that you're just stuck on. If your in a letter drawing road, working in illustration is definitely helpful for that. The three methods we're going to be reviewing in this class to integrate illustration into lettering is representational which is the lettering taking on the characteristics of the animal. Illustrative, which is illustration based drawings with lettering integrated around it, and decorative, which is taking the characteristics of the animal and using those motifs within the letter forms in a more decorative way. In this class, we're just going to be focusing on the sketching and the drawing parts of this illustration. We're hoping to take your sketches into final inking and texture. Those are steps of the project that you can catch up on my other Skillshare classes. But right now, we're going to be working on really getting a strong concept and using the illustration and different ways of drawing into your lettering to just nail down that approach. I think this class is different from my other classes because it puts a little bit more focus on a different exercise you can incorporate in your other projects. Like this one we're focusing on animals, but you can really take the same method we're going to be going over in this class for any kind of project. Doesn't necessarily need to be animals, but your lettering can take on the characteristics of lightning or books or some other kind of object that has a lot of illustrative aspects to it. When people think of lettering too much as like topography, your lettering is going to look a little stiff. So, I think being forced to bring illustration into your lettering, will only make it more personal and more fluid and organic and just more or illustrive. 2. Your Assignment: The assignment for this class is making a hand-lettered illustration based on an animal of your choosing. I thought animals could be a good one to start with even though this particular assignment could really work with any kind of object, but animals, they're just a fun one to work with. The tools you need for this project are pretty basic. For what we're going to be reviewing in class are just going to be your sketching tools. What I have to work with is a mechanical pencil, you can use just one of those regular mechanical BIC pencils, just a number two pencil and a dark pencil. They are really just for making strong illustrations you're sketching darker, you can just use one of these nothing fancy. But when you do take your illustrations to final, you're going to want to look into different kind of inking, pens, and different kinds of drawing paper and scanning it in and doing all the digitizing, that's when you're going to need different equipment. You can really spend as much time as you want on this project, depending on how much of research you do in the beginning to how much time you spent drawing. But, really I think this project you can really do on a weekend, just to the sketching part of this project. If you're feeling stuck when you're drawing, my only advice is to keep drawing. You have to work through those creative blocks or ruts. Because eventually something will start to click and then you can get re-excited about the project. The difference between an OK project versus a great project, I think,really comes down to concept. When you start using your reference material in a really clever way, that maybe other people haven't seen that before, that's when you see a project, even if the drawing is very simple, it doesn't necessarily need to be over the top ornate. But when you see something like, "I see what they did there." That's when a project really feels strong to me. What I want to see from everyone to upload onto their project page is basically every step. There's a lot of drawing, writing, and sketching for this project because a lot of it is research and brainstorming. Just coming up with all the characteristics that come from your animal. So, in your project page, I want to see your brainstorming list, the animal you choose, the three different styles, warm-up sketches, thumbnail sketches, revise sketches and your final sketch. You can also take your project, obviously, to inking and final stages as well. I'll be working on the project alongside you guys. I'm going to show you what I have started so far, and follow my project on Skillshare, to see how I choose color and start inking, and digitizing and texture and everything. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone's drawings, and seeing what animal they choose and why, also? So, can we see everyone's projects. 3. Finding Inspiration: So, the first step is going to be choosing your animal, and I just started kind of drawing different animals and just kind of doodling in my sketchbook. I kept coming back to the crow because I think it's such a cool bird, and that's kind of how I started coming up with ideas for my project. But, you can also just start looking through different kind of books that have animals in them, and just see what you react to as well. So, you can look at your reference material first just for picking out animals, and that might start getting some ideas lose for your next steps of this project. Once you've picked your animal, you can start thinking about the direction you want to take. Like, if you do want your final project to be a drop cap, or if you do want to do a phrase, or a quote, or something that's inspired by your animal, or just lettering the word, what your animal is. Like if you're doing crow, just letter the word crow. If you do want to do a book cover, or packaging, or maybe you want to do a set of alphabet cards like alphabet flashcards, the scope of the project is really up to you. But, kind of narrowing it down to something like that can really help you start thinking conceptually rather than so, like, it's just this illustration that it can be whatever it wants. So, I do think kind of narrowing down an application for your illustration can also be really helpful. So, once you do have your animal picked and maybe you're thinking about different kinds of directions, it's really time to start studying your animal. So, one of the places I go to is just Googling images of your animal and kind of working from there, but it's also really helpful to look at books and different kinds of reference material, like National Geographic Magazines would be super ideal. So, these are just out of a book realistic etching kind of illustrations, it could be really beneficial for you. There's tons of animals in them and they're pretty cool etchings. So, you can kind of start to see different kind of patterning, like in peacock feathers versus turkey feathers, and kind of get ideas from there. I also have a lot of these kind of really realistic illustrations of, this is all sea life but the same kind of thing. But the coloring of this alligator and the way this artist interpretated the alligators scales, and the shape of the mouth, and how that would work with your illustration style, and just the shape of the eye. These are the kind of details you want to start looking at and really thinking a little differently, like, and how these kinds of motifs can be used in your lettering. This other book I have to look at is Indian matchbook packaging. A lot of them use animals, a lot of elephants, and while the lettering isn't technically integrated within the lettering, it's integrated in the layout, and there is still some kind of connection with the lettering style in relation to the illustration style. The other thing when you're doing your research and coming across inspiration is studying them more. Reading about where they live, their environments, what they eat. Their environments like, is your animal living in a swamp, versus a jungle, versus a desert, and how those other kind of details can be incorporated in your illustration and lettering. This is my brainstorm list for the crow in the picture. I basically just started researching about Aesop's Fables, and I learned that they were written by a Greek slave. So then, I started thinking about how I can bring Greek motifs into my illustration as well. I started with writing down the crow in the picture, and then I went ahead and just started writing any kind of word that I thought of when I thought of both Aesop's Fables, crows, and pictures. So, I started to kind of form ideas for my thumbnails and I start to form ideas of how I want this project to end up looking, just based on these really small sketches and these words that I wrote down. These are examples of my warm-up sketches. So, this one at the top is my version of the illustrative lettering style, where I'm kind of working with a more simple lettering style and just kind of letting more of the focus be on the illustration. I didn't want the crow to overpower the illustration or the lettering too much, so I just kind of have him resting on the sea, and then I have a tree branch, it's kind of growing intertwined in the letters. The second one I have, this is the representational one and this one is maybe a little bit more abstract. I guess I was trying to have like feathers kind of going, but it kind of looks more scaly than feathery, but I think one thing that could help that is with color for sure. My last one is decorative. For this one, I was working with the Serifs styles, kind of reflecting the different kind of ruffled feather kind of look, and the kind of line work just how I draw the feathers. So, if you are feeling stuck about how to incorporate the different characteristics of your animal into lettering, what I actually do and maybe this is when using different kind of illustrated reference material could be helpful, but I think drawing your animal and seeing how you draw it and how it comes from your hand, could actually be really helpful. So, on the other side of the page, I just drew a couple crows, and I just started to kind of see how I would treat the feathers and how I would just treat the line work and how I can incorporate that into my lettering. 4. Brainstorming: So, I'm going to show you an example of how I approach this kind of lettering style and I'm going to create an illustration right here. So now, this is a warm up sketch, these aren't necessarily going to have to be used for your final project, unless you do want to do just the word as your final project. So these can be loose and very exploratory. So, I just start by laying down some lines so I know how I want my illustration to work on the page and how big I want it to be. So, I'm going to maybe think about not necessarily carved in stone look because I still want it to have the feeling of the crow and kind of work that in. But I'm going to be working with more blocky kind of lettering to kind of tie in a little bit more with the Greek aspect. So at this stage, I'm making just small changes to the lettering and just how this style is going to be, but also just making sure I'm just laying down the framework of the lettering. Then once you have a rough outline of how you want the letters to work together, I just kind of go in and erase all the extra sketchy lines, because I don't want that interacting with my revised sketched lines. So even though they're a blocky look, I'm adding just tiny little details like this curve of the sea just to reflect a little bit more my illustration style. Now, that we have the basic shapes of the letters, I can start thinking about how I want to incorporate more illustrative details. So one thing I want to incorporate more is a little bit more of the actual story. So, that's something that I'm going to use in a more decorative way rather than representational. So, how I'm going to think about doing this is actually kind of- I'm going to split the whole word kind of in half or maybe even in thirds, so that the bottom half more represent the pitcher, and the top path represents the crow, and the middle is the pebble and the water kind of getting filled up. And it's going to be kind of abstract and it's one of those things where it needs to kind of go along with the story to see those details, but it's not so over the top, it's not so on the nose that it's so obvious, but maybe it's something a little bit more subtle. Let's say I split it into thirds rather than in half and I'm just going to lightly draw and where those breaks are going to be and how those breaks are really going to work with the lettering style. So, these breaks maybe they're not straight lines but maybe they're more curved, and these curves could reflect the shape of a pitcher, or even the shape of water. The lines lightly drawing it in erasing other lines that could be distracting. And then I think I'll probably do the same thing up here, but since this tab is meant to represent the crow, I think I'm going to make the same ruffled details but to make it look a little bit more like feathers, so I'm going to make them a little bit smaller. And then up here, I'm gonna go a little bit off of what I did here, and a little bit of what I did here. But maybe I'll work in maybe a little bit of the eye probably not the beak but like I said I wanted to be subtle. I'm going to think about where those would be placed on each part of the letter and even though they don't really look like eyes, when you see it all together you could start to see it emerge from the illustration. And then I'm going to work in other details more ruffled feather kind of looks and line work. And at the bottom, I'm going to reference a little bit of water, a little bit of decorative Greek pitchers. So, I'm kind of just laying down these decorative motifs. So at the bottom, I actually did a little bit just these decorative borders that you always see in Greek carvings, and illustrations, and everything. I'm going to do something subtle like that at the bottom here because it represent water and I think with the blocky lettering style it can still work together. And then I'm going to add these little dots here, and that's going to be like the pebbles lining the bottom of the pitcher. And then the middle part, I kind of just wanna do maybe something more like that the pebbles are falling into the pitcher. So I wanted to look a little loose like they're dropping in, but I also don't want it to feel so sporadic that it breaks from this pattern and then it just looks loosey goosey in the middle. And then something I can play with is kind of doing some lines in the middle, and this is something I would probably think would be really subtle if I were to take it to color. And then just so I don't have this big space at the bottom, I'm going to fill it in with more decorative motifs that I would see in Greek pottery. Maybe there's some vertical lines, do you think it's filling up with water or more pebbles falling in. So when I start to think about how it could come together with color? I picture it being definitely black to get the whole idea of the crow across. But also, maybe orange. Like I would picture clay pottery. I'm also kind of thinking about adding dimension and that's how these drawings can come about. They can kind of come from just pulling from ideas, pulling from your reference material, and pulling from your brainstorm list and just playing with ideas because this doesn't necessarily need to be your final project, it's just a way of incorporating your illustration with your lettering. So this was a more decorative approach as opposed to this being more illustrative, representational, and this is another approach to decorative illustration style. I look forward to seeing how you incorporate illustration into your lettering styles. 5. Creating Thumbnails: So, this is the second set of warm-up exercises you can do for your project. You can either do the dropcap as your final project, or if you're feeling a little timid about getting started in to lettering and illustration, doing just one letter might be a little helpful to kind of break into it a little bit more. So, for the final direction that you could potentially go for your project is working with a quote or phrase form. So, like I've mentioned, my project is the pro and the picture. So kind of pulling a little bit from my warm-up, sketches, I did these thumbnails. It's a lot easier to work on these more kind of realized warm-up exercise drawings for a single word or a single letter, but when you're working with a longer quote or a few words, it's easier to work in a more typical way of working with thumbnail sketches, sketches and revising sketches from there, which is why it's really important to work on those warm-up sketches first, to kind of get these ideas moving around in your brain. So, I really just started laying out some different thumbnail ideas. Like I said, this is going to be kind of the title page of this book of Aesop's Fables. So, I was working with some different layout option, something that's really simple. Something with a lot of borders kind of going on a little bit like that warm-up sketch that I just did working with kind of telling the fable inside of the letter forms, and some of these it's kind of telling it inside of the border or kind of surrounding the letter forms. I'm liking a lot of these directions but I want to work on just a few more thumbnails really like this is a good amount of thumbnails you should do, even if you do start feeling like you're drawing the same thing over and over and over again. There's always a subtle thing that you're changing to kind of make it tighter or something that you're kind of realizing like, this it's way too simple, but how can I take that simplicity and mix it up a bit? So, you kind of need to sometimes if they can come out and it's like, ''I did 15, no problem,'' but you do, sometimes you have to kind of force yourself to do a whole lot more. So, ideally, I think nine would be a good amount, because we'd like to see at least 2-3 sketches to show on your project page, different kind of options you could go, and hopefully they're kind of three different options, they don't necessarily need to be three different in terms of illustration or illustrative, representational, or decorative, they can all be decorative, they could all be illustrative, but it's kind of good to mix in a little bit from each or a little bit for each sketch. So, I'm going to do three more thumbnails and just kind of see what are the kind of layouts I can come up with. I'm going to just start out by just drawing really light framework of everything, and then crow is a little bit more loose, a little bit more organic, and then picture is a little bit more straightforward and that's kind of how I worked with each one, but I think that's generally the kind of concept I want to come across. So now I have something a little similar to this, but maybe a little bit more angular, I guess. But I really want this border to work a little bit more with this illustration. So, maybe I'll put another spot illustration up in the corner to have a little bit of balance. Maybe that's just like a little icon of water something, some decorative elements surrounding it. Now I have a different kind of variation of this illustration, but I really like the way this layout is working a lot better. So, I'm really not going to spend a lot of time thinking about the style of the letters, more just the shape and how they fit together. Another idea really simple, the letter forms take up little bit more presence rather than other illustration elements coming in to play. So in this one, I'm just really focusing on laying out the framework of the letters and everything's just kind of stacked on this one, and then say okay maybe crow gets a little taller, because like if you think, you don't want to completely split down the middle, but the picture's going to kind of be here and crow kind of live right here. I'm always revising and just laying out how it all works together, just kind of thinking about little details that can make the illustration much stronger. I think almost in every single one I have just the leg of the R kind of cradling the O because it always kind of looks nice anyway. So, maybe here we have the reporter kind of creep in, and then these dots are all just like pebbles and other kind of ways to just support my concept. So for my last thumbnail, I realized all these other options are completely square. I'd like maybe this one to have a more organic feel, something that doesn't necessarily have to fill each corner of the page, because this is going to be a title page, so it doesn't necessarily need to fill like maybe you would think a book cover would. So, I'm going to have it centered on the page, a little bit more organic, maybe in the shape of an oval or another kind of shaped like that. So this is another thing we think about how you can bring in different kind of border options or different kind of shapes you could play with, but I actually think this kind of vignette would actually make sense for this application and illustration, and then again, just kind of fill in the framework of the letters to kind of fill that shape. One thing when you're working with shapes, you don't necessarily need to force it into each crevice of that shape because it could make, you don't really like stretch letters so that they look very strange. So I just want to kind of fill it more organically. So very simple, but it could look really beautiful just really centered on the page with a lot of white space around it, rather than illustrations is almost more like icons, is working integrated into the lettering. Next, I'm going to take these thumbnails and I'm going to choose some of my favorites and take them to a more revise sketch and start thinking about how the layout really works and kind of finishing up some more of the style details. 6. Sketching: So, once you have your thumbnails down and you have a general idea of what you want your project to turn into, it's time to start making some more realized sketches. So, these are some sketches that I worked on, and in this case, I went with just this border idea, and maybe breaking out of the filling each corner of the page with the lettering. In these two cases, I went with a more decorative approach, particularly in the border here, but in this one I went with the decorative approach but also illustration. I'm incorporating these larger illustrations in with this kind of border and keeping the lettering a little bit more simpler. So, here I have a more illustrated/decorative border idea with some slightly more decorative lettering styles. The other sketch that I went with was something a little bit more simple and in this case, I could do something a little bit more representational with the lettering, so I really wanted to have this looser but organic kind of style to "crow" with a little bit of the line work that I was using and the feather details in my illustrations and "pitcher" just kind of picking up on the different kind of decorative details that you'd see on a pitcher, but also using illustration to help to tell the fable as well. So, when you do choose your final direction, you can pick from a little bit a decorative, a little bit of representational because that helps it create a stronger illustration style. It doesn't necessarily need to be all representational. Not every letter needs to morph into the shape of the animal of your choosing. You can use representational as a little bit more subtle, a little bit more representational/decorative and breaking down each part of the animal could certainly help that as well. Like if you were drawing a tiger, you think about the tiger stripes, and the way the tiger stripes look on the tiger head, or even the whiskers and just like how the whiskers can be used with your lettering style. Not in such an obvious way, like you don't have to draw the tiger head to include whiskers as well. So,f those are ways you can maybe take apart each kind of part of the animal and look at it separately and study that one part that you could use throughout your lettering. So, the application I went with, like I said, is just kind of the chapter, the title page of a book, so when you're thinking about the final direction of your project, is it going to make sense to do a drop cap versus a phrase or quote or something? Think about how that's going to relate to your final project as well. 7. Final Thoughts: So, once you're done creating your sketches and creating at least two to three options for your final illustration, I would love to see how the sketches evolve to the final project. Creating revised sketches, inking it up, digitizing, choosing color and texture. You can check out all those steps of the process in my other Skillshare classes, the first steps of hand-lettering and the final steps of hand-lettering, where I talk about different sketching techniques in drawing, and inking, and finalizing and digitizing your work. I'm looking forward to seeing each step of this project posted to your project pages, and everyone commenting, and seeing how everyone else's projects come together as well. What I would love to see everyone upload to their project page is the animal that they choose, their brainstorm list, their different reference material that they've collected, warm-up sketches, whether you've went all in one direction or you chose different directions working with just the word, or just the drop cap, working in all three different methods that we've talked about in this class to your thumbnails, to sketches, your revised sketches, and each step finishing your project all the way to color. I think it'd be great to see how everyone picks different approaches for this project. I'm looking to see different kind of- it can be really subtle and just really clever, or just like really ornate and really bold. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone just go for it. Whether it's all out and crazy amount of detail to just really subtle details that not everyone maybe thought of, and those are the things that happen in your brainstorm list, deeper into the list gets the more interesting ideas. Seeing how you can put that into your lettering without going so obvious. Not everything needs to be completely illustrated, and just like a word in front of it. Even if it is, it's just kind of how they relate to each other and the styles that relate to each other, I'll be posting all my work and all the future work I'm going to be doing on my project to my project page. So, make sure you look out for that as well. Thank you so much for taking the class, and I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone's projects. 8. More Creative Classes on Skillshare: