Handlettering with Jon King
Today Jon King, the artist-musician who looks like Thor, is bringing us a fantastic post on hand lettering.
Jon is a Graphic Design & Music/Vocal graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He is the founder of Jon King Design and spends most of his days dreaming up beautiful logos, hand lettering designs and print material for creative entrepreneurs, bloggers and small business owners. He can usually be found belting some Sam Smith song and sipping on a glass of wine or whiskey. Jon is an Instagram fiend and someday soon would like to add recording artist and fashion designer to his résumé.
Well, to be honest, I never said I want to start lettering. It just kinda happened. I have always been interested in lettering as an art form. It has fascinated me for years, and I fell in love with amazing designs that could be created by just using letters, but I never tried it for myself. That is, until last March when I went to the annual design conference at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point called nowHERE. They had a very talented letterer and now acquaintance of mine, Xavier Casalta flown in from France to teach a lettering workshop. I took the workshop and had a chance to finally explore lettering. I loved it! Since then I have honed my skills, growing as a letterer and artist, developing my own styles, and offering the service to my clients. It has been an amazing journey and it's only getting better!
There are so many talented letterers out there that make amazing work. This is a short list of my favorite letterers on Instagram (cuz ya know I’M AN INSTAGRAM FIEND right?!). Some of these letterers are peers and some or crazy pros. They are all talented and their stuff is rad!
So I can’t leave the house without my “small” bag of pens and tools. I probably have twenty or so pens/pencils/tools in this bag at any given time. Here is a list of some of my favorites and why I love them!
My 5 must-haves!
Staedtler 2mm lead holder: This thing is my #1 pencil tool. If I don't have this pencil in my bag of lettering goodies, I am lost. It can be sharpened to a very fine tip for crazy detail. The lead is relatively cheap, lasts forever and you have several options for the softness/hardness of the lead you choose. I personally like 2H or HB for lettering. It’s still hard enough that I don’t have to worry about breaking it, and it doesn’t smudge as much as a softer lead (B) would.
Staedtler rotary lead pointer: This thing puts that crazy sharp point on the lead for the above holder. Can’t have one without the other!
Faber-Castell eraser pencil: I don’t know if I could do what I do without this li'l beauty. You can sharpen this eraser down to a fine tip to detail your image! Pure perfection.
Portable Huion Tracing Table (A2-3): You gotta get yourself one of these, or at least something like it! When I started lettering I ran into a problem right away: I couldn’t trace anything because I didn’t have a light table. The Huion Tracing table is a relatively inexpensive way to have a light table at your fingertips, and it’s portable enough to drag with me to the office or on trips.
Canson Marker Paper: Marker paper is amazing for so many reasons! Markers don't bleed on or through the surface of the paper, and it's a great paper to use for tracing your designs with or without a light table! There are many different marker papers out there of differing weights and thicknesses, this is just the one I current use.
Other should/must haves!
Marvy LePen Technical Drawing Pen: Ok so seriously! These things are crazy cheap, and one of my favorite pens! They work wonderfully, are so smooth, and don’t bleed on pretty much any paper. The nib is the perfect shape. Not to long/short and not flat on top. Such a great pen. I suggest it to anyone… Did I mention it’s ridiculously cheap!?
Copic Markers Multi Liner: This is one of the finest (and most expensive) pens on the market. They work great, have wonderful pigment flow, don’t bleed, and are very smooth when you use them. If ya got the cash, go pick up a pack of these things. They are wonderful. Some of them you can even replace the nib and have refillable ink cartridges. These ones cost even more but you get so much more use out of them that they are worth it! I suggest buying one of their packages of four pens, or buying an individual one so you can test them out and see if they work for your style.
Brush Pens: I have so many different brands/styles of brush pens and personally like pens that have shorter brush tips. They work better for me and I can control the stroke better with my writing hand, but that may not be what works for you. There are so many brands of brush pens out there. Buys some cheap ones and try them out. Buy some expensive ones and see if they work better. Depending on your style, they may or may not actually be better for your personal hand lettered designs. Zebra disposable brush pen come in Super Fine, Fine, and Medium. Tombow Fudensoke brush pens are available in Hard & Soft. You want some color? Then check out the Kuretake Fudebiyori Pocket Color brush Pen. Color, color everywhere!
6in, 12in, and 18-36in metal ruler: The little 6 incher I use all the time! This ruler works great for getting a straight line when lettering. The longer rulers I use for larger lettering pieces, or for creating grid lines, baselines, cap hight, x hight, ascender/descender lines etc. I like the metal ones because they don’t break, and it’s harder to cut into them if you are using an X-ACTO knife on your design. They also usually look better than any plastic ones - and let's face it, I like things to look good.
Sharpies: Use 'em! All of 'em! Try all of the colors, nib sizes, and styles! They are a great, inexpensive option for sketching out rough ideas and filling in your non-final artwork.
Sketchbooks: I like having a smaller sketchbook and a larger one (as well as my marker paper) in my briefcase at all times. currently I like the dotted grid Field Notes memo book for my small one, and the Canson Mix Media Sketchbook for my larger one. I also like Moleskine notebooks, like andy good designer. I also have had my eye on the Baron Fig sketchbook. They look delicious!
Brush and ink/watercolor/acrylic: This is a media that most of us creatives already have but you create some amazing letters with brush and ink. Test out some different brushes and ink/paint and see what you can create! Try using some unconventional pigment too… I personally love using coffee and wine (go figure) as pigments! That means I get to drink it and paint with it!
I get most of my pens and other lettering related supplies from JetPens.com if I cant find them at my local craft store. It's a great place to find specialty pens at great prices, and has free shipping on orders of $25 or above.
Adobe Illustrator! It is the only way, seriously. If you are trying some other method, do one of two things. a) Tell me so I know there is actually another way, or b) stop and use illustrator because you are crazy.
I suggest to scan your photos in at a very high resolution so you can pick up as much detail as possible. If you don't have a scanner, I suggest taking a picture of the image. You may need to do some photoshop editing to get the best results in Illustrator later but this step is not always necessary.
When using Adobe Illustrator, I use two methods to digitize my work. The first is the Image Trace function on Illustrator. It is super simple once you figure out how to use it. I always suggest that you play around with the advanced options to try and find what works best with your designs and your personal style. I use different settings for each letting piece. You should try and make sure there are as few vector points as possible while still keeping the original design intact. It will give you a smoother image, and it will be easier to edit. I typically edit all of my letters individually by deleting excess vector points, and editing the shapes of the letters to fit the vision I had for the artwork. It is important to note that the Image Trace method will help keep the hand drawn effect of you artwork. Here are two great tutorials for using the Live Trace function on Illustrator. If you like to watch a video this one is for you. If you don't mind reading, this one is a more in depth look at the Live Trace too. This tool is my favorite for quick vectorization. The second way is to use the pen tool either before or after I use Image Trace, and actually trace the outline of each letter. This will give you a very precise and clean piece of artwork. It will be so clean that it won't really look “hand drawn” anymore so if thats not the look you are going for this may not be the right method for you. This method also takes a lot of practice with the pen tool and can be a little frustrating at first until you get some mastery over the pen tool. Here is a link to my favorite tut from theagsc.com for using the pen tool! The results are amazing! - The Horizontal & Vertical Bezier Handles Method
1. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice… practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. Ya get my point? The only way you will get better is through practice. I set aside most evenings to do lettering. I sit down, turn on Netflix and go to town. Pick a few styles that you like and try them out. That's how I learned. I figured out the styles of letters that I enjoy creating and that come naturally to me. I then try to perfect them. Sometimes I have to create tens-hundreds designs before I get to a point where I feel confident in the style. Other times I only had to do one or two… but those usually are like 40+ hour lettering projects, so by the time I was done I have gotten pretty good at the style. That being said, I still have to practice every day. It takes time to get comfortable using your tools, making them do what you want, and laying out beautiful designs. So practice.
2. Take lots of time to explore and think about your design. Usually the first layout I come up with for my lettering pieces are crap… 10+ layouts later I finally design a layout that I like and that fits the word/phrase. Don't rush your layout or the font choice. Each design is different, and you should let the word/phrase speak to you and show you the best layout for it instead of making it fit a style you want. Along the same lines, you should never use the first iteration of your design, unless you are bonkers amazing! For all my pieces I always trace my design onto marker paper and then trace it a second, third… tenth time just to make sure its perfect before I ink the final artwork, or create a digital file.
3. Don’t just get inspired by people that are better than you, or have been doing lettering for longer. Pay attention to what they are doing with their letters and learn from them. Copying their style will teach/inform your own, but you should also be trying to make something that is unique to you as well.
4. Pick up some of the tools I mentioned above. They will set you up for success and give you lots of options to explore different lettering styles.
5. And last but certainly not least… Have fun, experiment, and try different things. That is how great designs happen.
Photos by JON KING and are used with permission.