9 ways to improve your brush calligraphy

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Brush lettering and brush calligraphy is popular these days. Whether you're a beginner or just looking to improve your craft, here are 9 ways to improve your brush calligraphy. Sometimes even more seasoned brush lettering artists need to go back to basics in order to check in with themselves!

9 ways to improve your brush lettering

Learn traditional calligraphy

Learning traditional calligraphy for improving your brush lettering is like learning history to improve your modern day politics. Understanding the past will help you improve your current practices.

I promise this isn't as boring as it sounds.

When I was starting out with brush calligraphy and hand lettering in general, several hand lettering artists recommended I pick up a copy of Calligraphy for Dummies. It seemed a little counter-intuitive, because I wasn't even sure I wanted to do calligraphy per se. But in studying the traditional letterforms and diligently practicing the variety of historical shapes, I was able to better understand why letters are formed the way they are.

Start with markers and brush pens

As I mention in my e-book Getting Started with Brush Lettering, it's important to start with the right brush marker for you. Brush markers are great for beginners because

  • you don't have to get used to pointed pen calligraphy, which can be frustrating and difficult
  • you don't have to refill your writing implement, whether it's a nib or a watercolor brush
  • you can find the right brush pen for you, depending on your desired thickness, nib elasticity, colors, and budget

I always recommend these pens for beginners because they're affordable, high quality, and relatively easy to find online:

Learn and practice basic strokes

It can be easy to get carried away and try to dive right in to writing full words. In fact, I distinctly remember doing just that. Go ahead and get it out of your system; it's inevitable! But also, don't throw away these practice sheets. You're going to want to see how much you progress (and how quickly)!

Confession time: I struggled with brush lettering for a very long time. I wanted to be instantly good at it, and found my wobbly letters incredibly frustrating. The seasoned artists always recommended: "Do your drills!" and "Learn the basics first!" but I wanted to be better than that.

Well, don't do what I do. Learn the rules. Practice the basic strokes. Then learn to draw the individual letters properly.

I created a YouTube playlist to help you do just that!

Focus on consistency in heights

When you're starting out, aim to make your letter heights and practice strokes consistent. Practice on lined paper for a while. I recommend getting a $1 grid composition notebook. When you're starting out with brush lettering, it's best to work on consistency first before trying to draw quirkier lettering styles.

While these drills may seem monotonous and boring, they are helping you develop muscle memory so when you do go to experiment with more modern calligraphy styles, you will be able to execute them more beautifully and legibly. 

Focus on consistency in angle

More consistency practice! The best way to learn to draw calligraphic letters on an angle is to use a calligraphy guide. It's super easy to make your own calligraphy guide.

Again, practicing diligently on a regular angle will help you develop your muscle memory faster. Soon you'll see you won't need to use the calligraphy guide anymore; your letters will be perfectly angled because of all the drills you did before with your guide!

When you're working with angles, make sure to put the heavier downstroke along the angles of your guide.

Connect letters when you're ready

Once you're ready, choose a word you want to letter. First, try lettering each of the letters separately, focusing on complete letters, consistent thicks and thins, consistent heights, and consistent angles. Then, begin to join the letters together by overlapping the downstroke of the next letter over the tail of the previous letter. (I talk a lot about joins in my e-book, Getting Started with Brush Lettering.)

Go slow

If you're having trouble with a certain stroke, letter, or a gradual thick-to-thin line (or visa versa), slow down. Just like anything you're practicing, it will feel a little clunky at first but will get faster with time and improved muscle memory.

Be a copycat

If you're into brush lettering and brush calligraphy, I can only assume you're into it because of the inspirational art and lettering pieces you see online. Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media sites are an excellent source of inspiration.

After you've significantly improved on the basics, try copying the styles of brush lettering artists you admire. Important caveat: do not post your work where you're blatantly copying off of someone else's style! When you're working to push yourself out of your own comfort zone and try on different lettering styles, looking for inspiration is a great idea. But posting your copy on social media is a bad, bad idea. Any copycat work you do needs to remain private.

So why copy at all? Copying is a great way to expand your style repertoire and help you figure out how someone gets something to happen, stylistically. But then, when you want to move forward and start implementing some tips from lettering artist A and some tips from lettering artist B, and also mix in artist C and D's styles, put your copycat work away and practice your lettering without references. This is how you'll develop your own signature style quicker and more honestly.

Want to discover your own hand lettering style without truly copying? Learn different cursive styles, then apply brush lettering strokes to the different cursive styles.

Share your work and get feedback

It's fun to see how quickly you can improve. Share your brush calligraphy work on an Instagram or Tumblr feed to get involved in the growing lettering community, or at least date your work in your sketchbook so you can leaf back and view your progress.

There are also tons of growing lettering communities! Come join the Lettering League on Facebook. Ask for help, get feedback, participate in weekly lettering challenges, and interact with others who are just as enthusiastic about lettering and brush calligraphy as you are!

Brush calligraphy resources mentioned

Recommended supplies

Tell me: What are your biggest struggles with brush calligraphy? What are some of the ways you've learned and improved your brush lettering?