This post was written by Ana Corral, the newest edition to the TPK team! This is her first blog post, so don’t hesitate to show her some love in the comments! To learn more about Ana, you can click here.
Hand lettering doesn’t have to be PENful. Hehe.
I grew up familiar with a variety of brushes. I was practically birthed with a paintbrush in hand, brushing my hair wasn’t too difficult to grasp, and brushing my teeth is pretty much second nature. The only brushes that truly haunt me are brush pens. Despite a background that’s rich in illustration, typography, and design, I find brush pens to be quite intimidating. Honestly, the only brush pens I’m familiar with are the Faber Castells I stole from my dad’s art stash before I left for college (he knows now, don’t worry)! Up until this week, I’ve used them exclusively to illustrate. So, when Lindsey asked me to write my first blog post about conquering the brush pen, I cued up all of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, burned some palo santo, booked an extra therapy session, and buckled in!
This is a “before” picture of my brush pen calligraphy.
1. The Prep
My setup before the storm: #32 laserjet paper, brush pens, palo santo incense, and a cactus friend for company.
I’ll be honest with you: I have a pretty big ego when it comes to art. I watched the first of the “Getting Started with Brush Pens” videos where Lindsey gives you the run down on brush pens. Then, I poo-pooed the others, assuming I could figure out the mystery that is brush pens via just the worksheets. And boy, was I wrong! On the bright side, my downstrokes looked decent. However, my upstrokes were broken and shaky, and my hand felt awkward. I was back to square one: frustrated! Thus, quietly, I resolved that Lindsey might just know what she is talking about. Needless to say, I decided to watch the videos after all. I am so glad that I did!
In the brush pen videos, Lindsey talks about some pretty crucial, foundational knowledge. Some things I found useful that I wouldn’t have known otherwise are:
How you hold the pen matters. The angle at which your hand cradles the pen drastically changes the ease of your stroke. Letting the pen rest more on its side opens up the full potential of the brush element of the pen.
There’s no need to strangle the brush pen. I found that when I let the energy flow in my wrist but kept my fingers still, I had much more control over the pen, the weight, direction, and the thickness of the stroke.
The speed at which you move the pen matters depending on the type of stroke. When I moved at a more confident pace on upstrokes, they were smooth, clean, and proportional.
Basically, Lindsey saves you a lot of hair-pulling by setting you up for success in the videos. Additionally, the worksheets are set up like the ultimate “paint-by-number” guides — but for calligraphy. Dots, lines, arrows, and numbers guide each movement of the brush pen across the page.
When I started to get frustrated, I revisited the videos to watch Lindsey’s hand glide across the page to magically produce some flawless character. There’s a beautiful moment in one of the videos where Lindsey says, “… you may want to stop here and collect yourself”. That was kind of great because her voice came out of my outrageously loud computer speakers right as I was gritting my teeth, death-gripping the brush pen in a rage. “This is supposed to be relaxing?!” I remember thinking at the beginning of the worksheet.
The worksheet starts you off with brush pen basics; here I am learning how to create proper downstrokes!
Eventually you get into a groove with brush pen practice. It’s not dissimilar to when you’re cooking a meal and you start floating around the kitchen, tip-tapping spices into your cauldron over the fire, singing with the birds on the windowsill, doing the two-step with a broom. (Tell me I’m not the only one who does that?)
The worksheet moves transitions from single letters to full words with and without guidance. I think I got the hang of it!
It starts to come naturally: you’ll be able to feel when to exert and then let up on pressure. You’ll know when the brush pen tip should fold over itself to sweep a thick, pigmented stroke across the page. And, finally, you’ll know when to let go of a stroke or reconnect with another. In fact, you may notice my improvement over just the span of time I spent filling out the worksheets (which is super fun, once you get the hang of it)!
It’s a pretty awesome feeling to write a word successfully by yourself!
4. I Came, I Saw, I Conquered
After I felt more comfortable with the technique and the pens (it took a couple of days!), I embarked on a brush pen vision quest of my own. I corralled all of skills I’d just absorbed filling out the worksheet, and and I gussied up a package label addressed to my beautiful mama.
I remember when I first set out to purchase brush pens. I was so excited to try out brush pen calligraphy! Then, I saw the overwhelming online selection. I ended up blindly choosing a few brush pens. While I connected with some, there were others that ended up in the junk drawer! The goal of today’s comparison post is to prevent you from buying brush pens that won’t work for you. My hope is that, based on what you read here, you can choose beginner-friendly brush pens that you connect with!
Large Brush Pens
When I think of brush pen calligraphy, I usually think of large brush pens. When I say “large brush pens”, I’m talking about pens with a fairly big tip that can make bold, dramatic downstrokes. All of TPK’s brush pen learning resources center around larger brush pens like the ones outlined below!
The Pigma MB brush pen has a nice, flexible tip that is fairly short, which makes it easy to handle! It features a consistent flow of archival black ink. This is a brush pen that I recommend for beginners because its tip is responsive, but not overly so!
It must be noted that while other brush pens come in fun colors, the Pigma MB doesn’t. Should you choose to purchase this pen, your options are black, black, or … black. But! It’s a wonderful pen to learn on, and you can write with all sorts of fancy colorful pens in the near future. This is the pen for you if you:
I recently discovered the Zig (Kuretake) Fudebiyori and have fallen in love! This is probably my current favorite brush pen — in fact, I think I like it more than the Tombow Dual Point. The fairly hard tip of the Fudebiyori quite easy to control, without a lot of fuss. The tip is just a tad bit harder than the Pigma MB, which makes for easier upstroke/downstroke transitions!
Since the Fudebiyoris have a stiffer tip, they don’t fray as badly as Tombow Dual Point brush pens or Pigma MBs. They also feature super vibrant, wet ink that dries very quickly! While the Pigma MB is a wonderful beginner brush pen, I would say this pen is just as good — if not better — for those who are brand-new to brush pen calligraphy! This pen is for you if you:
Have never worked with brush pens before
Don’t want to spend a ton of money on Tombow Dual Point brush pens
Brush pen calligraphers love Tombow Dual Point brush pens, and for good reason! First of all, it comes in a multitude of colors. Since Dual Point brush pens are water-based, all of those colors are blendable! The tip is long and flexible, which means that you can create some very dramatic calligraphy with this pen.
“Dual point” means that this brush pen has two points: a brush pen tip and a hard, small tip. You can use the small tip to make accent dots like the ones shown above (tutorial here)!
While I personally love the Tombow Dual Point brush pen, I wouldn’t say it’s the very best pen to start out with. The tip can be intimidatingly flexible for beginners! I’d begin with a Pigma MB or Zig Fudebiyori, then move onto this pen once you’ve gotten the hang of one of those. This is the pen for you if you:
Everyone loves a watercolor wreath, and I’ve got the Google Analytics to prove it. The Woodland Watercolor Wreath tutorials are among the most popular posts on the TPK blog, and the Watercolor Holiday Wreath Tutorial goes viral every December! Today, I want to show you how to make an elegant nest-like wreath! It combines several different branches and colors to make a harmonious border that is relaxing to make and interesting to look at. Ready to get started?
1. Make a Pencil Draft
Every successful piece of art or calligraphy starts with a draft! Use your favorite pencil to sketch out an oval or a circle, then make a draft of your calligraphy or hand-lettering inside.
I am making my artwork on a piece of Stonehenge watercolor paper that I cut to 5″x7″. Feel free to use any brand and size of paper! (Watercolor paper is best for this tutorial, but mixed media/drawing paper could work, too.)
2. Start “Nesting”
As I mentioned, this watercolor wreath reminds me of a nest. You add branches here and there until the piece looks full and finished! Here’s a “cheat sheet” chart of the different branches you can make, and the steps you’ll take to create them:
With the chart above in mind, start by creating any of the branches above. It’s easiest to use the watercolor calligraphy technique to draw the branches! However, you can use a tiny paintbrush if you’re uncomfortable using a dip pen.
Make sure the stems of your branches follow the contours of your pencil oval/circle!
After you have illustrated the first little piece of the wreath, add another piece. It’s completely your choice which style of branch you draw next!
Continue building the wreath by adding an illustration here and there. Try to let the flora overlap! Overlapping branches gives the watercolor wreath an abundant, rich look.
Once you’ve worked your way around the circle, you can go in and add some dots in any color you like. I personally love glittery Arabic gold, so I’m dotting that around my piece. There’s no rhyme or reason to the dots; you can put them anywhere around the watercolor wreath.
Any gold watercolor will work for this purpose! It’s easiest to make these dots with a size 1 paintbrush.
3. Write Text
Many watercolor wreaths exist to frame text. In my case, I wanted a piece of artwork to put in our bedroom, so I chose to write a quote from Singin’ in the Rain! It’s just a little reminder to start the day off on the right foot. Whatever quote you choose, write it in watercolor calligraphy! Once the watercolor dries, you can erase any pencil draft lines.
The secret to making a beautiful wreath? Just keep the “cheat sheet” chart in this blog post in front of you, and build up the wreath with branches from the chart until you’re satisfied with how it looks!
Other Watercolor Wreaths
If you’re a watercolor wreath kind of person, then — first: hi, you’re amazing, and welcome to the club! Second: I’ve got a wealth of tutorials you’ll love!
In February of 2015, I quietly added a worksheet to the TPK catalog called “Learn Hand-Lettering for a Latte” (a.k.a. “Premium Hand-Lettering Worksheet Set“). At that point, I was too timid to blog about catalog additions, so I mentioned it in passing in a random blog post! By some miracle, though, people have noticed the worksheet throughout the years. And, by the looks of it (16 five-star reviews!), learners genuinely love the LHFaL Worksheet! So, today, I’m doing what I should have done four years ago and telling you why TPK’s most popular hand-lettering worksheet set is so cool.
All other TPK hand-lettering worksheets focus on one lettering style. This one, however, teaches you six! Why? The answer is silly, but simple. This was one of the very first worksheets that I ever made. I didn’t understand at that time that it’s okay to concentrate on one style! So, for this worksheet, I came up with six. Yes, that meant that the worksheet took quite a while to make (we’re talking months), but the result was worth it!
The Learn Hand-Lettering for a Latte Worksheet comes with quite a bit of eye candy. From its fun front cover featuring an illustration of a coffee cup to its hand-drawn supply list, there are many visual delights!
I hand-drew this supply list over four years ago, and today I appreciate how eye-catching it is!
I love dip pen calligraphy. Love it. But, I admit that calligraphy requires a bit of a fuss: you must have specific supplies and techniques to create it. The hand-lettering in this worksheet is a different story! You can print off the worksheet on any printer paper, and fill it out with any pen or pencil. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how you grip the pen. As long as you can mimic what’s on the page in front of you, you’re doing great!
If you want, you can use a ruler to help you make some of these letters, but it’s completely optional!
When I made this worksheet set, I had layouts in mind. I was making a lot of logos at that time, so the Learn Hand-Lettering Worksheet focuses on teaching you how to put different lettering styles together to make logo-like pieces. To do that, you’ll need grids, which are provided in the worksheet set!
The worksheet walks you through how to use the 1/4″ grid to make a neat little “An Apple a Day” piece. I also included a 3-page eBook detailing how I used the 1/4″ grid to make the Hand-Lettering for a Latte coffee cup logo!
The worksheet will teach you how to make this lettering layout. Learn how to make this, and you’ll be able to come up with your own hand-lettered layouts!
I’ve been using the hand-lettering styles in this worksheet set for nearly five years, and I am consistently amazed at how the lettering can enhance projects! Mail art looks great with hand-lettering, and the hand-lettering usually ensures super legible addresses.
Greeting cards also benefit from creative hand-lettering!
This elegant birthday card features “Flytrap” lettering.
This worksheet has been a learner favorite for years! Here are some of my favorite reviews:
“Awesome that this is available, I’ve looked all over for things like this, the craft stores want 20 bucks for the books but have a bunch of other things in the books I’m not interested in. I just want to learn different styles of hand letters. Thank you for making it available and affordable.” – Tammy
My goal this spring is to conduct a digital cleanse of the TPK website. To me, the website feels like a super fun room with all sorts of things to look at! Kind of like Ariel’s cave in The Little Mermaid: so many treasures to behold. I, however, have been a bit more sloppy about categorizing those treasures than Ariel was. So, I’m putting on my metaphorical cleaning gloves and taking action! The digital spring cleaning also means a gentle retirement of some items from the TPK catalog, including the Illustrated Roses Template.
In 2015, I created the Illustrated Roses Template. It’s a printable hand-drawn pattern of roses that can be used for tracing or decoupage. I originally made it with a straight pen, Nikko G nib, and India ink. It’s best incorporated into projects that would benefit from a vintage flair or floral elegance!
Since its release, I’ve used it for several projects! Mostly, though, I love it for mail art. I usually shine the template through a light box and an envelope to add embellishment!
Try tracing over the roses with two different colors for contrast!
Project Ideas for the Illustrated Roses Template
In addition to mail art, you can use the Illustrated Roses Template to make gift tags! Just print them out on cardstock and cut them out in a gift tag shape.
You can find a tutorial over how to make these gift tags + a free gift tag template by clicking here!
They’re also gorgeous when incorporated into holiday cards! Just shine the template up through a light box …
Then use watercolor or colored pencil to add a pop of color!
You can find the full tutorial for this card here!
If you’re pressed for time, you can always decoupage the template onto a greeting card! The roses can either serve as the card’s subject or they can play a supporting role, as shown in the card below.
This folded stand up card has several layers! The roses catch your eye, but they don’t steal the show.
Why Is This Template Being Retired?
I love the Illustrated Roses Template and I continue to use it for projects to this very day! However, it feels out of place in the TPK catalog because it’s the only item of its kind. I’ve never been able to properly categorize it!
I also think that, as far as the catalog goes, it’s best to offer things that have a specific purpose. The Illustrated Roses Template is versatile, which can make it intimidating! Really, it all boils down to cleaning up the website and making the user experience more cohesive and logical.
When Is Retirement?
I’ll pull the Illustrated Roses Template ($4.25) from the TPK catalog the morning of Monday, May 13th. After that point, it will no longer be available for purchase.
You can check out this tutorial for instructions over how to make this flourished Mother’s Day card!
Every year since 2016, I’ve created a Mother’s Day card tutorial for the TPK blog. This year, though, I want to do something different! Today, I’m going to help you come up with the best card presentation for your mom (or the mom[s] in your life). Mothers aren’t all the same, after all, and your card should fit your mother’s personality and preferences!
1. Consider Mom’s Temperament
I recently saw a plain white card on Pinterest that read, simply: “I got you this card because it matches your hair.” My mom would think that was funny (for the record — she does have white/gray hair)! On the other hand, my mother-in-law would not see the humor in that; she likes things to be a bit more formal.
When you consider your card’s subject, think about what the mother in question likes. Would she appreciate a card with a bit of humor? Or would she prefer a focus on art/beauty? Choose your card motif with Mom’s personality in mind!
2. Consider Your Own Strengths for the Design
Once you know what kind of card you want to send, you’ll need to decide on a design. That choice rests on what mediums you enjoy (watercolor, pen and ink, crayons, etc.), and how much time you’ve got! For greeting card inspiration, I, personally, love to browse Illustrations on Pinterest.
If you’re pressed for time, give yourself permission to purchase a card. It’s okay if you can’t hand-make one — there’s no shame in that! Just vow to wow the lucky mom with an amazing message on the inside.
3. Write a Message
No matter how well we know and love someone, it can be difficult to come up with a cohesive and expressive message for the inside of a card. I’d lead by saying happy Mother’s Day! Then, tell your mom how she has done and continues to do a great job. Specific examples are great!
This is my first Mother’s Day as a mother, and I I now understand that that the best thing to hear is that you’re doing a great job. Parenting, while beautiful, can be thankless, so it’s an amazing feeling when you see that your hard work isn’t going unnoticed!
4. Consider Including Additions
If you’re sending someone a Mother’s Day card, you probably know her well! So, again, think about what sorts of things she enjoys. Would she like a gift card to buy a latte? A photo of you (and/or her grandchildren)? Including a little something in the card can go a long way to show your appreciation!
I like to include belly bands (a.k.a. “paper sashes”) around the photos that I send!
5. Make Mail Art for Your Card
Every great card deserves a grand entrance in a marvelous envelope! If you’ve got an hour or so to spare, consider making some mail art to send the card in. There are a lot of mail art tutorials and inspiration here on the TPK website, which you can browse by clicking here!
I love this simple watercolor hexagons mail art! If you know Mom’s favorite color scheme, you can use it to paint the hexagons.
I officially have three Mother’s Day card tutorials here on the TPK website, and I’ve shown you all three of those in this article. Unofficially, though, there are a lot of card tutorials that could work for Mother’s Day! Here are my favorites:
In Monday’s newsletter, I mentioned that I’m going to retire a couple of items from the TPK catalog: Amazing Envelopes for a Latte and the Kaitlin Style Variations Worksheet. After I made this announcement, I realized a couple of things. First of all, not everyone got the memo because some people follow TPK via RSS feeds! Second, I want to answer questions that I’ve received about the products headed into retirement and why they’re being retired.
I developed Amazing Envelopes for a Latte in 2014, shortly after I released the original version of the Janet Style Worksheet Set. I created it as an eBook companion for that worksheet set, and its goal is to give you both practical and just-for-fun envelope calligraphy instructions and resources. In fact, I use the spacing templates in Amazing Envelopes to this day!
I love the spacing templates in Amazing Envelopes!
Amazing Envelopes also outlines some cool artistic techniques for mail art. For example, the eBook teaches you how to make a “coffee stains” watercolor envelope, as well as an envelope featuring a henna motif.
Besides the envelope templates, my favorite part of the Amazing Envelopes packet is its instructions on spacing and its “Spacing Cheat Sheet” example! Centered envelopes are so visually appealing, and the eBook walks you through how to achieve nearly perfect centering.
In 2015, I thought it made sense for me to concentrate on Janet Style calligraphy to make this packet. Almost immediately after this eBook’s release, I began receiving questions about whether it could be applicable to other calligraphy styles. (The answer: yes, but it takes some imagination.) Now, I realize that it makes more sense to offer a resource that can apply to any calligraphy style!
I’d like to make a new envelopes eBook that focuses on different justifications, spacing, and centering techniques. This new eBook wouldn’t hone in on a specific style!
I can’t deny that Amazing Envelopes has been a popular product. It’s got 14 five star reviews! And yet — I feel like its time has come. As I mentioned, I’d love to make an envelope resource that applies to many different calligraphy and lettering styles! Later this year or next year, I plan to do that.
I made the Kaitlin Style Variations Worksheet in 2015 as a way to encourage learners to experiment! The nice thing about modern calligraphy? You can play with it! You don’t have to follow any rules, and as long as an “A”, a “B”, and a “C” are recognizable as such, you’re doing great.
This is the “Cramped” variation of Kaitlin Style calligraphy, explained in the Kaitlin Variations worksheet.
Still: it’s a bit difficult to come up with ways to vary your calligraphy, especially if you’re new to the art! So, I released the Variations Worksheet to give Kaitlin Style calligraphy learners ideas and instructions.
Why I’m Retiring the Kaitlin Variations Worksheet
I love the concept and the creativity behind this worksheet! However, it’s been four years, and I’m at a crossroads with this worksheet where I should either redesign it and take better product photos, or retire it. My decision is to retire it.
This is the “Groovy” variation!
Is the Kaitlin Style Variations Worksheet a good, helpful resource? Yes. But it’s also a bit random from a catalog stock standpoint. It’s the only add-on of its kind … I don’t have anything like this for the other calligraphy styles. And, well, I don’t plan to make add-ons like this for the other calligraphy styles. So, it’s time to say goodbye!
When these items disappear from the TPK catalog, the download links will not disappear from your email or your TPK account. As long as the TPK website exists, they will be available to you!
With spring and summer weddings coming up, I decided to post a collection of modern envelope calligraphy inspiration! Note that I haven’t included any mail art in this list — just pure, lovely calligraphy. My hope is that these will inspire you for your next project, whether it’s a personal letter or a paid job!
The envelopes shown below were created with Kaitlin Style calligraphy. Unless otherwise noted, I calligraphed these with a Brause EF66 nib and a Rodger’s Pen Box oblique pen. Again, I’ve linked to the envelope + ink source under each photo!
The other day, I saw a video on Instagram that inspired me to develop this “juicy” brush pen calligraphy tutorial! In it, the artist utilized several common art supplies to make playful and eye-catching lettering letters. I modified the supply list to fit the things that I have available to me, and I hope that you’ll do the same! To create this tutorial, you’ll need:
Brush pens (or broad-tipped markers such as Crayola)
A pencil + eraser
A fine-tipped paintbrush
A white gel pen (such as Gelly Roll) + a black pen
1. Make a Draft of the Letters
Before you begin writing, you’ll want to use a ruler and a pencil to map out some guidelines. You can either make straight, uniform guidelines, or you can make playful guidelines, like I did.
I’ve got four sets of guidelines here, which I will use to write four address lines.
Next, exert significant pressure on your pencil to make a draft of your letters. Try to write as neatly as possible, as you’ll be tracing over these letters with your brush pen later!
Feel free to use a mix of print and cursive!
Complete this step by lightly erasing over your guidelines and letters. You should be able to see the letters just enough to be able to trace over them in the next step!
The fact that you wrote with significant pressure ensures that you will be able to see the lettering even after you erase it.
2. Trace Over the Lettering with Brush Pens
Get out your brush pens (or broad-tipped markers) and use them to trace over your pencil draft. Try to use two tones of marker for your lettering!
Once you finish, your brush pen calligraphy should look something like this:
5. Add Shadows
Now, take your pencil and use it to draw shadows to the right of every letter. The shadows should hug the contours of all the right-side edges of every letter! Each shadow should extend about 2 mm (1/16″) to the right.