3 Brush Lettering Mistakes You're Probably Making (and How to Fix Them!)

14th Jun, 2017

1 You're not warming up.

Mistake 1

I have so many examples of this concept from my own life:

1 When I used to go out and take photos of the flowers in my backyard, I would be prepared to delete the first ~20 photos I would take.

2 Whenever I go ice-skating, it always takes a few slow, wobbly laps around the rink before I feel confident that I won't fall over.

3 I’ve just started sewing, and most of my time is taken up rushing through the pinning stage, only to have to unpick everything when I realise I've sewn something in the wrong place!

The moral of these stories:

Each time you practice something something creative, you probably won't be great at it straight away.

You need time to warm up, to get your muscles and mind into the activity.

You need time to be shaky and inconsistent - and much better that it's when your warming up than when you're completing a final piece.

So do your warm-ups, and you'll notice a huge difference when you go to letter words!

Your hand will be steadier because you've already steadied it; your ink will flow more smoothly because you've already got the water bubbles out and the right amount of ink flowing.

Use a warm-up guide like I mentioned in this article, for a few minutes every time you sit down to practice. Once you’re familiar with them, you can do them freehand on a sheet of printer paper.

2 You have trouble transitioning from thick to thin lines.

A lot of beginner hand letterers will make this mistake: part of a line will be thick, where it should really be thin, as in the image below. Notice how much thinner the transitions are in the second ‘hello’ compared with the circled areas of the first.

Mistake 2

This is such an easy mistake to make. When you're transitioning from a very thick downstroke to a thin upstroke, it's difficult to make that transition smooth.

But the trick to avoiding this splodgy error is easy too: lift your brush more often. It'll feel unnatural at first, because you're used to keeping your pen on the paper when you write!

In the following image, I only lifted my brush after each letter on the top line.

On the bottom line, I lifted my brush about twice per letter. Notice the difference in the overall consistency and delicacy of the letters (especially in the tails of the 'g' and 'j')!

Mistake 2b

3 Your pieces look awkwardly laid out.

I remember looking at brush lettering pieces on Pinterest and Instagram when I was starting out. I saw the beautiful flourishes and the lettering which sat in a perfectly laid out shape, and I just assumed that the artists who made the pieces had superhuman lettering powers. I thought they could pick up a brush, come up with an idea out of their head, and put brush to paper - no ruler, no drafts, no nothing.

Instead, they spent most of their time trying out lots of layouts with pencil. They refined and tweaked the layout until, from sheer hard work and experimentation, it began to look better. And they used pencils to make a draft of the piece, before inking over the top of it.

So: always make drafts of your pieces.

Even if you just want to write one word, try different sizes, cases and styles in pencil to see how the mood of the piece is affected by each change.

I've actually made a whole series about how to complete these hidden stages of hand lettering - you can read it here.

(And If you look back at the photos in this post, you’ll notice that there are pencil marks underneath - I’ve left these in so you can see that I did use a pencil to rule lines and make a draft!)

There are more brush lettering mistakes out there than just these ones. But if you learn how to avoid these three, you'll be well on your way to becoming a great brush letterer!

If there's anything you're struggling with in the realm of lettering, I'd love to help if I can - you can contact me here. :)