Last updated on August 5th, 2020
Professional lettering artists are well equipped with the latest tools to create a wide variety of letters. But what, if you are just a beginner and do not have those expensive tools? Well, the fact is that you can use even the commonly available office supplies such as highlighters and graphic pencils to do the lettering. Lettering specialist Catalina Brenes shows how you can create impressive letters using the daily tools.
Lettering is an art that is gaining popularity as it is being used to create text-based visuals for marketing purposes. The lettering artists are always in demand to create eye-catching letters that make a quotation or brand message more palatable.
However, many budding artists think they need to have all those expensive tools that professional artists have in their studios. But if they do not have the budget and are starting new in this field, they can even use the commonly available highlighter and other material. They can create amazing letters, even with everyday office supplies.
To show them the best way to use everyday supplies to create letters, Designhill, the leading creative marketplace, conducted a workshop on 1st June 2020. The workshop was organized with Catalina Brenes on the topic ‘Letter like a pro with commonly used tools’.
Catalina is a founder of El Tintero CR and has a degree in Graphic Design from the University of Costa Rica & a Master’s degree in Advanced Typography at the EINA Art and Design Center.
During the workshop, Catalina taught how to create letters using graphite pencils, text highlighters, and rubber bands. She explained the basics of letter structure on Roman-style letters and showed how to handle the tools, create angles, and make the strokes.
Here Is the Video Of the Workshop With Catalina Brenes
Here Are The Key Tips That Catalina Brenes Shared With The Lettering Community
Designhill: What are the tools required to make letters?
Catalina Brenes: You’ve seen common office supplies such as text, highlighters, pencils, etc. in an office or your home. These are the basic tools that helped me to take advantage of whatever information I could find in books and the things that I’ve learned in classes. I will teach you to create Roman style letters, which you could usually work with tools like flat nibs or parallel pen, and pylon markers.
Here, I am going to use a chisel tip highlighter that you most likely have at home. I have two pencils also that are wrapped around with rubber bands. So, you will learn how to understand the letter structure, the contrast, the type of strokes, and the angles. You will be able to do it if you do have the professional tools, then you can follow with this. Or, you can just use whatever tools you have in hand. The purpose of the workshop is to make you understand the structure and the content of letters.
You can do a freehand style to create lettering. But first, know that the thin strokes or the thick strokes go for the series, and so on. The idea is to learn all that, and the tool will give us the answers. We will also be working simultaneously on calligraphy and lettering. If you don’t understand how to use a calligraphy tool, then correct it with your pencil while drawing the letter.
Using Freehand To Create Letters
I will show you how to do it freehand to let you know what I’m trying to achieve. After that, we will use the tools. The trick about using the two pencils together is that obviously, they have to both be sharpened the same. Then you are just gonna have to put them like this on the table. The pencils should be of the same height. If you’re a left-handed writer, then it will be easier for you if one of them is higher than the other one. I am right-handed.
I hope that you can just switch whatever instruction that I’m giving you by saying, left or right, and that’s going to be the other way around. But the position of the paper and the direction of the stroke should be the same for left-handers and right-handers.
I will explain how to do it freehand. And this is what I’m going to try to achieve with the two tools afterward. Roman-style letters are the letters that have high contrast. It is the opposite of scraped letters. So this is a script letter, and this would be a Roman-style letter. We’ll have thin strokes and thick strokes when we add contrast to the letters for the Roman style. Here, the idea is to understand where to use thick strokes and thin strokes. For this, we need to understand the angles and the correct position of the tool. So when we make letters, we will imagine the angles.
I have a practice sheet that will be super useful to do the letters that I’m going to teach you today. You can download it from a web page.
Think Of The Angles
As I was saying, you should think about the angles. You are going to have 45 degrees of angle. And then, based on that, I’m going to say you know, lower, it’s going to be 20 to 30 degrees and that in here completely straight 90 and zero degrees. I will talk about the positions of the tools based on those angles. If you don’t meet the right angle, you will not be able to achieve the correct stroke for the letter.
When you do work with the highlighter, and if you are right-handed, the highlighters should go a bit higher so that you can work around the angles. It would help if you tilted the two highlighters markers 20 degrees. When you do upstrokes, the highlighters should be one upon the other, and it will be a thin stroke. In this way, when you bring both the highlighters downward, you have a big thick stroke.
I will draw it on the whiteboard, and you’re going to try to follow on Paper. Note that all letters have different heights, which is the X-height and then, you have ascenders and caps height, We have X-height baseline lowercase and uppercase ascenders and descenders.
When we make letters, always remember that your upstrokes are thin, and downstrokes are thick. You may need to do several strokes to construct one letter. It will give you the sense to know in which direction you need to act to add the thickness. This is because if you only have the face job, then you most likely won’t know where to flag that thickness. And this way, it will give you a sense of direction. You should need to maintain the same angle throughout the entire alphabet.
Three Highlighter Positions
For uppercase, you do change angles. You will have three angles based on the direction of your highlighter’s chisel tip. In this way, if you draw down, it will give you a thick stroke, and if you go horizontally, it will give you a thin stroke, of 90 degrees and zero degrees. But if you go up, it will provide you with a thin stroke, and this would be 45 degrees. So these are the three positions in which you will be rotating your highlighter.
You can easily follow these tips on a practice sheet. The sheet gives you an image of the angle. This way, you come to know how many strokes you need to construct every single letter. Just keep in mind that every letter has both thin and thick strokes. If there is a high contrast letter, then you can first build the structure of the letter. Then, add everything else such as the serifs in case you want to add decorations, build floaters, flourishes, or anything else.
Another thing you need to know is that all letters from A to C are of the same height, and they go from the baseline to the X-height. So, when you draw A, then go for an upstroke at 45 degrees and then on the same position, you’re going to go downward 45 degrees to obtain a thick stroke. Another diagonal line letter would be the V and the Z. The problem with the Z and the N is that if you just do it freehand, then maybe you’re not going to be able to calculate the width of the letter.
So, to obtain control with the letter, first, determine the entire space of the letter. First, draw the horizontal lines, and then do the diagonal line to determine the width. After that, draw that diagonal line and close the letter.
Making The Round Letters
Now let’s talk about the round letters. For round letters, know that the angle is zero degrees all the way to make the circle where you draw it. You should go zero degrees and then go down circling, which gives the width. Then, it is going to add up and become a thin stroke.
This is not going to work with brushes. This has to be an instrument that doesn’t change the width of the stroke. What we are focusing on is the direction and you need to keep that in mind. So, we have the B roll and then draw the highlighter a little straight to have a zero degree to have a vertical stroke. And then on the same spot, you should position your tool to go horizontally zero degrees but go down. It is going to give you the text stroke and then you close. But make it rounder or wider in case you do want to modify your letter, but this is going to give you a sense of you know how the contrast and the structure is going to be.
Now, the B becomes also the P and the R and it’s the same. Now you do need to keep in mind, the upper parts A and B are shorter than the P, and the P goes a little bit below the X-height, the middle line of the letter, and then the P and R is like right in between. But this will give you the possibility to make a round of letters. And you can make script lettering using double pencils. It’s just that it’s kind of harder, but you eventually get the hang of it.
Let me show you how to do it with the chisel tip. I don’t know if you can tell the contrast of the thin and the thick strokes. So if you do keep bending degrees, then you can balance your hand from one way to the other to use the tip of the marker. Then, use all the sides of the marker to obtain a thicker stroke. In this way, you will not only do freehand lettering well but also have an understanding of how to contrast construct the letter.
Now, we do have other round shapes such as the C. In creating the band-shaped lettering, know that these shapes come in a combination of strokes. You have the round stroke, and then you will do the same stroke but in a different direction. You should avoid going up with a thick stroke because that might confuse you in taking a direction. Also, you should keep in mind upstrokes for thin and downstrokes for thick strokes, which is the basic rule for brush lettering if you have experience. You can similarly create G and D letters.
Modern Lettering Style
Next, we will do the modern style of lettering. The transition here is the axis which is right in between. In this way, you can easily start creating your letters. Know that if we did a humanist type of letters, then we would have a different angle. So you do need to find out and determine which font is the one that you’re trying to achieve.
Now, you should always have a reference to pay attention to what you copy and what you try to construct. I’ll repeat the letter B before going any further. When constructing the B, go zero degrees while going down to get a thick stroke. then, take another zero degrees and then a thick downstroke. But try to make the letter look a bit rounder than squarer.
Designhill: Why don’t round letters keep the angle of 20 degrees and should we have a recap of letter B?
Well, I just did repeat the letter B and about the angles. So, for a lowercase, we do have the 20 degrees angle. And, for uppercase, it is zero and 90 degrees, and sometimes you do have the 20 degrees slant. If you do make it 20 degrees all the time, then the end will be slanted, and then when you do complete the rest, you are going to have a gap.
Remember, the highlighter is not a precise tool, meaning that you are not using a professional tool. This is just a way to substitute and work with what tool you have in hand and give you the sense of the word, the thick and thin strokes when you do draw it freehand. Since it is not as accurate as a professional tool, you do need to make certain adjustments.
Letters With A Central Axis
So I was saying about the modern lettering that you have a central axis, and that’s where you start your letter. You go zero degrees to complete one half of the O, and then the other half. You can narrow it down by making it even more straight. And you can add the tail to turn O into Q. Now, I am using the 45 degrees angle that I use for letter A, It is a thin stroke that goes down for the thick.
Similarly, to create the letter K, first, have the central axis with a down thick stroke, then go upward for a thin stroke from the center. Then close the letter with traditional or modern serifs.
Horizontal strokes are always thin. So for example, for letter E and letter F is just going to be the same construction minus one thin stroke. So you should start repeating shapes and you only have a limited amount of shapes and then combine them to obtain the whole alphabet.
S – A Two-stroke Letter
So it would be the downstrokes horizontal, downstroke diagonal, and downstroke curved. You can create almost the entire alphabet with the combination of these strokes. There are a few of the letters that we could not discuss. For example, take the letter S. You need to start with the angle, the 45-degree angle, the same angle that you were using for the A, and the V. Now, you should do it in two strokes. So, one is the S’s primary stroke, and then you extend the tip to the top and the bottom.
This gives you a sense of the main structure and then you can add up additional parts of the latter, not with just one move when you’re connecting everything with the two with double pencils or with a chisel tip marker. But the position is the same. First, a little stroke at just 45 degrees, and then move to make the curve. Note that S is a diagonal letter, which sometimes we tend to draw it as a horizontal letter. If you try to make this horizontal stroke, remember that horizontal stroke is thin, so it’s going to be of no use. So you do need to keep in mind that letter as is diagonal.
When you do this freehand, pay attention to the small details. If you do this freehand, then you need to remember a constant stroke throughout the entire letter and only hear the transition.
Now you can make variations and add some spice to it, and it doesn’t have to be as structured as you can change it. Take the example of letter B, which is very structured. Now that I understand where the thick strokes and the thin strokes go, I can make a variation by creating different shapes of the letter. When you color it, you appreciate the details of the transitions. But the letter creation is the same. It’s only that now I emphasize more on vertical stroke, the round stroke, and add personality to the letter.
What you are getting here is a guide and you need to learn the rule to break it. If you don’t understand the basic rule and you just try to do this without understanding where it comes from, it is most likely not going to look nice. Therefore, don’t try to control your basic letters and then you can, you know, spice it up.
For lowercase, use one same angle of 45 or 30 degrees. Depending on what the angle is, we can have a thicker or thinner stroke. When we were using the zero degrees and 90 degrees angles, all of our strokes were super thin. But if we do bend it a little and slanted then we get thicker thin strokes. If it is 20 degrees, then let’s say that now my thin stroke is going to be a bit thicker.
So this is the thing that we can start mixing up. But what you need to understand is that you need to take a style so that your uppercase and your lowercase match. Because I always say, letters are part of a family. Share one last name, so they might be cousins, but they’re not brother and sister. You need to pay attention to those small details to make the match and be one single-family under one family name.
Now we are going to try to keep our thin strokes, even though we are on the 30 degrees angle, are thin strokes so that they will match with our previous uppercase. I will solve all of the letters by the group with all the similarities of the strokes that are repeated. For example, we do have a straight vertical stroke that would be the same for the lowercase letters h,b, and d.
Consider Reference To The Typography
This is where it is tricky because you start seeing where the transition is, and it changes depending on the position. Since the lowercase letter shapes are narrower, you do need to pay attention to your reference to the typography that you are trying to replicate. Then grab a different pencil and clean the end of your shapes and the serifs and you can color it or do whatever you want. So this is just understanding the basics of it. You share the same shape with different letters like k, p, q, m, x,y, and z. Now I’m doing diagonals. I didn’t realize I was switching to diagonals, but then it’s the same.
You should understand you know that some of the heights are different. For example, that combines shapes that we were doing in uppercase Y. But it is different from the lowercase because it has a descender. You do need to consider that. For example, the letter g is very tricky when you do it freehand.
Now take another example of the letter J. It would go with two strokes. Start with a downstroke and when both the pencils strokes meet at the bottom, then go for the second stroke. And this is where you should be aware that those strokes always go from top to bottom.
So while drawing the letter e, you can do it in several ways. But you should take into consideration or the reference of the alphabet that you are doing. You can do one movement, but then you would be doing things like horizontal thin and then up thick, and then down thick. You can also make a half-circle by going down thick and then other semi-circles by going down thick. Then, draw a thin horizontal line to complete the letter.
Letter l, i, t, m, and s
Letter l is simple to draw with a double pencil as it is just one thick downstroke. Then, you can add serif at the top and bottom of the letter. You can draw the letter i in the same way as you did the l.
The letter t would be the same. Remember that letter t is shorter, it’s not as high as the rest of the ascenders. So, you do need to keep it very close to the X-height. Okay, the horizontal stroke goes very close to the X-height, and only a bit goes higher than that. And it’s shorter than the ascenders.
And finally, letter M. It’s the same structure as we were doing with the letter i. You do have a thin stroke going up, and then the other thick stroke coming down like in the letter h.
The letter s in lowercase is the same as the uppercase, or you do it diagonally. And then close it.
The letter w is a bit tricky to draw. This is because you know that this letter is two times the letter v, but you may draw it super wide. The other part of the last part of the letter may be wider than required. So, do not form the first v fully, and instead, you need to shorten its upstroke and then start the next v to form the complete w.
The ampersand is tricky because you need to decide which type of ampersand you want. There are so many types of ampersands. But you can draw a standard ampersand with two diagonal strokes.
So, these are the major tips that Catalina Brenes shared with the lettering artist community while conducting a workshop. She showed that with some basic skills, you could use the everyday office supplies such as graphic pencils and text highlighters to create impressive letters.
After you have practiced your lettering art with these tips, how about selling it and making money? You can sell your lettering art pieces at an attractive profit at PrintShop, which is owned by Designhill, the leading creative marketplace. Just open your online store at this site and showcase your artworks and start getting the customers after a while.
You can create impressive letters using everyday office supplies such as highlighters. Catalina Brenes shared her experience and tips with the lettering artists on how to create different letters using the common highlighters. She showed them ways to create both the uppercase and lowercase letters and what mistakes to avoid.