Last updated on February 18th, 2021
Lettering and typography are widely used to create mesmerizing visuals. Marketers explore the power text art that looks beautiful to drive customers’ attention. A whole branch of art has developed around calligraphy, lettering, and typography. Dong Kue Lee, the renowned lettering and typography artist, gives the budding artists an insight into creating lettering with a purpose.
Hand lettering is all about decorating a letter beautifully. But the aspirant artists need to focus on its two primary aspects. First, developing and practicing lettering skills and, second, building an audience and finding out clients. Many artists have the right skills but lack the strategy to drive clients’ attention.
To help the lettering artists resolve their issues, Printshop by Designhill conducted a webinar on the topic How to find your creative flow in Lettering: Tools, Techniques, and Process on 30th March 2020. The keynote speaker was DK, aka Dong Kyu Lee, who shared his rich experience and expertise with the community of lettering artists. The keynote was part of the WTF’20 organized by PrintShop from 30th March to 1st April.
Dong Kyu Lee, aka “Calligraphy DK“ is a young calligrapher based in Mannheim, Germany. He has been studying calligraphy for the past three years. He has conducted many workshops on hand lettering and calligraphy and worked for renowned brands, including Tombow. Thousands of artists have downloaded his digital brushes “Brush DK,” which helps bridge the gap between traditional and modern calligraphy tools.
Here Is the Video Of the Webinar With Dong Kyu Lee
Here Are The Key Tips Dong Kyu Lee Shared With The Community Of Lettering And Typography Artists
Designhill: What kind of tools do you use to create your art?
DK: The selection of tools play a major role in creating any type of artwork. My very first brush was the Tombow Dual Brush Pen. It’s available everywhere on Instagram as well. After that, I used the Tombow and Sue’s brush pens in the Sukkah soft brush and hard brush for one of my most recent works. Those two have been the core tools, I guess, the essentials for the longest time. Tombow recently came out with this color pack as well that I can also recommend and also maybe another brand pencil, the sign pen. It is also helpful for the style that I’m going to modern calligraphy. And of course, I use Crayola markers, but they are not necessarily a brush pen. But its tip is straightforward to get used to the thick downstrokes and thin upstroke.
As far as paper is concerned, I have been using practice sheets for the past three and a half years. I use the Clairefontaine Blanco notebook, which I can highly recommend. It is excellent for casual practicing. But it is very minimal, for three and a half years only.
Note: Avoid Having Too Many Tools
I believe that too many options will eventually block your creativity. Studies reveal that the more options you have, the more likely you will procrastinate. That’s what I found myself a couple of years ago when I was overwhelmed by these options and choices.
So, I mostly focus on using the Tombow Dual brush and the Tombow Fudenosuke Care. I use these two pens only, and try to perfect it. Focusing on only one brush pen, in the beginning, is not necessarily a bad thing. I always use the Tombow Fudenosuke in Asuka or the Tombow Dual airbrush. Now, I am expanding and trying to adjust the more I work with other brands and checking out new products. I will say that the best brush pen you have is the one you carry around everywhere. This is the one I carry around with me.
Designhill: As left-handers, many artists find drawing upstroke difficult as it is pushing the bristles rather than pulling. Do you have any solution?
DK: Left-handers may find drawing upstrokes with a brush pen difficult as it pushes the bushes rather than pulling it. I am not a left-hander, but I think a solution could be to decrease the speed when dragging the brush upward. This worked well for me when I also faced this issue initially.
Designhill: What are your recommendations on Japanese and Chinese letter calligraphy, and what tools do artists use for traditional Japanese and Chinese calligraphy?
DK: Right now, I am only focusing more on, maybe, Korean letter calligraphy, but Japanese and Chinese letters also are new for me. It’s kind of hard to tell, but I think they use the traditional essential brushes.
Designhill: Do you do calligraphy, and do you have a lot of fonts?
DK: Yeah, I also have a font.
Designhill: What are the different styles of calligraphy, which you focus on more?
DK: Well, I love what I started with, the modern calligraphy style because I feel it is a great way to build up the foundation with the thick and thin downstrokes. After that, once I got better at it, I moved to the style inspired by David Mullin. I am also moving towards the Jewish tradition of scripts, Gothic, and Kapa. These styles help me keep me slow down a bit and have patience as I move the brush fast.
Designhill: How to digitize their lettering and which tools the artists can use?
DK: If you have been using mainly traditional tools, then you can use Adobe Photoshop. Then, there are certainly tutorials out there as well that you can use to learn. But if you can use the Adobe Suite, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop to overlay the images. And then obviously we have iPad lettering with Procreate. These are the tools that I use.
As far as digitizing is concerned, if I do not have my iPad around, I snap a picture with my phone and import it into Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. That is how I digitize it. But if I have my iPad around, then I can use my Apple Pencil right away, and then it’s already digitized. So those are the two main ways I have been digitizing my work.
Designhill: Do you only accept projects that match your style or adjust your style to the brand’s requirements?
DK: Yeah, I adjust my style as per the requirements of a brand. In the beginning, I had to adapt my style to the brands and the client’s needs. For now, I am not sure about it. In the most recent projects, I was fortunate enough that the client wanted my style. I think that it is also about building up your portfolio, your following, and your expertise. In that way, the clients are more attracted to your style.
Designhill: When and how did you feel confident in yourself?
DK: That’s something I still struggle with when creating a calligraphic work. It took me around two years to develop a style of my own. Initially, I was still very insecure about it. Since I was copying a lot of people and taking inspiration from them, I thought I wasn’t in a position to call it my own style. After two and a half years, when I had the first client work, I wanted a style of my own. That is how I felt a little bit more confident. But that’s something I still struggle with today.
Regarding the thick downstrokes and upstrokes, I think it is the bread and butter of calligraphy. But when you are practicing, just the drills will not get you far. You should go beyond that eventually. I can tell you that there is no single technique that is going to level up your skill. But what I can tell you is that a lot of it also is about a mindset shift. It would help if you focused on targeting mastery that consists of keeping your focus, obsession, and commitment.
Focus On Your Craft
Therefore, you need to focus on your craft, which includes a high level of obsession and commitment. This means that you need to invest in yourself, like buying online courses, watching tutorials, and reading books about it. That is something I neglected initially. I never wanted to spend money on these things. But if you’re going to think about leveling up and improving your skills, you need to do something that not many people are willing to do. That may mean that you should be attending a workshop or buying a course.
The next stage to that is self-educating yourself. I would regard reading books, attending workshops, and taking these online courses as formal education. After a while, you need to continually have that curiosity to self educate even if no one is guiding you. And that goes back to the focus, obsession, and commitment you need to have. Jim Ron also says that formal education will make you a living, but self-education will make you a fortune. After attending a workshop on lettering and calligraphy, you need to capitalize on that to go to the next level.
For me, traveling was a way of self-education and to go a little bit beyond that. One of my most recent trips was to Japan and South Korea, where I met up with my favorite calligraphers and surrounded myself with them. I tried to educate myself even further than their workshops or their tutorials on YouTube. This is because there is a difference between an online course and meeting up with someone and talking with them about the craft itself.
Invest More Time In Honing Your Skills
Besides investing in yourself, the next thing that helps in leveling up your skills is increasing your output. It means that if you practice for 15 minutes a day, increase it to an hour or two hours, and get those numbers up. If you are serious about improvement, then you must think of ways to increase your output. The top lettering and calligraphy artists also have done a lot of work and continue to put in more work.
Start With One Stroke A Day
I know some people may have kids and are tired after a long day and do not want to practice for two hours. But a remedy could be that you practice just one stroke a day, not even a letter, just a stroke. Then, gradually, the letter turns into a word, and then a phrase. This is the way I do my practice.
I can guarantee you that in most cases when I sit down and write that one stroke, I usually continue and maybe right down the second stroke. And then, the letter forms into a letter and then into, into a word, and then into a phrase. And then I found myself sitting there for maybe an hour. I got my daily practice in, say, a one-stroke a day that I found myself using very often when I didn’t have the motivation to do it.
Take Inspiration From Rowling and Picasso
This slow and steady approach to doing a project is practiced by most professionals across many industries and not just the calligraphers. For example, JK Rowling wrote her book, Harry Potter, over five years, while also raising a child and having another separate job. In an interview, she just tried to find as much spare time as possible and use it every minute to work on that book. I think that goes to show how incremental progress, like one stroke a day, can go a long way to practice your art.
There is yet another example of Picasso. He painted over 1800 paintings, created 1200 sculptures, 2800 ceramics, and over 12,000 drawings besides sketches and prints while steadily working on his creative projects. These are some of the examples. So, put more work and invest in yourself.
Make Yourself Accountable
In 2016, when I was beginning, I started posting on Instagram just to keep myself accountable. That just happened to be a great way to start. I was not even focused on building followers and networking and all that kind of stuff. It was just about showing up to make myself accountable and posting every day just to keep track of my progress. And, if you scroll down on my account, then you will see all these horrible artworks. But now that I look back at it, after three and a half years, it shows that everybody has to start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be Instagram, but it just happens to be like a great platform, a great way to keep me accountable.
Designhill: How to find your own style?
DK: To this day, I struggle to find my style. Once, I only had Instagram and Pinterest. Nowadays, I watch a lot of YouTube tutorials or YouTube artists. It can be very overwhelming, especially. It was overwhelming back then in 2016 as well, but now it’s even crazier in 2020. There are so many different artists, calligraphers, and finding your own voice in a massive crowd can be difficult.
Focus On A Few Artists Only
I picked two artists, David Millon and Greenham Blacksmith. I just visited my favorite artist in Japan because I got tired of just watching his video. I met up with them, and they helped me immensely to find my own style. So, focusing down to only two artists that I follow really helped me to gain my style. It helps to have a clear or at least a rough idea of the style you’re going for.
But I guess a lot depends on your own choice. Some calligraphers may prefer copperplate, while others may prefer Gothic. For me, It happened to be more a freestyle. I took everything that I liked, maybe from David Malan, I liked the A, even if it’s just a single letter, how he wrote the A, I just took that made it my own, and then I took maybe the D from Greenham Blacksmith, and I copied it a lot. Eventually, this list expanded, but in the beginning stages, So, you should have a rough idea of the style you are going to adopt. You should copy a lot and write a lot.
Designhill: Besides meeting artists and traveling, what are your other sources of inspiration?
DK: Analyzed My Handwriting
I get my inspiration from different artists, but I also think of ways that make me who I am today. I guess that makes sense. So, after a year or two of starting my career, I analyzed my regular handwriting. If you watch some of my videos on brush lettering, you can see that I don’t like to lift my handoff. I just do it on one flow, and that also only comes from my handwriting style and found it comfortable. It took me a while to incorporate it into my own calligraphy style. Even though there are many different elements, I still had at least one element that I liked and worked on it to create my own style.
Also, inspiration comes from everywhere. For instance, during traveling, you come across many different posters, banners around the streets in Japan, South Korea, France, and Spain. They all are different, and I tried to capture them. If, as a poster, I take a picture of it. I have a folder of all such inspirational things and have a relook at those pictures when I finish traveling. Then, I try to write it in different ways, which is super fun.
Designhill: What is the difference between the use of typography, calligraphy, and lettering on print and on the web?
DK: For the web, take, for example, my Instagram feed, which I cater to around the masses. So, I think of ways to make it more readable. However, for Instagram, I feel like it is my own little space I created for myself. So, I don’t think about it too much if people can read it or not. That is the main difference that I just see. I like to be more experimental if that makes sense.
For prints, it’s essential to cater to the masses. Therefore, I try to make it more readable, even if it is less fun or a little bit boring. So that’s the main difference.
Designhill: What recommendations would you give someone who is transitioning from hand lettering on paper to iPad lettering?
DK: When I started with the brush pen and paper, I had the iPad as well in 2016. They go hand in hand. Whenever I tried to do a stroke or draw a letter on an iPad, I could transfer that straight back to paper. But many people find this transition a little difficult as they have been traditionally using only the paper sheet to create lettering works. You can also use free letter templates to create letters online.
Since I have been using both traditional and modern tools, it is easy for me to transition. Some people may think that iPad lettering requires a whole different movement, which is not true. In my opinion, you can use most of your hand lettering skills while using the iPad to create lettering or transfer the works from paper to the device directly.
Designhill: Publishing my art only on Instagram is enough or one needs to do more?
DK: In the beginning, you have to look for clients. But remember that followers are more of social proof of your presence on the social platform and not a representation of your skills. It is a given that once you have a good following, the clients will come to you naturally. But in the beginning, you may not have a big audience, and it is tough for clients to find you. You really need to step outside and take the action.
I used to email to100 companies or 100 startups in the beginning to get just one client. That was enough for me back then to start with. Many people never responded to my emails. But that is the step you have to take when starting out if you don’t really have a big audience. Once you have that following, the clients will eventually find you.
Designhill: Should artists publish their arts only on Instagram?
DK: If you are on Instagram for maybe a year or so and still haven’t seen the traction, then perhaps it’s time for you to move to a different platform or even offline. I never depended on Instagram, and, instead, I always try to go to as many art centers or art events as possible. I used to do that, especially at the beginning of my career to get myself out there and try to show my portfolio to clients.
Also, Instagram is an unreliable platform. What if Mark Zuckerberg decides to shut down Instagram the next day? There is not too much we can do about it. Therefore, relying only on one platform is a bit risky. So, you should expand your network to other platforms such as Pinterest, YouTube, or even Tik Tok, which has been gaining traction in recent weeks and months.
Designhill: What are the most common typography mistakes that you see people usually make on the web or print?
DK: I would say that many artists try to focus more on the materials rather than developing their craft. They are just absorbed more in the materials. The other mistake is regarding the thick downstrokes. You should spend enough time practicing the drills. I know that it is tempting to move to draw entire words or phrases. But it is better to first build up your foundation because if you don’t have the basics in place, it will haunt you maybe after four to five years. So, working on laying a solid core foundation is very important.
Designhill: How to build a following?
DK: I will focus on Instagram to give you an example. If you took a look at my feed in 2016, when I started, I had around 100 followers that I built in three to four months. Maybe, I bought 30 to 40 followers as well. Now, in 2020, I have about 30,000 followers. Remember that you can build the following on being various social platforms.
Give Value To Followers
By using your experience, passion, and skill, you can add real value to others’ lives. Take a look at, for example, the Rock, who has got 176 million people following. Many people follow him because he is shown working out almost daily, which is also a form of value. After all, those workout images motivate his audience to exercise more.
Take another example of the ‘calligraphy hub page’ on Instagram. You will find that they are sharing artwork from different artists. I follow them as they are providing me a value. I get a lot of inspiration from their works, and that is also a form of value. So, you need to use your experience, passion, and skill to add real value to the lives of your audience. If you focus on that, the followers will continue to build up.
Let me tell you that I did not focus on followers when I was on Instagram, initially. I was more concerned about making myself accountable for my works. But after a year or so, I realized that this could be a great way to build an audience. Later on, I tried to bring value to the community. I provide the value to the audience in the form of just the tutorials or sharing my progress pics.
Find Your Niche
Once you know how to give value to your followers, it will be much easier for you to stand out in the crowd. Note that already, in 2020, there are many different calligraphy accounts and artists active on Instagram and other social media.
You need to find ways to stand out by first finding your niche to attract a specific audience. And do not forget that even with calligraphy, there are many different styles. It is going to be very hard, in the beginning, to attract people to your works. But if your account focuses on practicing daily drills and copper plates, such as a copperplate script, you will build the audience. If you want to create a big following, you should niche down.
Sometimes you focus too much on the numbers of followers you have and tend to forget that there are real people behind that single digit. But you shouldn’t worry too much about the numbers in the beginning. I don’t care if I have thousands of followers or just one follower as I am still going to deliver the same live session and value to that one person. It would help if you should always focus more on delivering value than the numbers.
These are the tips that Dong Kyu Lee offers to our community of lettering and typography artists. You should pay heed to his advice to avoid some basic mistakes that many other artists make.
If you have a collection of fantastic lettering works to sell, start your online store with PrintShop, which is owned by Designhill, the leading creative marketplace. You can earn a decent income by selling the lettering and calligraphy works at the price you set along with highly beneficial features.
As a keynote speaker on the issues of lettering and typography, renowned calligraphy and lettering artist Dong Kyu Lee advise artists to build skills and self-educate. They should take inspiration from wherever it comes. Instead of worrying about growing the number of followers, the artists should focus on providing value to the audience. He advised us to avoid too many tools, as these are distracting.