A Thousand Words Paint a Picture
by Tina Manzer
Four years ago, Brittany Luiz decided to pick up a brush pen; one that helped her transition from thick to thin lines when she made letters. “I was under the assumption that it would make my handwriting prettier,” she told me.
The more she practiced, the better her lettering became. Her handwriting was another story – one she calls “Lackluster.” “The process of hand lettering is more like drawing than writing,” she explains. “I always tell my students that, contrary to what you might think, you do not need to have good handwriting to learn hand lettering. Anyone can learn it.”
And they are, or at least it seems. “A stealthy resurgence is happening in the design world – a rebellion against the cold, sleek, digital environment in which we designers spend most of our time. Hand lettering is not-so-quietly making a colossal comeback, exploding into the forefront of design,” noted a 2015 article in PRINT magazine. “Categories that used to be forbidden, such as logos and packaging, now embrace this historic form of typographic expression. It’s appearing everywhere – even on A-list products such as movie titles, magazines, book covers and advertisements. Hand lettering is out, proud and absolutely amazing.”
Brittany Luiz not only practices the art of hand lettering, she teaches it, on top of managing media and public relations for Tombow. The company makes her favorite tools: the Dual Brush Pen and the Fudenosuke Brush Pen. “I love using Tombow products, especially the new Fudenosuke Colors,” she says. “They’ve always been my brand of choice, even before I started working for them. I definitely think that using high-quality products is important for achieving the best results in my projects.”
Most often, she creates art with words simply for the sake of creating. “I don’t usually have an intended purpose in mind,” she says. “When I do, it’s usually to make wall art or cards.
“I love seeing all the different ways hand lettering can be added to something to make it special,” she continues. “I think my favorite commissioned work was when I hand lettered a couple-of-hundred labels for gifts for volunteers at my church. It was really fun to do and made for such a personal touch.”
What’s the Difference?
To accurately define hand lettering, calligraphy, typography, etc. would take reams of paper. For the purposes of this article, I referenced this statement from Lettering Daily, an online community that provides educational and inspirational content on hand lettering and calligraphy. “Although the untrained eye may struggle to notice the difference between hand lettering and calligraphy, you need to remember that the main difference is how it’s created. Calligraphy is the art of beautiful WRITING while Hand Lettering is the art of ILLUSTRATING the letters.” -TM
Making special documents even more special has been the traditional role of calligraphy since the Middle Ages, although as an art form it dates back to ancient China. Over the years, sales of calligraphy materials have waxed and waned as the practice of hand lettering swung in and out of fashion. For the past few years, it has definitely been “in.”
“I think one of the reasons it’s so popular is that there is such a low barrier to entry,” notes Brittany. “Anyone with paper and a writing tool can start practicing right away. There are so many free or inexpensive resources available online that people can use to develop their skills.”
Today, hand lettering has a wide audience; it’s not something practiced by artists and crafters only. “Planning is popular right now, so everyone wants to learn hand lettering to make their journals look pretty,” Brittany adds. “Even digital artists are picking up brush pens to find ways to add a handmade look to their art.”
Lucy Edmonds, founder of Quill, London’s quintessential stationery store, believes that what she calls “modern calligraphy” has become popular as part of our rebellion against the things we can’t live without anymore – electronic devices.
“Although it is sometimes condemned as merely ‘fancy handwriting,’ and admittedly modern calligraphy is less demanding in its approach that the rigorous traditional scripts of the Middle Ages, it has become an analog outlet for those who wish to shut down their computer, switch off their phones and relax by putting pen to paper.”
In an interview with Henri Davis, an independent retail advisor in the stationery market, Edmonds added, “It’s a beautiful thing to be so absorbed in something that you forget about notifications or answering messages, which is really significant in our increasingly digital age. In reality, not everyone has the time to put real long-term commitment towards learning one of the more formal scripts, but the modern way is slightly more ‘forgiving.’”
For Brittany, the process of putting Dual Brush Pen to paper actually begins with a look online. “I usually start by skimming through Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration,” she says. “Then when I go to actually create, I put all of that inspiration away so I’m not unintentionally copying anything I’ve seen. I like to sketch in pencil first; doing several thumbnails until I like the composition, then I move on to the inking stage.
“Sometimes, though, I’ll skip all of that and immediately start using my brush pens. I tend to burn through a lot more paper that way.”
There are a lot of consumers hand lettering right now, she concludes. Retailers should be looking for ways to appeal to that crowd; carrying the products they need is a good place to start. “I think it’s worth mentioning that the Fudenosukes are wonderful brush pens for beginners because they’re so easy to control,” she concludes. “Mentioning that they’re great for people who are just getting started helps take some of the fear away from trying something new.”