12 brilliant lettering tips for artists

Leading illustrators including Inkymole, Supermundane and Matt Lyons reveal their techniques for creating lettering in your illustrations and designs.

Play with movement - my work must have energy, and I can really see when it's not there. This comes from taking risks with the sweep of a pen - you might get it totally wrong, but unless you take a break and go 'whoosh', the natural energy and movement isn't there. Line weight and fatness of letters can make or break a piece.

Sarah Coleman (UK)

It’s crucial to learn how to use a variety of materials. Don't be tied to one, and don't be afraid to make marks with a new thing – wobbly as it might look at first.

Being able to lean hard into a paper without it distorting the line or spreading your ink (called 'feathering') is essential.

Sarah Coleman (UK)

Personal work provides a chance to take a risk on something and work in a style that's not in your portfolio. Working off-the-clock can be difficult to squeeze in but finding opportunities in things like the posters for our gallery shows, stuff for mates, promotional pieces and even things like birthday cards for family have been used as a vehicle for a bit of experimentation.

Sarah Coleman (UK)

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Capturing the tone and feeling of the story has as much to do with the lettering style as the illustrations.

For me, it is important that the style of typography reflects the subject matter of the picture book to keep an element of authenticity.

For example, Laika – an illustrated book about the Soviet space dog – takes inspiration from the typographical elements of 1950s propaganda posters and Constructivism.

I looked at Russian letters and tried to add elements of them into my English words, so that they felt authentic with the setting. Anybody speaking both English and Russian would be confused with the misappropriation of the Russian letters, but I'm using my artistic licence here.

To create the text, I studied the shapes, kerning and flourishes used [in those posters] to get a good idea of the approach – and then started playing loosely on the computer, until I got something I felt happy with. Then it was just a case of polishing those letters and choosing appropriate usages and placement within the image.

Owen Davey (UK)

I like being able to play with letterforms.  I'm a hand-lettering artist rather than a typographer so for me, each letter is an individual illustrated image to be explored and re-designed.

Working with hand-lettering gives me a framework in which to experiment with colour, tone, pattern, scale and decoration without having to worry about high concepts or figurative story-telling. I find it very freeing.

Linzie Hunter (UK)

All of my work starts with drawing – directly working with pen on paper. I focus upon capturing the shapes and letterforms rather than their overall placement and composition.

Learning technical skills of using materials or software offers a means to explore imagery, but there are no shortcuts to developing a personal direction of work.

It is only over time that I’ve been able to recognise the recurring themes that form the foundation of my work. This is a process of developing skills, craft, a personal language and style.

Matt Lyon (UK)

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Experimentation is very important in order to develop.

The beauty of true experimentation is that accidents can happen and produce unexpected outcomes. It's very easy to get stuck in a certain way of working.

While you should perfect your craft it shouldn't become dogmatic and stilted. Find inspiration in subjects that interest you other than looking at existing illustration and type. 

Supermundane (UK)

As a designer you have the ability to see the world in new ways and experiment with ideas, form, and technique: but developing a unique visual language takes time. It is something that cannot be rushed.

Be honest with yourself and discover the parts of your illustrations that work the best and develop these ideas. The more time you invest, the more chance you have of creating work with integrity.

Supermundane (UK)

Just dive in and start creating. Ignore the rules for now and just get something done.

As important as all the little nuances and rules of typography are, they aren't going away and whenever you have down time, you can read up on it and apply your newfound knowledge practically.

Jonny Wan (UK)

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Determine which words need to be emphasized and create very loose pencil sketches and try to capture any happy accidents. First think of what the text needs to convey, the context it will be viewed in and how you want the viewer to feel.

Nate Williams (USA)

Figure out your own path. Play first, think later; be expressive and spontaneous.

Nate Williams (USA)

Seek inspiration outside your industry. Try new things and refine your approach. Taking a mix of influences will be a recipe for something unique.

Nate Williams (USA)

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