Get Inspired to Start Your Own Hand Lettering Project

With the DIY and handmade look continuing to be seen everywhere, do you find yourself wanting to take a crack at hand lettering? You’re not alone. London-based designer Ian Barnard felt the itch to explore a new skill, especially after graduating from college and exclusively working on the computer.

Last October, he decided to teach himself calligraphy, as he’d “lost the art of producing things by hand.” He combines photography and hand lettering for his daily projects. Get inspired by Barnard’s work and process to crack open your pencil case, try a new skill and get your hands dirty.



Get Started

Start small and make time for it. Once Barnard decided to learn calligraphy, he set aside time to dig into this new skill. He says, “I spend an hour every day practicing, starting with the very basic of the italic alphabet and then moving on to mastering the style of copperplate using the traditional dip pen and nibs.”

And he set a personal goal of creating a new piece every work day. So, after less than year of focus, he has hundreds of pieces. Plus, he decided to put his work out there through social media. Sometimes making your work public when you’re still learning is scary, but this can actually make you focus on producing and learning. (Think: Agile.) And it gives you both a personal benchmark and a some accountability as someone might call you out if you don’t post. Barnard says:

I find my creativity is like a muscle, and I need to exercise it daily — and posting lettering pieces to Instagram helps me to do that.


Barnard also shared the materials he uses to tackle his projects:

  • Staedler lead Holder
  • Various weights of pencils
  • Sharpie markers
  • Tombow brush pens
  • Micron markers
  • Dip pen calligraphy pens
  • India Ink
  • Layout paper
  • HP bright white printer paper
  • Tracing paper
  • LED light box
  • Canon scanner

Learn even more about artists taking the handcrafted movement into their own hands and read about several of these artists here.

Find Ideas

Keep a list of things you like. Or use a site like Pinterest to gather ideas. Barnard keeps a list on his computer of quotes, sayings, Bible verses and words that he likes. He then just selects the one he wants to letter that day. He explains:

Most of the time I letter the quote then find an image to go with it or a background texture to use behind it. If I’m doing the style where I place type over someone’s face, then I would print off a knocked back image of them and then style the text on top.



Photography and Hand Lettering

Barnard explains his process of making the images you see here:

Most ideas start as rough sketches and I keep refining it till I happy with the style and composition. I will then do a final inking before scanning in to the computer. If the piece needs to keep the rough hand made look, then I will just tidy it up using Adobe Illustrator. If I require a cleaner look to the type, then I will redraw the lettering, again in Illustrator, using the sketch as a blueprint to go by.

Once I finished working on it in Illustrator, I then take it to Photoshop to add texture and place it on an image. Another part of my work is making Photoshop products that produce these texture effects by just pasting your work in to the PSD. These started out as personal products, which I was using to save me time producing these lettering pieces.


Build Your Portfolio

Barnard isn’t stopping. He’s planning to continue to letter daily, posting his pieces to his portfolio, as doing so allows him to show “off my difference styles of lettering.” In the same way, you may not set out to build your portfolio, but your daily or weekly project may help you discover or refine a skill set that your potential or current clients will be pleased to see.

Barnard has released his first typeface based on his hand lettering style, Warrior, which is available at Creative Market. A little practice, focus and fun might not only infuse your creativity but also take you down a different path with your design.