Watercolor Tutorial Lesson Five: Hand Lettering

hand lettering exercise

hand lettering exercise

the art of michelle, learn to paint, watercolor exercise

the art of michelle, learn to paint, watercolor exercise

Do you remember learning to write cursive and print in school? To this day I still remember how much fun I had perfecting my cursive skills and how proud I was of myself when I finally mastered an entire sentence in cursive. :)

Today we're going to practice our writing skills with a pencil, brush, and lots of color. There's really no secret to hand lettering. Each artist does it differently and with their own natural writing pattern and ability. If you feel you have bad hand writing, remember first that practice makes it better and don't hesitate to use a reference book or look up fonts to mimic on the computer. DaFont.com and 1001FreeFonts.com are great websites to use for reference.

For this exercise, I'm going to use only my own handwriting. Imperfections and inconsistencies are, in my opinion, what make hand lettering so beautiful. Don't feel like you have to make each letter identical or the same exact size, etc. Just let yourself play and experiment!

If you have a water brush, let's use it for this first line.

1. Fill the handle with water and dip the bristles in your first color. To let the water down simple squeeze the handle gently.

This brush is actually designed for on-the-go painting, and is SO handy to have around! Let's take it for a test drive.

Write your first phrase or word using the tips mentioned below. Feel free to use the phrase "Be happy" as shown in my example. I like to pull phrases out of my journal or sketchbook, but you could also write out your favorite inspirational quote, Bible verse, or family name. 

learn to paint with watercolors, brush lettering

learn to paint with watercolors, brush lettering

A few quick tips: 

  • You'll have more control over the quality of your linework if you always PULL the brush toward you as opposed to pushing it away from your body.
  • To make a color look lighter (less saturated), try adding a bit more water by gently squeezing the brush handle and releasing a small flow of water.
  • To make a color bolder and darker (more saturated and opaque), use slightly less water. Let your brush dry a little or simply add more pigment.
  • Try various fonts but limit yourself to about 2-3 until you get the hang of it. I find curly cursive to be the most natural thing for me.
  • If you lack confidence in your handwriting abilities, feel free to write out your wording with a pencil before applying the paint.
  • Start with a 6 or 8 size brush. The bigger the brush, the easier lettering tends to be (for me at least).

2. Try a different font and color on the next line.

brush lettering techniques, free tutorials

brush lettering techniques, free tutorials

2. Add a gradient to the letters.

This part can be a little trickier and will probably take more practice. My advise- plan the colors out beforehand and switch colors with each letter change. The effect can be so beautiful!

Sometimes you'll want to totally rinse your brush out between colors and sometimes you can just dip it into the next color and go. You'll have to play around with this to get the hang of it. I usually mix on my palette more than my paper, but some artists do the opposite technique. 

learn to use a waterbrush, watercolor tutorials

learn to use a waterbrush, watercolor tutorials

3. Back to the water brush. Let's try lettering your word or phrase without drawing it out beforehand with a pencil. 

It takes confidence and experience to dive into a painting or a lettering exercise without any planning or pencil work ahead of time. Don't feel like you have to do this if you don't have that confidence yet!

Every now and then I like to work without doing any prep underlying drawing because the results tend to be unexpected and usually better than if I'd planned it.

4. Make controlled PUSH and PULL marks for practice.

Follow the guide below for guidance on when to push the brush and when to pull it toward you. It's a learning process, just like it was back in your school days!

a free exercise in hand lettering