Letters by Lydia: Upstrokes and Downstrokes

Welcome to another week y’all! Today I thought I’d give you all a little intro on brush lettering 101.

To start, what exactly is brush lettering? Just what it sounds like.  It’s handlettering, but specifically with brush pens.  If you’re new here, a brush pen is basically a marker with a brush tip, which handletterers use when they want to get line variation in their letters.  I would say brush lettering is probably the most common type of lettering, but it definitely has a bit of a learning curve.

The key to it is in learning the different kinds of strokes, or lines.  The basics all come down to upstrokes and downstrokes.  Upstrokes are thin lines that use just the very tip of the brush pen, and they start from the bottom and go in an upwards direction (as the name implies).  Downstrokes, again, what a shocker, start at the top and go in a downward motion.  These are thicker lines because they involve using more pressure on the pen.  I demonstrated this with the pictures below, using my favorite brush pens, Karin brushmarker pros.

 Once you get these basic strokes down, you can start experimenting with more complicated strokes.  I’m not sure who originally came up with this set of strokes to practice, but I know I’ve seen @thehappyevercrafter and @ensigninsights use these on Instagram (highly recommend their accounts, especially for beginners!).  In any case, these are essentially the core kinds of strokes or lines you’ll need to be comfortable making, because they appear in a lot of letters.

They can definitely be a little awkward at first, but once you get the hang of them, lettering with brush pens will be soooo much easier!  In the picture I included here, I drew the strokes in the top line and added in a circle so you know where to start, and then arrows so you know which direction you’re drawing in.  In the second line, I drew the same strokes again just so you can see them a little more clearly.  As you can see, all the upstrokes are thin and all the downstrokes are thicker lines.

So how do these actually show up in lettering?  Let’s look at some letters so you can see 🙂

 Here’s your basic lower-case, cursive “a”.  To make this, you actually have to use two strokes (shown in the picture), meaning you pick up your pen once in between.  For the first stroke, the oval-ish shape, you start where I put the little 1 in a circle.  From there, you start with an upstroke, then transition into a downstroke, and finish off with another upstroke that connects to the first.  Then, you pick up your pen, and begin stroke two!  This one is a lot easier–start at the same height as the top of your oval, and just go straight down, then kind of flick your pen back up for that final upstroke.  I’m not going to guide you through every letter because we’d be here forever, but I did include a little sheet I drew of all the letters and some guiding arrows for each of the strokes involved.  I also color-coded them, so the stroke you start with is in red, followed by a yellow stroke, and on a few letters there’s a third stroke which is in blue.  Of course, there are tons of styles for writing the alphabet, and every lettering artist does it a bit different, but this is how I tend to do it!

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about brush lettering, and please let me know if you try this and found it helpful, or have any questions! See y’all next week 🙂

Letters by Lydia: The Process

Hi y’all!  Hoping everyone had a good Halloween and enjoyed the lovely fall weather today 🙂

Instead of a pen review, this week I thought it would be fun to talk about my artistic process.  So, as a way to welcome the new month, I’m going to show you how I made this piece.

I don’t have a super strict way of doing things, so my process usually involves a lot of experimentation.  But, to start, you need a concept.  Sometimes these come to me super quickly, and other times I need to exhaust my Pinterest or Instagram feeds to get a spark of inspiration.  Either way, I usually come up with the word first, and then the visuals.  Today I kept it pretty simple with “November”, and once I picked the word, I knew  I wanted to involve autumn leaves and stick to a fall-themed color palette (warm, earthy tones).

I started by testing colors and playing around with how the leaves and letters interact.  I liked the idea of using negative space, so I experimented with that for a while.  As for the pens I used, I found that wider tips worked better for coloring in the large leaf areas, so I mainly stuck to Tombow Dual Brush Pens, Staedtler Marsgraphic Duos, and Pentel Fude Touch Pens (let me know if you’d like a review on any of these!).

Once I had a concept, general plan, and a satisfying set of markers, I began the actual finished piece.  First, I drew in the letters with pencil.  Because this is just for fun and all freehand, it took me a few tries to get the spacing right.  After that, I drew in outlines of a bunch of different types of leaves.  Using references was really helpful here!  As you can see, adding in the leaves kind of created a jumbled mess, but I was able to fix that a little bit through erasing.  

A bit about erasing: it’s important to erase the pencil lines because once you color over them with marker, they’re permanent.  But, you don’t want to erase so much that you can’t see the lines at all.  To do this, I like to use kneaded erasers (they have a texture kind of like silly putty) because you can erase by just pressing it on the paper instead of rubbing back and forth.  This way, you can lighten the graphite without getting those streaks or worrying about erasing too much.

After all that, it’s finally time to color!  This part took the longest, mostly because I kept getting confused about which leaf was what and how it all connected.  I also tried hard to make sure the colors were dispersed evenly, and that there weren’t any big empty spaces.  But, after an episode or two of Vampire Diaries in the background (guilty pleasure), my work was done!  Finish up with some extra erasing, cleaning up some lines, and there you have it!  Here’s the unedited finished product (with kind of bad lighting, apologies) which you can compare to the edited final at the top.

I hope you enjoyed a sneak peek at my process!  If you’re also an artist, I’d love to hear about your process too!! See you next week 🙂





Letters by Lydia: A Good Place to Start

Hi everyone!  I hope you’re all having a lovely week 🙂

For this week, we’re gonna look at a good set of markers to start with if you’re new to lettering, and talk about some lettering basics at the same time.

This week’s star: Mondo Llama Classic Washable Markers

As you can probably tell, these are technically supposed to be for children. But who cares? If you’re new to art/lettering or on a budget, kids art supplies is the best place to start.  The quality is usually pretty high for what you’re paying, you pretty much always get a solid set of rainbow colors, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for overusing them or not taking care of them.

When talking about kids markers, Crayola is obviously the most popular, and for good reason.  I plan to do a separate review on Crayola Supertips, because they’re too beloved in the handlettering community to only get a brief mention (so if you don’t know what that means, just stay tuned!).  However, this Mondo Llama set does the trick just fine for your basic, broadtip marker.  In this specific set, you get 10 colors (swatches below!), and I believe I paid about $2.50 for them, which is ridiculously cheap compared to higher end brands.  I actually bought this set at the Target on State Street, too, so it’s super accessible if you’re on campus here.

Getting into the nitty gritty of it, let’s talk about what you can actually do with these.  Broadtip markers have a large, conical tip that differs from a brush pen in that the entire tip is firm as opposed to being bendy and flexible.  These really in only exist in kids markers, as far as I’m aware, because they’re great for coloring in big spaces.  However, you can also use them as a sort of beginner brush pen!  A broad tip is firm, but it’s still flexible enough that you can get quite a bit of line variation. You can also tilt the marker so you’re writing with the side of it, which gives you the thickest line.  This allows you to do tons of different kinds of handlettering with them, which I showed a bit in the picture above.  I know we haven’t talked about lettering styles yet, so that’s more just so show you how versatile these are.  Below is a little doodle I did with these markers, just to show you can make some pretty neat stuff with them!

As you can see, they hold up really well in comparison to more expensive art supplies!  That said, they are cheap and for children, so they aren’t perfect.  I highlighted a few examples of that below.  You can see that it’s really difficult to get precise, clean lines with these.  They also don’t layer very well, so if coloring in a large space, it might look patchy and have some sections end up lighter than others.  These are also water based and pretty juicy, so sometimes they bleed on the page or when interacting with each other as well.

Overall, though, these are a great set of markers that are absolutely worth the small price tag!  I hope you enjoyed reading, and see you next week!


Letters by Lydia: LePen Flex

Welcome back to Letters by Lydia!  After last week’s introductions, we’re finally getting into our first pen review!

This week’s target: Marvy Uchida LePen Flex.

The set I have has 10 pens, each in a bright pastel shade, although you can get other sets with different colors and amounts.  These pens are great for a lot of reasons, but one thing that makes them unique is the convenient little case they come in.  If I’m packing pens in my bag, I often find myself reaching for this set because they’re great pens and they don’t take up a lot of space.

Marvy Uchida has a lot of products out there, but these have got to be my favorites from them.  You may have heard of the original series, just called LePen, which looks the same as these, except they’re fineliners instead of brush pens.

You can see the difference between the two in the photos here (LePen Flex on the left, LePen on the right), but if you need an explanation, a brush pen is exactly what it sounds like (almost).  There are a lot of different types, but the tip is usually shaped like a brush, and they can bend and move in a way that allows you to get a lot of line variation, meaning thin and thick strokes.

Size-wise, these are pretty small nibs (tips).  For my fellow pen lovers out there, I would say they’re comparable to the iconic Pentel Fude Touch.  In terms of the nib itself, I love these. They’re a great size for doing small lettering, but the pens are juicy enough that using them as markers to color in larger areas works too.  Note, though, that they can dry out a little quickly if you use them a lot, so make sure to store them horizontally. The tips are flexible, but also incredibly easy to control, which earns them major points.  As for durability, these are pretty decent.  If you aren’t using paper specifically for handlettering, the tips will fray faster, but that’s true of most pens.  As for the colors, they’re beautiful–very pigmented and rich.  They offer a wide range of colors between all the sets, which you can see even just in the ones I have; there’s the super light pastels all the way to the deep, rich hues.  That said, I wish they offered a higher quantity of different colors.  For example, they have tons of different blue/green shades, but only one red between all of the sets.  The price depends a lot on where you get them and what colors/size you choose, but a set of 6 is about $10-12 and a set of 10 is about $15-20.

I think that about sums up my thoughts on these pens, but I would be more than happy to answer any questions about these! If you’ve tried these, what are your thoughts? Also, let me know if you have any requests for pen reviews or anything else, and thanks for reading!


Letters by Lydia: Some Introductions

Hi everyone, and welcome to Letters by Lydia!

This is my very first post, and I’m so excited!!  To begin, I thought it would make sense to introduce myself and this series a bit.  As you probably guessed, my name is Lydia, and all you really need to know about me here is that I’m a pen addict.  I don’t mean your typical ballpoint, ‘dig around for it in the bottom of your backpack’ pens, but rather pens that are used for handlettering and art.  If you don’t know exactly what that means, no worries, just sit tight!  In my blog post each week, I plan on reviewing a different set of pens–I’ll give you my opinions, show how they can be used, and share some of the work I’ve done with them.  Beyond that, though, I really want to introduce people to handlettering in general, share some tips and tricks I’ve picked up, and maybe even spread my love for pens to a few other people.

To start with, let’s go over some super brief (and hopefully not boring!) background.  Handlettering, or lettering, has a lot of overlap with typography and calligraphy, but it’s essentially a combination of art and words.  I included some of my work below so you can get a sense of it, and if you want more examples you can check out my instagram (@letters_by_lydia).

And so you can see the scale of my addiction, here’s my pen collection, or at least the college apartment version (I have a lot at home as well).

Next week I’ll start with the pen reviews, which I can’t wait for! Please let me know if there are any pens you’re particularly interested in, any questions you want me to cover, or anything else.  Thanks for reading, and to all the umich students, I hope you have a lovely fall break 🙂