Letters by Lydia: A Good Place to Start

Hi everyone!¬† I hope you’re all having a lovely week ūüôā

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 ūüôā

I Bet You Use Helvetica

Lauded as the “ultimate typeface”: both the creme de la creme and commonplace default of visual communication, Helvetica pervades modern-day graphics. It is clean, practical, and elegant. You’ve seen it on street-signs, websites, corporate logos, designer bags, voting ballots, t-shirts, and even nutrition facts. Helvetica is ubiquitous. It’s so popular, there was even a movie about it. So…


If you haven’t used it to write, you’ve definitely used it to read.

The film by Gary Hustwit, Helvetica (2007), is worth a watch. (This is coming from a mild typography enthusiast. And by “mild,” √ā¬†I mean that I appreciate a good typeface. Put simply: if you dislike Comic Sans, you’ll enjoy the film). It explores both the conception and adoption of the typeface and its impact on global society. Like the less elegant font with which you are reading, this blog post is a less elegant illustration of Helvetica. To fully learn about the type that dictates your life, watch the film instead. To kinda learn about this sans-serif typeface, keep reading.

Helvetica was designed in 1957 in Switzerland by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. With the intent of creating a clean typeface that was as neutral as its country of origin, Miedinger and Hoffman founded Helvetica under the name “Neue Hass Grotesk.” But this typeface was far from grotesque. It was the spark of a new beginning for visual communication. As the modernist movement in architecture stripped extraneous decorations from buildings, Swiss typography removed the relics of older print-age standards. Helvetica shaved the serifs.

In typography, there are a few different font styles–serif, sans serif, slab-serif, and script. Each have their own purpose and should only be used in certain settings. Reading paragraph text in slab-serif (think bold and blocky lettering) is awful. Flowing script conveys elegance with a light feel but would not be appropriate for stop signs. The most used fonts are either serif or sans-serif. For print or a large amount of paragraph text, as demonstrated in this piece of writing, a serif font is used. The little lines and hooks used at the ends of these letters are called “serifs.” Logically, sans-serif fonts–Helvetica as the case in point–do not have serifs. In various settings–most digital text, logos, and small pieces of writing–where undeniable clarity and directness are necessary, sans-serif fonts are useful. Helvetica, as seen by many graphic designers around the world, is the best sans-serif typeface. It transforms messy and jumbled text into something clear and beautiful.

Despite this large reception, Helvetica is not the end-all typeface. Several typographers despise Helvetica. For them, it is overused and conformist. Some attribute it to mass-socialism, the Vietnam war, and other things they hold with negative connotations. One typographer,√ā¬†Erik Spiekermann, claims that Helvetica is like fast food. Everybody uses it because its cheap and easy, but who cares if its crap?

I’ll let you take your own stance on the issue. Regardless of the typeface’s fame or infame, Helvetica is here to stay. When something is so simple and elegant, there is little reason to replace it. Trends will change, so many logos will likely revamp their fonts, but Helvetica as an industry standard and default for clarity and readability will be conserved.

So let’s start a new version of “I Spy” and find Helvetica. We won’t have to look far; it’s easier to spot than Waldo.

Herbert Bayer’s Burning Banknotes

Any good design favors simplicity. Modern design follows the systematic use of only a few options for each visual attribute. There is no reason to use multiple font-families when one will do. There is no reason to use a plethora of colors when a small palette of 3 or 4 will suffice. There is no reason to vary between more than a pair of font-sizes or line widths. Strip away everything that is not essential and you will find the base of good design. There are many individuals responsible for birthing these design principles, either through art or necessity, but one of the most interesting and often underrepresented fathers of modern design is Herbert Bayer.

According to an article on Wikipedia, in an effort to replace the imperialistic government of Germany in 1919, the Weimar Republic was formed as a semi-presidential representative democracy. To afford the costs of World War I, Germany decided to fund the war through borrowing–not allowing an ounce of its currency to be converted to gold. As a result, the government began to buy foreign currency and significantly decreased the value of its Mark. From 1921 to 1924, Germany suffered a three-year period of hyperinflation. During this time, emergency banknotes were issued by Die Landesregierung Th√ɬľringen and designed by Bayer.


These banknotes embraced a simple and bold style now found in contemporary graphic design. Departing from the traditional bank note standard of serif fonts, swirls, and national symbols, Bayer’s design featured grids, geometry, and sans-serif. This deviation from the norm was one of the first uses of modern design in the realm of politics and economics.

Despite their beauty, the insertion of Bayer’s emergency currency into the economy did little to assuage inflation. Paper money was so worthless that it was burned as fuel. Herbert Bayer’s banknotes provided heat for many.


Following the design of this currency, Bayer later created the “Universal” typeface which resonates with the widely-used sans-serif font today. The introduction of this typeface featured no uppercase letters, as Bayer believed people did not speak in upper- and lowercase. The simple beauty of his design allowed for greater innovations in effective communication.


Unlike many great artists and designers, Bayer spent the remainder of his career in advertising. The modernism he developed in Europe well served his √ā¬†innovative marketing in corporate America. The bold simplicity and geometrically balanced style was widely accepted. The principles of good design gave his work a universal appeal. As a result, much of his style permeates design today.