Hello internet friends and welcome to the first instalment of Brush Pen Lettering / Pen Wizardry with Black Chalk Co!
In this post I’m going to cover the all-important topic of what you actually need to get started with brush pen lettering.
Let’s get straight into it!
- Someone motivated, talented and attractive (that’s you!)
Setting up your workstation is an important part of preparing to hand letter, or to be creative in any way really. There’s no need to run out to Kmart or Bunnings to buy or build a desk though, any flat surface which you can comfortably sit at will do. More often than not I use my dining room table because the lighting is better than at my actual desk, and my actual desk is covered in pens and paper, and I also like to watch Netflix at the same time on TV, but that’s another story.
You’ll want to position your workstation in a well-lit area to ensure you are not straining your eyes (and of course so you can take sexy Instagram photos later in the best possible lighting).
While it is taking every fibre of my being not to bang on about occupational health and safety I CAN’T HELP IT. You should have all of your most-used equipment located in your optimal reach zone (within arms length on the desk) to avoid straining; you should be sitting at a height at the desk where your elbows can comfortably sit at about 90 degrees parallel with the table top; you should be able to firmly plant your feet on the floor; and the best type of accessible office chair has a 5 star wheely base and no arm rests! SORRY. I had to get it out.
Regarding chairs – as you’ll see from the above – I don’t have a 5 star wheely base chair where my feet touch the floor, I use a kneeling chair. This takes pressure off my back and is a lot more comfortable than the dining room chairs I had been using. As long as you’re able to sit when your arms at a 90 degree angle OR have an adjustable chair – you’ll be fine!
For professional advice and more information on desk and chair set up, computer set up and posture please jump on Google and search ‘workstation ergonomics’ – especially if you plan to spend hours at your desk.
As much as I love all the beautifully styled workstations that every creative person seems to have according to Instagram, it’s definitely not important right now! We really just need a stable surface that you can comfortably and SAFELY sit and work at.
If you’ve ever been into an art and crafts store you have no doubt been overwhelmed by the range (and PRICE) of paper. It is almost ludicrous. While it’s nice to use professional quality Instagrammable pads of paper, it’s just not critical in the beginning. And BELIEVE ME YOU (how fun is it to say that? I feel like a grandparent), you are going to use a buttload of paper in the beginning.
In saying that, it can be pretty damn easy to ruin a brush pen. Ask the first few Tombows I ever bought. (Just kidding, you can’t. They’ve been locked in a box and are under duress not to make any public statement on the abuse I subjected them to).
At the start of my hand lettering journey, I did not want a single bar of paying $10 for a notepad. Gimme that $4 ream of crappy supermarket printer paper any day! Said my former naive self.
The truth is, you really do need smooth paper to protect the tips of your brush pens. They’re fragile, sensitive little creatures.
These are my recommendations:
- Rhodia paper – available in plain, lined, grid lined and grid dotted. In Australia you can find these at Officeworks for around $10 per A4 pad. If you’re outside of Australia, please consult your friendly Google machine.
- Tracing paper (available at arts and craft stores and some office supply stores – any brand is fine) – it’s pretty pricey here in Oz though!
- Vellum – a cheaper alternative to tracing paper. You can grab 20 sheets for around $7 from Officeworks.
- Regular smooth A4 printer paper, as a last resort (available in reams at supermarkets, office supply shops, everywhere ever).
One notepad I found which I haven’t mentioned above is a bleed-proof markerpad from Eckersley’s. They’re around $13 and a great alternative. I just don’t know how common this type of product is throughout the world so left it off the list. If you’re an Aussie, get on it!
You can start learning hand lettering with almost anything – pencils, pens, brush pens, paint brushes – you name it!
But the name of my game is Brush Pen Lettering, so let’s go over a few of my favourites:
- Artline Stix Brush Marker
- Pentel Sign Brush / Touch Pen
- Crayola Marker
- Ecoline Brush Pen
Artline Stix Brush Marker
Anyone who has glanced at my Instagram account for 0.02 seconds would realise I’m obsessed with these brush pens. I honestly can not speak more highly of them. They are affordable, accessible (in Melbourne anyway) and are of a supremely ridiculous quality for something that is marketed as a kids pen.
Which was probably your first thought when you saw this. Or, a close second to “what the heck is that?” / “is that an octopus leg?” / “what is this Lego pen sorcery?”
These pens are sold for around $1 each, usually in packs of 10 and 20 and in Melbourne you can find them down at the local supermarket.
These are my #1 go-to favourite best ever all-time brush pen of choice. These are in the category of ‘large’ brush pens FYI.
They have a comfortable tri-grip (remember how we used to stick those little rubber things over all our pens and pencils in school so we’d learn to hold them properly? Yeah, well these come with that deluxe tri-grip built in! Come at me, pen licence).
You can also achieve the magical ombre effect with these bad boys, too.
If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend Artline Stix Brush Markers. As I mentioned earlier, ruining brush pens in the beginning can be pretty easy. However, Artline Stix Brush Markers are really difficult to destroy, but also at a price point that if you do, it doesn’t really hurt your soul.
When you’re hitting the shops to find these wizard sticks – be mindful of the packaging. There are 3 different types of Stix -brush marker, colouring marker, and a fine tipped pen. They all come in the same colours and have the same outer design – so just make sure you’re grabbing the brush markers.
Here’s some examples of work I’ve created with Artline Stix Brush Markers (yup, including a t-shirt!):
Pentel Sign Brush / Touch Pen
These are my favourite ‘small’ brush pen. They are about $3 each and you can find them in Melbourne at Officeworks in 5 colours (black, purple, pink, red and green) OR at West Art Supplies (46 Buckley Street, Footscray – no website) in ALL 12 glorious colours.
Be careful when purchasing these, as they have a sister that looks almost identical! You don’t want it’s sister though, because it’s sister doesn’t have a brush tip. The defining feature is the plastic on the brush tipped version has a metallic sheen to it, and it also has the word ‘touch’ with some Japanese symbols written on the barrel. It’s sister is exactly the same shape and comes in the same colours, just without the glittery barrel goodness.
I love using these pens for more intricate work, and they are my go-to brush pen for creating place cards as they can very closely resemble actual pointed pen calligraphy.
(Left to right: Super Tips, Washable Marker, Pip Squeak)
These guys aren’t your typical brush pens – in fact, they aren’t brush pens at all. The cool thing about them is you can get the same effect! The trick to it is all in the ‘conic’ shape of the tip. It allows you to get a very small up stroke by holding the pen more vertically (which you should totally not do with a real brush pen until you’ve nailed the basics – otherwise you risk damaging the tips!), but if you roll the pen in your hand mid-stroke so that the flat side of the tip touches the page, you can also get a wicked thick down stroke.
I find that lefties often prefer Crayolas, and are really good with them! I quite like the Crayola Markers because they are affordable, accessible, come in a trillion colours and are proof that you don’t need the most expensive pens to create great art. It’s the person, not the pen!
Ecoline Brush Pens
These babies sit in the ‘premium’ brush pen category at around $8 a pop. I have developed an unhealthy obsession with them though. I knowww this is ‘what you need to get started’ but honestly, I’d be lying if I didn’t include them in my list of go-to / favourites.
They have a great thick barrel, a squishy brush tip, premium ink inside that flows like tears of baby Jesus, come in a range of vibrant colours – AND they are also MIXABLE with Ecoline’s jars of ink! Or each other!
Check out this video I made that everyone lost their minds over:
Cool, huh? I found them quite tricky to use at first because their tip is a lot more flexible than some pens, but they have very quickly made their way into my favourite pens, and I include them in my beginner workshops kits. Whilst you don’t need a giant budget to start brush pen lettering, I think trying a range of pens from large to small, budget to premium is key to finding what works best for you.
OK, great. You’ve given me plenty of options but WHICH ONE do I start with?
Great question internet friend, I’m glad you asked.
If I had to choose just ONE of the above brush pens, I would choose the Artline Stix Brush Marker, all the time, every day. But I think you already knew that.
You’re also going to want to have handy:
Well you can’t use a pencil without a sharpener and eraser! Using a pencil is a great way to learn hand lettering. It gives you the opportunity to sketch designs, play around with compositions, and even practise fauxligraphy. If you’ve never heard of that term before, it means ‘fake calligraphy’. It’s when you write your letters out in monoline, and then go back over them to thicken the lines which would ordinarily be thick if you had have used a brush pen. This is a technique used by people who don’t have access to brush pens, and is actually a great way to learn about letterforms. It’s also a good technique to know if you happen to have a really sick pen that ISN’T brush tipped – you can fake it!
A ruler will help you create grids as well as keep your lettering on the straight and narrow.
As you may have seen from Instagram or Youtube, there are SO many options when it comes to pens and brushes and brush pens and pens with brushes on them and penbrush brushpens that it can be really overwhelming, just like this sentence. I know as well as anyone that a trip to the art and crafts store can be a very expensive one if you’re like me and have an obsessive compulsive need to try every pen and brush ever – but it’s important and MORE than fine to start simple.
You need to start with a simple tool to help you learn the basics before branching off. If you go full speed ahead too early then you’ll find yourself in a pile of pricey pens and nibs and oblique holders with lettering you’re not truly satisfied with. Trust me, I’ve been there! It’s quite literally an uncomfortable place to be (nibs are pointy).
I’m probably the most impatient person in the world as well so I know how annoying it is to want to be amazing at something straight away – but it just doesn’t happen like that. Even now, I’m teaching you but I’m still far from perfect. And you know what? Not being perfect is a great way to be – because it means there’s always room for improvement.
It’s my hope that I can break down the steps and techniques for you in an easy to understand way so that you can start from the very beginning and learn brush pen lettering better than you ever thought you could, at a pace that is fun and fluid!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section below or find me over on Instagram @BlackChalkCo.