Welcome to another installment of Brush Pen Lettering with Black Chalk Co where we are going to talk all about yo’ body.
One of the things I never ever thought would be so important in learning brush pen lettering is the way we use our bodies – in particular our arms.
It would be normal for anyone to assume that great penmanship comes from great control over our hands and fingers, but in fact, by focusing on those areas we can be making our brush pen lettering worse!
When I took a class back in December we started off learning drills, which is basically where you repeat the same stroke again and again. As mentioned previously, the purpose of doing this is to ingrain that movement into your muscle memory, so that when you form letters and words in future, they look neat and uniform because the up and down strokes are all the same weight and angle. Your body learns to produce them effortlessly.
Hand lettering is very different to handwriting, and that’s why we need to help our body remember how to do the different strokes! That’s also why it’s important to start learning lettering by practising individual strokes and letters, as it’s a lot easier for your muscle memory to remember them than full words. If you get stuck in future with wobbly and uneven looking words, go back to your drills to refresh your muscle memory.
When we first began practising the downwards heavy stroke, which you can see a lot of in the photo above, we were taught that you should be using your WHOLE arm. Most of us in the class had been using our wrist, which is how we would when writing. The problem with this is that it is restrictive. You’re not able to create really long smooth and steady lines if you are restricted to the length of line your wrist can draw, or if you have to pick up the marker and re-position it to continue the same stroke.
So how can we create long, steady lines?
We need to use our whole arm. This takes some getting used to. Basically you need to keep your wrist steady and drag the marker (or pen or brush) down the page. When you do this, your forearm should be sliding down across the table and your elbow should begin to move behind your body. Your shoulder does most of the work.
Tip: sit on a chair without arm rests or lower them as they may restrict your arm movements.
When creating lighter upwards strokes it’s also important to use your whole arm, just in the other direction and with less pressure (see post on pen pressure). It makes the stroke a lot more fluid and ensures you won’t create a heavier line at one end and lighter line at the other. As mentioned, it DOES take time to get used to. I recommend practising heavy downwards strokes and light upwards strokes with your whole arm (and I’m talking pages of them) using the guide from earlier before tackling full letters.
I’ve recently begun trying to master the calligraphy pen, and I was getting so irritated with myself that my swashes and flourishes were wobbly and uneven until I remembered to use my arm the same way as with brush lettering. I modified the technique a little so that my forearm was barely grazing the table and some strokes were more ‘flicks’, and focused on the movement coming from my shoulder. This meant the light lines were free-flowing and smooth. I got the wink of approval from my pen too which was encouraging…
Your body position
You may also want to adjust the way you sit at the desk or table. Some people rotate themselves, or their paper, to create the angle/slope they are wanting to achieve. I do a combination of both. I like to sit on a bit of an angle, and then angle my paper further. Some people find the best results by lettering on paper that is completely rotated from landscape to portrait orientation or vice-versa and lettering away from their body instead of across the page from left to right.
I touched on desk setup and ergonomics in an earlier post, so it’s timely to remind you to sit with correct posture too, no slouching! (I still have to remind myself of this every day). I’ve had shoulder issues in the past and by engaging all these new muscles, I don’t want to do myself damage – and wouldn’t want you to either! You’ll want to make sure your feet can comfortably touch the ground, too.
The way you use your body will also affect the way you grip your tool when you letter. I still haven’t found a one-size-fits-all approach to gripping the pen or brush. I find myself changing it all the time depending on what kind of look I’m trying to achieve – so don’t stress if you aren’t sure if what you are doing is “right”. Take a look at the letterers on Instagram – we all do different things! A lot of us will adjust our grip throughout lettering a single word, too. It has to feel comfortable for you.
I’d recommend experimenting with holding your brushes or pens at different angles and at different heights up and down the tool to see what kind of results you get.
Sometimes when I’m trying to create thin or circular shapes with a paint brush like in e’s or o’s and s’s I find myself holding the brush very upright and close to the tip and a lot of the movement DOES come from twisting my wrist. This isn’t the standard ‘brush lettering’ way of doing things and would probably damage a marker if I tried to do it with one, but it’s the way I like those letters to look with paint. When I want to create long and thick strokes I angle the paint brush heavily and often grip it quite far up the barrel/away from the tip. A lot has to do with personal preference and the look you’re trying to achieve. I tend to use both of these methods when lettering a single word in watercolour.
- Engage your whole arm when you letter, not just your hand
- Focus on using your shoulder to create strokes and keeping your wrist steady
- Create long strokes by dragging the tool down the page and allowing your elbow to pass behind your body when you do so
- Practice downward heavy strokes repeatedly using the above tips
- Adjust your body at the desk to get the best angle on your strokes
- Experiment with different grips and holding the tool at different angles to find what is most comfortable and achieves the look you’re after
Try it yourself
Download a copy of the grid from Lesson Two, grab your favourite tool and have a go at downward heavy strokes using your whole arm and holding the tool at different angles. Try some light upward strokes too if you’re game! Share your photos or videos on Instagram and tag @BlackChalkCo and let me know if you found this lesson helpful!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section below or find us on Instagram @BlackChalkCo.
Stay tuned for Lesson Four!