It’s time to get your stroke onnnnnn (I promise it’ll be less creepy than it sounds. Maybe…) In this post you’re going to learn the staple strokes you need to know to create the majority of lowercase letters in the alphabet. Exciting, huh? Let’s get to it!
As an initial disclaimer: I get bored of the same thing easily. I like to do things a bit differently. By no means are the names I’ve given these strokes you’re about to learn ACTUAL terminology – I just made ’em up! These are also not ALL the strokes you need to know (think pesky letters, like ‘r’ and ‘s’) but they are the strokes that make up the majority of the letters in the alphabet!
As a secondary disclaimer: different forms of lettering have different staple strokes. These are the strokes I’ve found to be used regularly in brush script. This is not an exhaustive list, and is definitely not all the strokes in the world. For instance, manuscript calligraphy has a wholeee other set of staple strokes.
So, why is learning strokes important? Do I haveeeeeeeee to?
YES. Now sit down and pay attention please. Thank you.
Think of letters like your body. They’re all made up of parts – they have an anatomy if you like. It’s important that we learn these parts (or strokes) to create beautiful consistent lettering. For the most part (he he) the shapes of letters are fairly universal in the lettering world. You’ll find variations of letters, again think of ‘r’ or ‘s’, but they are easily recognisable as BEING that letter. The strokes below are specific to brush script, but can be found in other forms of lettering.
So, if I showed you this sentence, what would you think?
“Wow, that is some incredible lettering!”
“Learn to edit your photos better, what is that lighting? Geez…”
“You’re amazing and talented and pretty” (Stop it, you).
“Does that even English?”
“Yeah, OK cool, neat. But what is this teaching me about strokes?”
HA! Well. I’m so glad you asked. Would it look slightly more like learning strokes if I broke down the letters in the sentence into strokes? (The answer is yes, by the way).
Slightly less intimidating, amiright?
This sentence (if it even is one, I don’t know) doesn’t have any meaning at all, other than it has most of the strokes in it! So it was perfect to use in this example.
So… let’s take a look at 8 staple strokes you should aim to nail in order to really make the alphabet your bi…. best friend!
P.S. Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens (brush tip) are amazing and you should by 100 of them. Sadly this is not a sponsored message hahaha. But in all honesty they are my new pen crush.
The 8 magical staple strokes of brush lettering
There they are in all their glory! Let’s take a closer look:
UP & DOWN
The Up & Down strokes are the most straight forward strokes to learn and use.
Commonly used as an entrance or connecting stroke, the up is drawn very, very lightly in an upward motion.
The down stroke is present in many letters (particularly in stems) and uses full brush pen pressure in a downward direction.
These two strokes help us to create the ‘calligraphy’ look in lettering, distinguishing strokes and letters with thick and thin lines.
These strokes can be drawn at varying angles, depending on the look you are trying to achieve.
Curves make up many letters (a, b, c, d, e, g, p, q) and can be drawn in both directions.
When creating a ‘c’ shape, pretend you are about to draw an oval in an anti-clock wise direction starting at about 1 on the clock. Start lightly, and when you get to about 12 or 11 on the clock, use full pressure in an oval shape. Begin to taper off the thick stroke and return to thin at about 7 and finish the thin stroke at around 4.
To create the opposite version, your line will be going in a clockwise direction. Start lightly at around 11 on the clock, and when you get to about 12 or 1 on the clock, use full pressure in an oval shape. Begin to taper off the thick stroke and return to thin at about 4 and finish the thin stroke at around 7.
Turns in brush lettering can go either over or under.
These turns help us create letters like m’s and u’s.
To create an over turn, we’re basically connecting an up stroke to a down stroke with a curve at the top. Start lightly at the baseline and draw an up stroke that begins to taper just before the x-height. Begin to curve the stroke to the right and finish by bringing the stroke down thick and heavy and finishing at the baseline.
To create an under turn we do the stroke in the opposite way. Beginning at the x-height we bring the stroke down thick and heavy and begin to taper lightly around to the right at the baseline. Continue the stroke upwards and lightly, finishing at the x-height.
What the hey is a ‘cender? A city in Japan? No, that’s Sendai, but you were close.
I’ve nicknamed these strokes ‘cenders because essentially they are the strokes that reach the ascender and the descender line on the grid. Ascender stems are commonly seen in d, h and l’s, and descenders in g’s and y’s.
To create an ascender stem, we begin the stroke lightly at around the x-height and use an up stroke to bring it to the ascender, tapering over to the left before we get there. We then bring the stroke down thick and heavy to the baseline.
To create a descender, we begin the stroke at the x-height and bring the stroke down towards the descender line thick and heavy, tapering over to the left before we get there. We then bring the stroke up lightly and finish at round the x-height or connect to another stroke/letter.
The ‘o’ is pretty self explanatory! It’s an o! Depending on your lettering style you may wish to use an ‘o’ shape to create b’s or p’s and connect it with a ‘cender. Up to you. Otherwise, the ‘o’ is for o!
To create the ‘o’ we follow the same process as the curve that goes anti-clockwise, except instead of finishing at around 4pm on the clock, we continue to bring the light stroke up back to where we started.
I called this stroke the ‘t’ because it’s basically only used for t’s in lowercase brush script. However you will commonly find this stroke in the uppercase alphabet for E’s and F’s etc.
To create the ‘t’, simply draw a line from left to right across the down stroke of a t.
You can choose to use light pressure or full pressure – up to you. You can also choose how long you wish the line to be, or if you want to add any flourishes to it.
The combo uses two light up strokes and a down stroke, basically combining the turns. These are commonly found in letters such as ‘m’ and ‘h’ – especially when we’re connecting them to other letters.
To create a combo stroke, follow the same process as an over turn except add another light upwards stroke at the end. Easy!
The last stroke is the kickback – which is found in ‘q’ and ‘f’. This stroke is basically a reflection of the descender stroke with a little kickback or flick at the end.
To create a kickback, make a downwards heavy stroke at the x-height (or for an f, continue the ascending stem stroke down) and taper it to the RIGHT. Bring the upwards stroke up lightly and when you reach around the baseline, lightly draw or flick a connecting stroke upwards to the right.
Let’s take another look at the sentence from earlier:
See how all the strokes we’ve learnt are incorporated? Cool, huh?
Try it yourself
Have you joined the #alphagettoknowme challenge I’m running on Instagram in February? Get on over there and check it out! We’re using the alphabet to practice our lettering and get to know each other at the same time. On the 1st of Feb we started with A, and each day tackle a new letter which I’ve created a prompt for. E.g. A for Animal, which means letter your favourite animal and tell us more in the caption. So we get to learn something about you along the way! I swear it isn’t as complex as I’m making it sound hahaha.
But, if you don’t want to join the challenge (or you’re reading this in the year 2040), I’d encourage you to practice each of the 8 strokes above. If you’re not quite sure how to do that yet, good! Because next lesson we learn all about drills 🙂
Stay tuned for lesson six!