Hey guys! This section has come as a result of a recent Instagram post I made calling for questions. I get a LOT on my Insta posts every day but due to a lack of time (and notifications disappearing before I get to them!) I decided to ask YOU what you wanted to know, so I could put it together as an FAQ section that everyone could use as a resource.
The FAQs are split into 4 sections:
- Lettering – Supplies
- Lettering – Tips
If you’d like to add questions to this post, please leave a comment below!
LETTERING – SUPPLIES
I’m starting the lettering thing and I have no idea what pen I need to buy, I always search something on the internet and there’s no information? / What tools do you recommend for a beginner with only a bit of experience?
Any cheap / accessible brush pens! I don’t recommend heading straight for the expensive brands, even though they are pretty and tempting and everyone on Instagram uses them. Wait until you have got the basics of lettering down-pat, otherwise you’ll find you simply ruin them! I very much wish I didn’t start learning with Tombows. They are great pens, absolutely, but I wasted so many of them because I didn’t know what I was doing, even after attending a class!
I recommend somethings cheaper and tougher like Artline Stix Brush Markers (if you can find them easily). In Australia, they are about $1 each and you can find them everywhere so for me they are perfect. If you have to order them online then maybe they aren’t the best option, so look around. Pentel sign brush pens are also great and are closer to a regular pen size which may help you learn. Otherwise a simple Crayola conic tipped marker can achieve the same effects! You don’t need an $8 pen for great lettering. It is the person, NOT the pen.
Any recommendations on where to purchase great pens and supplies?
It depends where you are! Unfortunately, unless you’re in Melbourne I can’t really help you! I’d love to know where you can buy every single product in every single country, but I don’t have that much time or room in my brain! The best bet is to just Google it! I’ve noticed a lot of people overseas buy from Amazon or JetPens.com – so try there too.
Where is the best places in Melbourne to buy pens?
Officeworks Fitzroy! Without a doubt. They recently launched 7,000+ art products (specifically at that store) and it is so darn convenient I can’t even deal. Not only do they have all my favourite pens, but they sell Rhodia paper as well so it just makes my life easy. Pentel sign AND colour brushes, Sharpies, Artline Stix, Tombows, Ecoline, Faber Castell, Micador… the list goes on! And of course they also have regular office equipment too, which speaks to my soul.
I also really like West Art Supplies in Footscray (they don’t have a website / social so don’t bother Googling unless you want the address. Which is 44 Buckley Street, Footscray – haha!) It’s a small family owned and operated art store and they have tonnes of pens. ESPECIALLY all 12 colours of the Pentel sign brush pen.
Eckersley’s Art and Craft also have a heap of art products, including the 20 pack of Stix with all the extra beautiful colours! My early alternative to Rhodia paper was bleedproof marker paper, which they sell here as their own brand, as well as tracing paper. You can buy online with Eckersley’s which I like, and being a recommended supplier for Universities, they have student discounts.
Where do you get all the awesome coloured Artline Stix? I have the basic 10 pack but I’d love to know where all the amazing colours can be found in Melbourne!
Can you get Artline Stix anywhere in America?
See above! I ship globally.
LETTERING – TIPS
How do you prevent the tip of the brush pen from fraying or becoming flimsy?
The best thing to do is make sure you’re using the brush pen properly! The most important part of brush pen lettering is to create light upstrokes and thick downstrokes – that’s how we get the beautiful contrast in our letters. If we’re creating heavy upstrokes and putting too much pressure on the tip – that’s the quickest way to destroy your brush pen. Our pens are delicate wizard sticks so we need to forget what we know about using markers and textas, and be gentle!
You should also be mindful of the surfaces you’re drawing on. Printer paper? Cardstock? These can EASILY damage the tips of our pens. Why? Because they have fibres on them that ‘catch’ on the brush tip when you draw on them. These fibres will tear at the material that your pens are made of and cause them to fray. Fraying is when the tip starts to come apart and you don’t just get one clean line, but 2 or more where the material has broken apart.
Try to use smooth paper as much as possible. My go-to paper is Rhodia. In Melbourne, you can find these notepads in-store or online at Officeworks, or online at notemaker.com.au. Another good option (although sometimes the colour is duller) is tracing paper. Smooth paper can also give you more vibrant colours from your pens, as the ink isn’t being absorbed like it is with printer paper. It will sit on the surface a little longer before drying.
Note — lefties may prefer printer paper because the ink will be soaked up before their hand comes over the top of what they’ve just drawn.
Regarding flimsiness – this can be somewhat unavoidable. I find most of my pens lose their shape / stiffness with time. Sometimes I actually try to break pens in because they’re TOO rigid. They’re still totally useable when flimsier, it just takes a bit more control to get the thickness / thinness that you’re after.
How do you get the ombre effect? It’s so good!
I did an Instagram post on this recently. It’s super easy with the right pens and paper! I find I get the best effect with Artline Stix Brush Pens on Rhodia or tracing paper. The ombre effect is created naturally by using pressure. More pressure applied – thicker the line, more ink comes out. So the effect is naturally created when we letter, because we apply pressure differently while drawing a letter! The effect is also emphasised on smooth paper because the ink isn’t absorbed as easily as it is with printer paper. But, you can still get the same effect on printer paper or emphasise it on smooth paper – simply draw over the thick parts of your letter and voila! The ombre effect is created / emphasised.
How did you market yourself and get all these corporate clients? Especially in the beginning?
I was doing something different in the beginning, I was making and selling paper goods! My focus changed about 2 months in as my followers had more interest in learning how I was lettering. This led me to create a blog and post lots of videos demonstrating techniques.
To work with corporate clients, I knew I had to get some jobs under my belt. Luckily, these people found me in the beginning. I would be contacted through Instagram or my blog and asked for tattoos designs or logos or social media videos. As soon as I had completed a couple of jobs I created a portfolio on my website. This meant that anyone who found my website could easily see what I’ve done for other businesses.
I also reached out to a number of brands. There were some I didn’t hear back from for MONTHS, and some never at all. But there have been a couple of key clients that I stay in regular contact with and work with repeatedly, and these have become really great partnerships for me.
If I had any tips, they would be:
- Put your work out there for all to see.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people or businesses, they won’t always come to you, so learn how to sell yourself confidently. Fake it until you make it if you have to. Pretend you know how to run an amazing lettering business.
- Be professional at all times. Only take on what you can manage, and look after these people as your partnership could take you anywhere.
I’d like to find out about setting up a small biz for this lettering gig. How should I go about setting up pricing for certain things? This may be broad, but hoping to get a step closer to launching something. Even if it’s a course that would be helpful.
Pricing is an interesting topic. It’s a bit of trial and error. For something you’ve never done before you might price cheap because you don’t feel confident in yourself and you’re just grateful for the learning experience, but the next time you might charge 4x that price. You might charge a big corporate a lot more than a small business, because a big corporate has a huge customer reach and probably a much bigger budget. You might charge more if the client is pressuring you for a quick turnaround but you’re already fully booked. Contra deals as well. There are SO many variables!
It’s a good idea to create a set of ‘standard’ prices. You don’t have to publish these anywhere but just have them to go off when you’re approached to do something. I.e. you might have a set price for place cards, but if someone had an event with 500+ you might be able to offer a small discount, or maybe they want place cards, menus AND seating plans – so you can create a custom package.
Do some research, jump online and see what others are charging. Benchmark yourself to make sure you’re not selling yourself short or overpricing.
I’ve definitely priced myself out of some jobs before. I’ve sent quotes and never heard back. But you know what? The right client that values your work will pay for the quality and uniqueness of it. I hear horror stories from designers all the time, and it’s usually the ones who want it done cheap or barter the price. Imagine doing a deal, like super good deal for the client, and they end up being the most pedantic, micromanaging, chronically unimpressed client. You will be spewing that you didn’t charge them normally.
When did you know you were ready to sell prints / your stuff? Did you just make a bunch of prints and open an Etsy, or what? How did you decide between doing prints, PDF, painted work, wood signs, etc? There’s so many options out there how did you decide what to do?! And last how did you get your name out there? Craft fairs, Facebook? Etsy?
Big one, I like it! I knew IMMEDIATELY I was ready to sell stuff, because as mentioned above that’s what I first set out to do! I had grand plans to sell funny greeting cards, learning to letter came as part of that journey. I did sell some cards for Valentine’s Day, but by then I realised I enjoyed lettering that much more and was beginning to pursue that – so my decision just came from realising what people wanted from me. Paying attention to the customer.
I’m not going to sit here and act like my social media following happened by accident, but on the contrary I’m not going to act like I had a rock solid business plan. I put a LOT of effort into learning social media for business in the beginning, because I knew when I wanted to launch my cards that I’d need people to launch to. I needed content to post though, so that’s when I started posting lettering videos because it was related, but was also something I could quickly put together and post before I had any actual products.
People had more interest in that though, and I took notice. So I changed my focus to sharing tips and tricks I’d picked up along the way, and ultimately teaching others how to letter.
I really don’t sell that much stuff other than learning materials (workshop tickets, worksheets, webinars). There might be a couple of random things in my shop but it isn’t my focus or my driver.
I got my name out there via Instagram. I spent a lot of time in the beginning participating and being active in the lettering community. I don’t have that much time now, but it really helped when I started. Now it’s at the point where I’m approached and don’t necessarily have to go looking for work, which is a juggling act anyway on top of full time work!
Re deciding what to list – remember that lettering is transferrable. If you can letter a name on a piece of paper, you can do it on place cards, menus, wood, chalkboards, anything. So rather than stress what you list online, focus on having a website to draw people to that showcases what you are capable of. I have a portfolio on my website. It showcases jobs I’ve done in the past – but don’t think you need jobs under your belt to have a portfolio. Simply having photos or videos of work you’re capable of doing will help. Don’t stress about pigeon-holing yourself. You will get approached to do things you never even IMAGINED someone would want. So focus on showcasing your abilities.
I used to stress in the beginning. Oh no, I haven’t worked for Chanel why would anyone hire me?! That stuff will come. The great thing about art is that everyone has their own taste. So someone might have worked for some of the BIGGEST brands in the world, but who says those brands won’t like your style more? So put it out there!
I could talk about this forever but I’ll just finish on this note – if you want to work with brands and corporates – get away from Etsy when you can. It was fine for me in the beginning because it was easy and I had another audience to find my work, but it’s just people buying. I wanted to work with brands and do cool JOBS not just sell stuff. You’re better off investing time and money into a website if you want this, it’ll give you a more professional edge.
I’m Brazilian and I have a lot of difficulty finding a course here! Do you think you’ll do one online? I think it would be amazing!
Do you ship to Canada? I need these pens!!!
I don’t sell/ship pens anywhere sorry!
Can you write my name?
Sure, for one million dollarydoos.
Can I ask your age? I’m just curious…
Curiosity killed the cat! I’m in my mid-to-late 20s.
How long did you take to master lettering?
Firstly, I definitely haven’t mastered it! However, I started in December last year (2015).
When did you start calligraphy and who inspired you?
I took calligraphy a thousand years ago at highschool, for one term. I didn’t touch art for about 10 years and last December (2015) I started learning brush pen lettering. I actually can’t do pointed pen calligraphy anymore, at least not well! I didn’t really have an inspiration as such because I wasn’t trying to become a pen wizard when I started, I was trying to create and sell handmade paper goods. I took inspiration from Instagram in general though, but no one in particular.
Where did you learn to write like that?
I am for the most part self-taught. I took a 3 hour workshop in Melbourne in December 2015 just to see whether I could actually do it, and after good feedback from the teacher I ran away and learnt the rest through research and trial and error. No fancy schmancy art degree here! Just a lot of dedicated practise.
I remember a while ago you mentioned that you used to be a Human Resources Manager. What was the reason you decided to change? Would you recommend studying it?
I was previously a Human Resources Assistant, and changed because I was internally promoted! I became Executive Assistant to the CEO and now I’m EA to a Managing Director at another company. I still work full time, Black Chalk Co happens around that. It also happened around part time University until June (2016), so I’m very glad to have that off my plate now!
I loved HR and I think it set me up really well to understanding a business and how it should run internally. I do love corporate governance. My Bachelor’s degree focussed heavily on HR and I loved it. Whilst I’m not sure whether I’ll work in HR again, it’s a great area of the business to be in and have an understanding of, but I’ll say one thing – it’s a bit grey. I’m more black and white, tick things off lists, get stuff done. HR is a big grey area sometimes and things take a lot longer to get resolved and done. So it depends what you like!
What is your favourite brush pen?
Artline Stix Brush Marker! I’d also like to point out I’m not paid to say that! They genuinely just are my absolutely favourite pen.
I’ll explain a bit more about why.
Firstly, they aren’t just a regular pen, they’re a cool pen. Just look at them! They look like Lego or octopus legs and the colours are so bright and fun. I like their uniqueness.
Secondly, the inkiness, oh the inkiness.
Thirdly, the brush tip is just what Goldilocks ordered, not too flimsy and not too stiff, juuuuust right.
Fourthly (is that a word), they are TOUGH! I regularly use them on printer paper and they still last. Other brush pens will tear and fray if not used exclusively on smooth paper, not these guys though.
Fifthly (seriously is this English), they are so cheap and accessible (at least, in Melbourne). They can be found at grocery stores for sometimes 50c on sale! Ridiculous!
Sixthly, the tri-grip. Remember at school when we first learned how to write and draw, all our pencils had tri-grips, OR we’d go and buy those little rubber things to slip over pens and pencils to MAKE them tri-grip? Well, these guys have them! They just feel nice to hold and are comfortable between your fingers. I feel like I have more control over something with a tri-grip than a round barrel.
These are the main reasons I love them, but there are also just unexplainable reasons! Sometimes things in life just make you feel good, and for me those pens are it!
Do you replace your pens all the time or never?
I don’t think I’ve thrown a pen out yet! It’s a difficult question to answer because I’m ALWAYS buying new pens. I wouldn’t say I’m replacing them though, just growing the collection.
Thank you to everyone who submitted their questions on Instagram! I’m happy to take more, so please leave any questions you have in the comments section below.