The good news is, you don’t need to have a design or lettering background to start hand lettering. Of course, any prior experience will always be helpful, but all you need is a willingness to learn and a commitment to showing up every day.
Lettering is really just drawing, and drawing is something anyone can learn with practice.
It’s going to take a lot of deliberate practice to learn different styles of lettering. You’re going to have to copy many typefaces, and individual letters by tracing, using references, creating without reference, comparing back to the original, and revising. This process is something I break down in the Learn Lettering 2.0 Starter Class (that what you’re getting access to for free for being subscribed to the email list).
This is a repeated process with all different letters and amongst various styles. In Learn Lettering, what I try to do is tell you how to effectively go about doing that, and then send you on your way to actually do the practice.
Learn to Draw What You See
What does hand lettering practice actually look like anyway?
I spoke with Keshna, one of the original Learn Lettering Master Class students and long-time Community member.
For half a year, she shared photos of her deliberate practice in the forums so we have a unique glimpse into what it really looks like to practice lettering purposefully for six months (you can see the full thread inside the Community).
In the photo above, we see eight capital letters from her deliberate practice—that’s merely a third of one half of the forms in just a single style!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that. It’s always easy to get overwhelmed when looking at great hand lettering and think, “I’ll never be that good.” But they didn’t get that good all at once. They practiced one letter at a time, over and over, until they knew it intimately.
Then they moved on to the next letter and did it again.
Finally, after much practice, they possessed the ability to draw every letter—capital or lowercase—perfectly. Every single time. Regardless of the style, they could draw it perfectly and proportionally from memory every single time.
I asked Keshna what she’d say to the person asking, “I don’t have an art or design background… can I do hand lettering?”
I would say to them, “Start by drawing what you see, not what you think you know is there.”
At first, this statement seems obvious. But a lot of us when starting out with hand lettering brought the baggage of what we think letters look like.
I want you to really think about this for a moment.
In order to draw proper letters that look as they should, you need to disassociate yourself with any preconception of what characteristics letters have or how they are made. Because those preconceptions are incomplete. They were assumptions you made about letterforms before you actually studied their proportions and how they are made.
It’s like drawing a face. You might think you know the proportions of a face, but did you know that when drawing a head (where you start with an oval), the eye line should be exactly in the vertical center of that oval? You probably didn’t unless you’ve drawn hundreds of faces and studied their proportions!
Start by drawing what you see, not what you think you know is there.
“I use this same practice when showing someone how to draw simple shapes. Though we see a 3D box and it looks like it has four sharp edges, when you look again, and look closely, nothing has a sharp edge.”
Recognize detail and recognize the underlying shapes. So many beginning letterers have a hard time and it’s for the same reason most people can’t tell the different between good lettering and great lettering: they see letters forming words that turn into sentences.
In other words, because the lettering we do creates words, most people are distracted by the message itself!
But the lettering artist sees shapes. She see curves and letterforms full of beauty.
Don’t draw what you think is there—don’t draw what you think a letter ‘R’ looks like—draw what you see. You must observe your reference material. You must study and dissect!
“So yes, if you can hold a pencil, or any tool you choose to practice with, you can learn how to do hand lettering.”
School Does Not Make an Artist
Hey, don’t get me wrong—school is great. I love learning. But it’s important to remember that sitting in a class does not make you better any more than reading tutorials gives you skills!
You have to put what you learn into practice.
The Learn Lettering classes will teach you how to get better at lettering, but it’s up to you to actually apply what you learn. You’re going to have to put in the time.
I don’t have a college degree. I was actually about 20 hours into a Computer Science degree and decided to stop pursuing it. At the time, I had two businesses that were successful. It just made the most sense to pour all of my efforts into my businesses—into what was working.
I stopped pursuing a degree.
I never went to school for business or for art. I’m self-taught. Maybe this was easier for me because I was homeschooled. I’m not sure. I’m not trying to say my mom didn’t teach us—she did! But it’s that we were encouraged from a young age to seek out knowledge and acquire it for ourselves.
Because our education was self-propelled, it went as fast as we wanted it to! There was no arbitrary system to hold us back. I devoured every book in our house and beyond. I discovered I had a voracious appetite for reading.
If there’s one thing I learned from that experience, it was that I learned to learn.
If you aspire to one thing, let it be learning to learn. When you love to learn, nothing is unattainable for you.
I didn’t go to college, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn. Far from it! It meant I took my education into my own hands.
In fact, this is already the reality for everyone. If you go to college and don’t learn to learn, then you’ve learned nothing. Your own education is already in your hands. It can go as far as you want it to.
Two Ways to Establish Yourself As Knowledgeable
I want to underscore the importance of education, but I also want to encourage you that you absolutely do not have to have a formal degree to experience success in business, art, or life.
This doesn’t mean education doesn’t matter. It means your education is always in your own hands—whether you go to school or not. If you treat it seriously, it does not matter if you have some certification or not.
I can count on one hand how many times a client has asked me for any credentials or for a degree before hiring me. Actually, I could still do that even if both my hands were cut off because it’s happened all of zero times.
Clients simply do not care about your credentials! They care about your work and your track record. There are two ways to establish yourself as knowledgeable:
- Case studies.
The thing is, credentials are essentially a piece of paper that says you know what you’re doing. That’s great, except the client is still left wanting to see that you know what you’re doing. They want proof.
Clients want examples of problems solved.
I’ve never once been asked for credentials. People hire me because of my work. They hire me because of my track record.
They’re going to do the same with you.
(By the way, if you’re wanting to learn more about case studies, I just posted a brand new podcast episode on the topic: e182 Client Communication: Starting the Relationship Off On the Right Foot. It’s chock-full of value—you’re going to get a lot out of it.)
Do Work, Show Work, Get Work
I’m not here to pretend like it’s easy. I’m here to help you succeed. Putting in the time and practicing every day takes effort. It’s hard.
Yes, art is fun. But it’s also work.
If you are willing to make the commitment, you absolutely can do it with or without a background in design or art.