Committed to the Madness (Hand Lettering Part 2)

Adventures in hand lettering with various techniques, brushes, and nibs.

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This Way Lies Madness. A Beginner's guide to Hand Lettering (Part 1)

I have a problem, and I blame it all on Pinterest. If we're being honest here, this problem predates Pinterest by at least seven and a half years, but I can be melodramatic if I want. This problem has haunted me for eons; it clings to me like wet organza to a petticoat at a rained-out tea party, and completely defies correction.

What is this problem, you ask?

Hobbies. I collect them. I'm basically a crazy cat lady, and my feline friends' names are Knitting, Batiking, Stamp Carving, Screen Printing, Illustration, and Dressmaking. Once my brain meets a new one, it grabs hold and refuses to let go until I've mastered the subject, solved the problem, completed the project. Usually I go hard for between two and four weeks, and then things calm down. Sometimes the thing becomes a long-term obsession which I cling to for years, but for the most part I'll learn the thing to the best of my abilities only to eventually grow bored and pack the thing up until its eventual rediscovery a few years later when I run out of places to store things. (I'm dropping the cat lady metaphor now because while some of the cats are loved and cared for throughout their lives, others are stuffed into boxes and left to gather dust in haphazardly stacked shoeboxes, and that, my dear children, is animal hoarding and is in fact frowned upon in most societies.)

This is a problem mostly because I seem to be particularly attracted to expensive hobbies. The more expensive the supplies, the better! What's worse, the knowledge that I have this problem does absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to happen. It's a vicious cycle I tell you.

So what is it this time?

My current obsession is hand lettering. I do not pretend to be an expert, as this obsession only began about two months ago. It's too early to know what will happen with it, I don't know that we're quite out of the box-packing stage yet, but this one has certainly made it further than others.

It all started with Pinterest. (doesn't everything these days...)

brush pen stroke practice with tombow dual brush pen and graph paper

I'd just arrived in New Zealand and was in the process of applying for work here. There are only so many versions of a cover letter any sane human can write in a day, though, so I was also spending a lot of time on The Internet.

One thing led to another and suddenly I've got a whole board of lettering inspiration and I'm googling art supply stores in Auckland so I can get my hands on some of these mythical 'brush pens'

carpe that fucking diem kuretake brush pen quote

For those of you yet blissfully unaware, brush pens are nifty little creatures that have flexible felt or bristle nibs, which allow you to create thick and thin penstrokes by varying the pen pressure. My first, the Tombow Dual-Tip brush pen in practical black was an experience. I practiced constantly- on every little scrap of paper I could find. When I ran out of scrap paper, I bought a graph paper notebook from the back-to-school section of an office supply store for $3 and filled that with scribbles.

it is known brush pen hand lettering practice

The problem with $3 notebooks though, is that the paper you get is worth about that much. The ink bled and my lines weren't crisp at all. Fine for practice, but my projects soon required some better quality paper. I moved on to a Fabriano sketchbook (which I love for pencil work) but even that was a bit toothy for my pens. I've got marker comp paper now, and I've also got my hands on a much better pen. It was the Kuretake Fudegokochi and it's still my favorite, even now that the collection has expanded a bit.

hand lettering tea and knitting practice on graph paper kuretake

People swear by the Tombow Dual Brush pens, but they're not for me. They feel cumbersome and overlarge for the level of work I'm trying to accomplish, but I can see how they'd be perfect for some people. If you're looking for large, expressive, swooping lines and not too worried about pin-width thin areas, go Tombow. If you're all about the details or your writing is a bit on the small side like mine, you're not gonna like it.

hand lettering brush pen lettering practice cunning plan

Amidst practice, I discovered that pens aren't the only thing you can draw lettering with. That was such an exciting adventure, however, that I'm saving it for part two of this post.

I have a cunning plan fox tail watercolor practice hand lettering

I will say that the discovery that I could use my watercolors for hand lettering was a particularly excellent discovery as it didn't require any additional money to be spent on materials. I already had all I needed!

But hey, what's a new hobby if I don't throw some money at it, right?

brush pen examples for hand lettering. Exploring the differences between pens

These were my Christmas presents to myself. It's a thin excuse, really, but I love them all and they're small and easily transportable. Each one is slightly different, and the more I work with them the more I like each of them for different projects. For those of you visiting this post with research-based intent, here are my findings, from alpha to foxtrot:

Alpha.) Kuretake Fudegokochi Regular: My personal favorite. It has an expressive felt nib which is capable of a variety of widths. It's a bit on the soft side but it's worth spending time to master.

Bravo.) Kuretake Zig Letter Pen CocoIro, Black: This pen is very fine and very firm. Great for a beginner and teeny tiny detail work. It also must be purchased in two parts: The refill and the body. It's worth having for the details, and another bonus is that this one comes in colors- if you're into that sort of thing.

Charlie.) Zebra Disposable Brush Pen - Fine: This one is even softer than 'Alpha', and with only very little sacrifice to the line quality at the thin range. It's very soft and fun to play with, as long as you're not dedicated to precision.

Delta.) Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush Pen - Fine: A slightly smaller version of 'Alpha' and also very enjoyable. It's a bit firmer as well.

Echo.) Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen - Soft: Now this is a tombow I can get behind. I think I might recommend this one for beginners as its medium-firm tip is quick to be mastered, yet soft enough to give some decent line variation.

Foxtrot.) Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Soft: This one is really weird. Fun to play with, but the tip is massive and extremely spongey. The ink wells up like it'll overflow whenever you put pen to paper. It's very difficult to control, but makes beautiful line variation if you can harness it.

Each pen has its own strengths and weaknesses, but unfortunately for the most part the only way to test which ones play to your strengths and weaknesses is to buy them and test them out. I hope this helps you make your decision at least a little.

brush pen script word study of Meretricious with kuretake brush pen

This last project was one I took through as far as digitizing in illustrator. I used both Kuretake pens to combine thick and thin lines in the first version, and then made a tracing paper version with the Zebra pen after I decided my thick lines needed to be even thicker. After that, I took a photo, dropped out the background noise in Photoshop, and traced it in Illustrator. The results were, well... Meretricious!

hand lettering example of sketching, lettering, and digitizing in illustrator

Because this post is already approaching novel length, I'm going to tell you about all my hand lettering adventures outside of the brush pen world in next week's post. That includes traditional brushes, a few real-brush options, metal calligraphy nibs, and achieving a lettered script look without a flexible nib!

I'm pretty excited with the progress I've made so I can't wait to show you more! I'll also be sharing some more in-depth projects as they're completed- especially as my desired level of intensity for lettering projects surpasses 'random pretty phrases on scrap paper'



A story starts in Maine

Post graduation and Grand European Adventure, I took a job at a summer camp in the lovely state of Maine in an effort to delay the inevitable onset of Adulthood. For the record, this turned out to be an excellent plan. Besides, travelling by yourself on an airplane for the first time is kind of like adulthood...a little bit. It's like a test run. I met a woman at the airport on the way out who asked me what I was knitting, and through conversation it turned out that she was a pretty successful children's book author. I told her I wanted to be an illustrator (This is not an untruth, it's just that I also want to be a screen printer, dressmaker, editor, small business owner, knitwear pattern designer, photographer, and a graphic artist. The whole point of The Void is to give me more time to choose). She gave me her card, which is excellent and very exciting! I was off to a great start- knitting in public places is one of the best ways to meet people. Especially knitting in public places with unusually colored hair.  

This is as close as I have ever been to New York City: My flight had a connection in LaGuardia, and we flew almost right over the city.



Sheep had a grand time looking out the window, because he has never seen New York either. I think. I mean, he could have taken a trip while I was sleeping or something. Regardless, I get the feeling he was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing.


When we got off the first plane (and you must understand that by 'we' what I actually mean is 'Sheep and I')- we were greeted by a much smaller one for the next leg of the trip. Much Smaller.


Some already-present counselors picked a group of us up the airport, and we all headed back to camp. Upon arrival, I spent equal amounts of time being a reclusive weirdo, and attempting to present myself as a social and well-adjusted member of society (Lies! but it turns out nobody else really is either...) During the reclusive phases, I spent a lot of time wandering around camp (read: getting lost) taking photos of this new temporary home of mine.


cover photo

Obviously, I can't post photos I took of the campers. I don't even have them anymore- but don't fear! I have plenty of photographic evidence that this summer happened. So much, in fact, that I've had to split it up into two blog posts. You'll notice that in all these photos I have pink hair, and in all the photos of the subsequent post, I have rainbow hair. That happened.


After a week of orientation, which mostly consisted of trying to decide whether as a photographer I was considered a counselor or admin (neither?), we were let out for one day off with our new friends. I went with a group of ten or so others to climb a mountain!

Okay, not a very big mountain and not all the way up- but it still counts.

Let's just have an aside really quick so we can talk about this thing. I went to climb a mountain. Me. She who was in an out of physical therapy and doctors appointments for five or six years, and only recently what one might consider functional, and even then sometimes only with the help of braces and splints. She who gets winded climbing stairs, and flat-out refused ladders for years. She whose knees sound like grinding gravel, and who frequently loses feeling in her arms if she lifts them above her head.

I decided to climb a mountain. I decided to go to a boy's sports camp and chase soccer balls so that I could photograph the action, and walked miles a day around and around so that I could catch all the kiddos at all the events. I do not know what possessed this little indoor Kat to leave her computer, but she did. And she climbed a mountain.


It's a metaphor.





Here's the thing about Maine. You've probably heard that they have excellent lobster (true) and seafood (also true)- that there are a lot of mountains and lakes and beautiful landscapes (very true. you'll see). You've probably also heard that Stephen King grew up there and wrote most of his horror stories based on that experience.

So there's a certain dichotomy going on here, and if you know me then you know that dichotomy is a thing I love. We'd be driving along these country roads in the middle of who knows where, and it would all be beautiful when suddenly we'd come upon something that seemed startlingly like it was fresh out of Cabin in the Woods (related note: excellent movie. Do not watch before bed.) I don't have photos of those things because I was for the most part busy being weirded out by 'why is that gas station covered in hubcaps?' and 'who would put a boat in their front yard if it looked like that'

But we were talking about a mountain.


So, Tumbledown is a mountain that used to be a volcano that has a crater in the top, and that crater is filled with rainwater- and there's an entire ecosystem contained in that rainwater-filled crater lake. So we hiked up a mountain to go swimming! There's a thing you don't get to do every day. I have absolutely zero photos from the way up the mountain because I was trying not to die (d'you remember the bit about being winded climbing stairs?) but I did take photos at the top!


Sheep also quite enjoyed the view, although he did not go swimming in the lake.


So- I survived the upward journey, and I went swimming in a lake at the top of a mountain, and also had lunch and let some fish nibble at my toes- and after a few hours and loads of pictures, we headed back down.

Down was not actually better than up, but I did remember to take pictures.


English Peter (not to be confused with Irish Peter) led Sophie astray on the way down and they ended up lost for a period of time, but they turned up at the bottom, so crisis averted. It also turns out that walking downhill isn't great for questionable knees (much worse than up, surprisingly) so I didn't really do much in the way of movement for a while after that, but it was still totally worth it.

I climbed the heck outta that mountain.

It was late when we got back to camp, but we all ended up on couches in a basement watching Sherlock Holmes (The Robert Downey Jr. one)- and it was a great last day before the kids arrived. Orientation week at summer camp is a lot like actually being a camper, and it was a little disconcerting when the kids finally did show up...


Here's a picture of a rock:


So, mountain climbing aside, camp started and things got hectic. I was taking a couple hundred photos a day, and uploading them to the website at night so the kids parents could see how much fun they were having. After I weeded out all the ones with the weird faces. Let's talk about the faces people make when they place sports. It's weird. you'll have to take my word for it, as all those photos are safe on a hard drive in camp's winter offices right now. Somewhere in between all the hectic days though, I had a spectacularly excellent 22nd birthday.

I decided to attempt to do all the things from Taylor Swift's song '22', the first of which is 'Dress up like hipsters'. I had to improvise with a pair of not-my-high-waisted-shorts, and at one point I had a plaid shirt. T Swift also has cat ears in the music video which I felt was appropriate, so I spent some time in the Arts and Crafts shed and made myself a pair.


Annie and Lindsey serenaded me with the song, and I definitely cried a little and am not ashamed. There was also cake:


and Sophie and Jon left me a pile of pink balloons with entertaining things drawn on them, so I took selfies with them:


Overall, having accomplished nearly all of the things on the to-do list provided by Taylor Swift, this birthday was a wonderful one. There was some debate about whether 'breakfast at midnight' should occur on the midnight preceding or succeeding the birthday itself, but I ended up falling asleep before I could decide, two nights in a row... I did miss the 'birthday girl gets to choose what she wants to eat for dinner' tradition at home, but it was worth it. Especially when I went to take pictures of the littlest campers, and none of them were there until Karen yelled 'Hi Kat!' and they all came out from behind trees and cabins and started yell-singing happy birthday at me. Have you ever had 60 eight to ten year olds sing happy birthday to you all at once? I bet not. It was one of the best moments of the entire summer.

We're given a few days off throughout the summer (4) and my first one was spent in Portland, which is about an hour away from camp. Portland is wonderful, and from my day-long impression, a very hipster place. Young and full of life and just a tiny bit weird- in the good way. We spent a good bit of time just wandering and observing what we came across- for example the chain link walls of this small bridge are covered in padlocks.


My impression of Portland was that I would like to live there. It worries me that I get pretty much exactly that impression from all of the places that I visit. Maybe I'd like to spend some time in a brick apartment building like this, and people-watch passers by from the fire escape.


We also did a lot of window shopping, because windows is about as far as you get on a summer camp budget- but there were some beautiful things that I may even be able to make in the future- like this hanging stained glass piece made with the bases of crystal and carnival glass wine glasses. Who cares if I don't actually know anything about stained glass...


A small graffiti bird on a huge construction wall brightened up a street corner:


Do you remember how I mentioned that Maine is known for its lobster? The state is mostly coastline, and summer is lobster season- so what better time to try it than on a day out on the town in Portland?


We stopped at a place that was built on a dock overlooking the harbor. There was live music, an awesome atmosphere, and of course- the fresh-caught daily lobster selection for dinner! Although this wasn't the first time I'd had lobster, it was definitely the first time I'd had A lobster. They literally come with instructions. I have mixed feelings about food that you need instructions to eat, but the glorious taste of lobster dipped in butter kind of negates any argument I was going to make about that. And I am absolutely wearing the lobster bib.


So, basically- Portland is wonderful, lobster is awesome, and I would absolutely live there given the chance. It was a refreshing break to be able to walk around and just pick a direction whenever we wanted to. And there were no kiddos yelling "Hey Kat! Get an action shot!"- If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me this summer...


Back at camp, things continued as normal. Someone left a can of temporary spray-in hair dye in my mailbox, so I went blue for a day which threw some people off considerably ("No!! I liked the pink!"). I sort of figured that the gift giver would come forward and claim responsibility for the awesomeness that ensued, but they never did- so thank you, random friend, for being such a wonderful enabler!


The next day off was spent on a beach.

Before we get further into this, you should know that beaches and I have a history, and it basically boils down to this: I am not fond of sunlight, sand, or saltwater, and beaches are all of these things.

We picked a good day for beachgoing though, because the sun remained hidden most of the day but the rain waited until we'd left. So that takes care of the sunlight problem. As for the sand, there was a bit there in the beginning where I was cursing whatever part of me agreed to this plan... ("there's sand in my shoes! there's sand between my toes, it's going to get in my hair and everywhere. Whose plan was this? Why did I agree to come here?! I've been tricked! The cake is a lie!")- and I spent twenty minutes or so on a bench with my feet tucked up under me and a towel over my head.

I adjusted, though. I think if this summer proved anything, it proved that I am capable of adjustment, and that I Tried New Things And Didn't Even Die.


There's me, before I decided that I was going to actually get more than my feet wet. It was a little chilly but the kind that you get used to after you're in. Eventually I stopped taking ridiculous selfies and went swimming. I went in all the way up to my neck, but I didn't get my head wet. I didn't know what the saltwater would do to my hair...

First time swimming in the Atlantic ocean in.... a lot of years! and it was just so much fun!



There- we're halfway through the Maine adventure, and you'll notice that something very colorful happens in the next post. So far, the summer was turning out to be so much more than I ever could have expected it to be, and things were on an upward swing. I climbed a mountain, swam in the ocean, and took So. Many. Pictures. And- as someone said at some point- the best is yet to come!