Brush pen lettering should really be called brush pen calligraphy. Because what you do with these pens resembles calligraphy and writing more than it does lettering. Lettering is essentially drawing single letters with a pencil and then refine them – totally different from what you normally do with a brush marker or a calligraphy nib. But, the name has stuck, and so I’m going to use it too – but not without this explanation.
Brush pens can be seen as a convenient shortcut to normal brushes. You could use a simple brush and ink for brush lettering. The convenience of the pens lies in the ease of use. No fiddling with ink jars, not too much ink on the brush tip, always ready to go. For beginners, they’re absolutely practical. That said, you can of course try out brush pen lettering with a real brush which can draw and write in a lot of other ways too!
Pens & Paper
I’ve chosen to show you how the Tombow brush pen works, as its a very beginner-friendly pen. There are a lot of brush pens on the market, I’ve talked about a few of them here.
One thing you should keep in mind about the Tombow is that it has a very large tip – so if you use my worksheets, you’ll want to print them out bigger or give yourself more lines for the letters. Don’t start to small with the Tombow, you will end up frustrated.
As for paper, the good news is you don’t need expensive layout paper – reasonably good laser printer paper will be enough. If you want to, however, you can use smoother layout paper, or a Rhodia dot pad. I’ve used one here for my demonstration because I still had it lying around, but I have to say I always find the dots a bit distracting. But, it’s wonderfully smooth and doesn’t bleed, like good layout paper never does, and I’ve heard you can also buy Rhodia pads without dots. You can also get whatever other brand of layout paper you like.
The first thing you’ll do is some warm up practice to get your hand accustomed to the new writing instrument. Hold it loosely in a 3-finger-grip, at a rather steep angle, and try to make some straight downstrokes on the paper. You will notice that the stroke will be thicker when you exert more pressure. I use the slanted guidesheet for these exercises.
Do that for a while and notice how your lines will get more consistent the more you write. Then practice some upstrokes – these should be thin, so barely any pressure on the pen. This will give you the modulated strokes that make brush lettering so beautiful to look at.
When you’re warmed up, now is the time to combine what you’ve learned so far into new strokes. You can use my basic strokes brush pen worksheet available for free download here. This is a new worksheet I designed specifically for the big Tombow tip. If you know my free basic strokes worksheet for pointed pen calligraphy, you’ll notice that the strokes take up three lines instead of two – this is to make sure that the big tip of the Tombow marker will have enough space to write proper lines.
After practicing straight strokes in both directions, try the different kinds of pressure-release strokes (they look like a hook or a u/u upside-down). Start with a thick stroke and then release the pressure when you reach the base line and continue with a thin stroke.
Try it the other way round – beginning with a thin stroke. Then combine the two to a continuous line.
Next are the round shapes. Practice the different variations of those too.
For the remainder of your practice, try to write continuous lines of loops with the knowledge you just learned – thick on the downstroke, thin on the upstroke.
You can also draw bigger ovals and try to move your whole hand when drawing these, like I did in the bottom rows of my second worksheet. You will notice that you’ll lose a certain amount of control over the outcome, and that’s because you activate different muscles.
You now know all the basic strokes necessary for writing lower case letters. You can use this free worksheet as an orientation of how the letters should look. I’ve demonstrated the construction of a few of the letters on my practice pad:
That’s it for the absolute basics of brush lettering. Hope you enjoyed this. Brush lettering (or brush calligraphy) is really fun when you can’t or don’t want to get out your pointed pen calligraphy stuff, or when you’re looking for a low-maintenance method for writing beautifully.
If you want to learn more of these principles and truly want to understand the basics of brush lettering and modern calligraphy letter construction, I have the right thing for you: the Calligraphy Essentials course. It is an extensive online course teaching you the basics of modern script writing with the help of video lessons and additional feedback by me. I’m currently producing this course and it will be launched later this year. Learn more and sign up for the newsletter if you’re interested in learning how to write beautiful brush lettering or pointed pen calligraphy.
Also thanks everyone for taking part in the survey I did for the Calligraphy Essentials course a few weeks back! Your answers have been so helpful and the course is taking shape more and more. I’m making rather slow progress with the production because I’m a bit busy with projects right now, but I’m definitely thinking a lot about it and I want to give everyone who signs up for this a lot of value and knowledge. I’ll keep you informed!