Hi Everyone.  Today’s post is by a friend of mine and very talented surface pattern designer, Sarah Milner.  She is giving us an introduction to hand lettering and faux calligraphy.

%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink

Hello! My name is Sarah. I am an Australian surface pattern designer living in Far North QLD. I create patterns and designs that can go on all sorts of surfaces such as: gift wrap, stationary, fabric etc… Pretty much anything you see that contains a pattern, whether its’s your crockery set, wall paper or t-shirt, has a designer behind it. Creating patterns is something I am passionate about! I’m inspired by the beauty of nature around me, childhood memories, my kids, art, architecture … there is inspiration everywhere! You’re welcome to check out my patterns on instagram.com/sarahmilnerdesign , my website at www.sarahmilnerdesign.com or facebook sarahmilnerdesign.

As part of my design journey I have recently delved into hand lettering and faux calligraphy. In a digital, mass produced world, it’s lovely to receive something handmade like a card in the mail that has meaning and thought behind it. It’s no wonder we are seeing a renewed love for and resurgence of artisan and handmade crafts. The good part is that it’s easy to learn and you can start with materials you have at home before moving on to more fancy tools.

But what exactly is hand lettering and how does it differ to calligraphy? Well for starters hand lettering is different to hand writing. It’s more like ‘drawing’ letters or writing letters in fun, creative and (with practise) in a neat way. There is an illustrative and expressive quality to hand lettering, where you get to inject your personality into your words and letters. Hand lettering can contain lots of different fonts, styles and size types and may contain embellishments like drop shadows, flowers or symbols to letters and words.

Calligraphy is an ancient and classical form of penmanship, used by many different cultures. It has a beautiful, fluid and rhythmic feel and is really an art form in itself. It is often uses specific tools like, fountain pens, ink and nib pens, paint brushes or brush pens which does require a little more time and practise. But as Aristotle once said, ‘You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”. So why not make learning hand lettering or calligraphy a new goal? I’m sure your friends and family will appreciate it!

%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink

A good place to start is “Faux calligraphy”,  which means fake or imitation calligraphy.  It has the look and feel of calligraphy but is an easier skill to learn and you can get started with basic equipment like pencils, an eraser, ruler, felt pens, markers or the good old fat crayola markers with their cone shaped tips that kids still use. If you find your hand can get shaky while drawing, I find a fat-tip marker can hide some of the ‘wobbles’ particularly when you’re just starting out. Once you’ve mastered the basics then by all means move onto the more fancy equipment.

%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink

So getting started … You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Fake it til you make it’.  Well faux calligraphy is the opposite, it’s “Make it til you fake it”! The key to faux calligraphy is practising the strokes until they become a consistent shape and style for each letter of the alphabet and you begin to feel comfortable with how the letters are formed. It really helps to have a faux calligraphy or hand lettering alphabet template to look at, which you should be able to find with a quick search on Google or Pinterest. Once you have a template available, I find it helpful to draw some small  square boxes which are all the same size – or if you have one, a dot pad is really helpful. On each corner of the square mark out four points. This will be your boundary for each letter. It helps to practise one letter a few times before moving onto a different letter. When you are practising a letter, for example  the letter ‘a’, focus on where the upstroke and the downstroke are, and keeping any diagonal lines parallel to each other. (Peggy Dean has a great Skillshare tutorial, which I highly recommend and will mention in the resources section of this blog).

Once you’ve got some alphabet stroke practise behind you, try picking a word or phrase to write. Just one tip – keep it simple! When writing out a word, it’s helpful to start with a pencil and once you’re happy with your lettering go it over with pen. Before writing your word, it’s helpful to rule a line or box to write your word on. Write out each letter separately, stopping after each letter, don’t try and join all the letters like you would in running writing. Focus on consistent letter size and spacing. Once you have your word written out, it’s now time for the fun part. For each letter work out where the down stroke is, and next to it add and extra line to thicken the stroke.

%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink
%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink

You want to ‘add more weight’ to each down stroke – so your upstroke is thin and your downstroke is thick, just like ‘real’ calligraphy.

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Initially it’s helpful to write on a straight line or what is technically known as a ‘straight baseline’, but with more time and practise you may want to try having a ‘varied baseline’. Or try out a combination of hand lettering and calligraphy with different fonts, colours, sizes or embellishments. Pick out a phrase and consider the meaning behind it. Which word do you want to emphasise? The type of style or size of a word can change the impact or meaning of a phrase. Sketch out a rough idea or template of how you want your words to come together and have fun with using different lettering to convey the meaning behind your phrase or quote.

%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink
%192 pages dot grid%pilot metropolitan and iroshizuku ink

I am still very much a learner when it comes to hand lettering and faux calligraphy, so I am always looking for resources to help me in my craft. I have put together a brief list of books and online resources (below) which I have found helpful and hope you do to. I hope you take up the creative challenge to give hand lettering a go. If you do please tag me on instagram, I’d love to see what you come up with!

Happy creating!!

Sarah Milner
(Making the world a more beautiful place one pattern at a time)



‘Lettering with Love: the simple art of handwriting with watercolour embellishment”

Sue Hiepler and Yasmin Reddig.

“Happy hand lettering: simple calligraphy techniques to bring your words to life”. Jen Wagner

“In Progress: see inside a lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process from pencil to vector” Jessica Hische. * This woman is seriously good at her craft. She focuses more on typography, but her instagram profile is definitely worth checking out!*

Check out your local library for hand lettering or calligraphy books.


This is an online tutorial resource which has a wealth of information on a variety of different topics by experts in their fields. You can get an introductory subscription of 2months for 99 cents. Ongoing memberships starts from around $11 per month – but don’t quote me on that. I have found it an incredibly helpful resource and well worth the money.

Peggy Dean Skillshare tutorial: Hand Lettering for beginners. This takes you step by step how to create the basic strokes for Faux calligraphy as well as stepping it up to the next level of using brush pens and paint brushes.

Chelle Perea Skillshare tutorial: Basics of hand lettering course one and course two. Chelle’s courses are pitched at the beginner and are a great place to start. She also provides good resources for stroke practise and alphabet formation. I’d highly recommend checking her out.

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