• “Circus Lettering” Tutorial

    Today, I’ll teach you how to create a fun lettering style inspired by vintage circus posters! This versatile style is perfect for signs, bullet journals, mail art, and any project where you want your words to stand out.

    Envelope art that features circus lettering, pretty postage stamps, and calligraphy

    I love experimenting with lettering for two reasons: first, lettering is functional and practical. You combine letters in order to make words, which you can then use to catch someone’s eye on a sign, mail art, or whatever else you want to make. Second, lettering comes with rules. No matter what, an “A” has to look like an “A”, a “B” has to look like a “B”, and so on and so forth. It’s much easier to be innovative when you’ve got some parameters!

    Envelope art created with Circus lettering and pointed pen calligraphy

    Recently, I sat down to make my aunt a mail art envelope, and the “lettering bug” bit. After some experimentation, I ended up with a fun set of characters that I call “circus lettering”. The letters remind me of slightly over-the-top vintage circus posters. In today’s tutorial, I’ll show you how to create your own circus lettering.

    If you want to master circus lettering quickly, I’ve created a detailed 16-page Circus Lettering Exemplar that walks you through how to make each letter step-by-step. You can find it here.

    Circus Lettering Printable Exemplar + Video Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    1. Draft the Word in Pencil

    All neat letters begin with a pencil draft. Start by drawing two horizontal guidelines 1″ (25 mm) apart. Then, draw sans serif letters that extend from the top guideline to the bottom guideline. Be sure to draw your letters about 1/4″ (6 mm) apart.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Space your sans serif letters fairly far apart to ensure you have room to fill them in and add shadows later.

    2. Add an Outline

    For this tutorial, I’ll focus on the “M” of “Monica” to demonstrate how to create Circus Lettering. First, draw an outline around the letter. The outline should be about 1/8″ (3 mm) total thickness (1/16″ on either side from the original letter outline). Make sure that you make all the pointed edges of the letter are blunt.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Don’t forget to make any pointy parts of the letter blunt.

    3. Add “Mermaid Tails”

    Now, focus on the blunt edges that you just made. Add a “mermaid tail” (that is: two curved triangles) to each blunt edge.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Regardless of which letter you draw, be it “M” or otherwise, you should add “mermaid tails” to all blunt edges.

    4. Add Ink

    Now, go over your letter outline with ink. I prefer to use a straight dip pen fitted with a Nikko G nib and sumi ink because I know for sure that the ink won’t smudge once I erase my pencil lines. That said, you’re welcome to use a regular pen — preferably a fine-tipped permanent one — for this step.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    You don’t have to use a pointed pen for this step; it’s just what I, personally, prefer to draw letters with.

    5. Add Embellishments

    Each letter that you draw is going to be different as far as embellishments go, so you just have to use your creative judgment. Draw up to three open diamonds inside the letter, and fill in the rest of the letter with tiny circles. No matter how many diamonds or circles you create, take care to draw them along the path of the original letter outline.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    All diamonds and dots should follow the path of the original pencil letter that you drew. Consistent spacing will help everything to look orderly.

    6. Draw Diagonal Lines Off the Edges of the Letter

    Circus letters almost always feature shadows, which help the letters to stand out and pack a visual punch. This step is a little bit tricky to explain, but basically you’ll want to use a ruler to draw short parallel diagonal lines coming off of the edges of the letter. For the top “mermaid tails”, you’ll only draw those lines coming off of the point of the right tail. For bottom “mermaid tails”, however, the lines should extend from every point.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    A parallel glider makes this step a lot easier.

    7. Make Shadow Lines

    Now, use the diagonal lines that you just drew to help you make “shadow lines” that run parallel to each stroke of the letter. The shadow lines should appear on each right edge of the letter. Be sure to “cap” the mermaid tails at the bottom as shown below:

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    I know this shadow step is a bit tough! The Circus Lettering Exemplar walks you through how to do this for every letter of the alphabet.

    8. Fill in the Shadows

    Now, use your pen of choice to fill in the shadow outlines that you just drew.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    It’s amazing how the addition of shadows makes the letter “pop”.

    9. Create the Rest of Your Letters

    Now, one at a time, focus on the subsequent letters in your word.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    You’ll follow the same steps outlined above to create your subsequent letters.

    10. Add Some Color (Optional)

    Once you’ve drawn all your letters, erase your pencil lines. Then, you can add some color if you want to! I put a dab of Bleed Proof White ink in each diamond, but you could really get creative and fill in the whole letter with watercolor or colored pencil.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Don’t limit yourself to just filling in the dots! You can always add color to the rest of the letter as well.

    11. Enjoy!

    You can use circus lettering for any project you like. In this case, I used it to create mail art. I love how these bold letters look when paired with calligraphy and delicate, embellished text!

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    The calligraphy here is Janet Style. The address is a curvy version of Sans Serif lettering (side note: this address has been edited to maintain privacy).

    Circus Lettering Exemplar

    TPK’s Circus Lettering Exemplar is available to save you a ton of time by showing you exactly how to make each letter! Detailed instructions are important for this lettering style because the shadows can be a bit tough to figure out, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with perspective drawing.

    Circus Lettering Printable Exemplar + Video Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    You can find the 16-page premium exemplar by clicking here. I hope it comes in handy for you, as it has for several TPK readers (see the cool envelopes below!):

    Circus lettering by @sweetpaper.us + @thescriptedpost
    Circus Lettering by @sweetpaper.us + @thescriptedpost

    Thanks so much for reading, and happy lettering!