• “Circus Lettering” Tutorial

    Today, I’ll teach you how to make a fun lettering style inspired by vintage circus posters! You can use it for anything from signs to bullet journals to mail art in order to make a word or a message stand out.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    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!

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock

    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’d like to show you how to create your own circus lettering.

    1. Write Out Your Word in Pencil

    Almost all good hand-lettering begins with a pencil draft. Start by drawing two horizontal guidelines 1″ (25 mm) apart. Then, make Sans Serif letters that extend from the top guideline to the bottom guideline. You’ll want to draw your letters 1/4″ (6 mm) apart.

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    Make sure you space your Sans Serif letters fairly far apart! That way, you’ll have room to fill them in and add shadows later.

    2. Add an Outline

    In this tutorial, I’m just going to focus on the “M” of “Monica” to show you 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 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 draw “mermaid tails” on 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 dip 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 diamonds inside the letter, and fill in the rest of the letter with tiny circles. No matter how many diamonds or circles you draw, make sure that you 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.

    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
    To draw these shadows, we’re imagining that we have a light source coming from the upper left side of the letter. That’s why the diagonal lines descend from left to right.

    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. Make sure you “cap” the mermaid tails at the bottom as shown below:

    "Circus Lettering" Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    I know that this shadow step is a bit tough! On Tuesday, I’ll release an exemplar that will get rid of the need to do any shadow guesswork.

    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. Make 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. If making letters besides “M” is intimidating without instructions, hang tight until Tuesday! I’ll have an instructional exemplar available for you then.

    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!

    Of course, you can use circus lettering for whatever project you want to. In this case, I used it to make mail art. I love the way that these bold letters look when paired with some calligraphy and delicate, embellished text!

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

    Circus Lettering Exemplar

    After I made the envelope art above (yesterday), I decided to make an exemplar to go with this post. My hope is that the exemplar will save you a ton of time by showing you exactly how to make each letter! I think that detailed instructions are important for this style of writing because the shadows can be a bit tough to figure out, especially if you don’t quite understand perspective drawing.

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

    You can find the 16-page exemplar for a nominal fee by clicking here. I hope it comes in handy for you!

    If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! Happy writing, and have a wonderful weekend!


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