Paintbrush lettering is the free-spirited cousin of dip pen calligraphy. The concept of using a writing utensil to make upstrokes and downstrokes is the same, but the results are different! Paintbrush lettering’s signature style features whimsical, delightfully faded strokes. Those strokes present quite a contrast to the crisp lines and loops of dip pen calligraphy!
The size of your paintbrush is the first thing to keep in mind when creating paintbrush lettering. Every paintbrush has a size; the larger the number, the larger the paintbrush.
Just like clothing, the sizes of paintbrushes vary slightly depending on the manufacturer. You may find that a size 0 in one brush looks like a 1 offered by another brand. For this reason, it’s best to buy brushes at a local art supply store, if possible. That way, you can examine the brush before you purchase it! A size 0 or 1 is best for creating smaller brush lettering, and a size 4 or greater works well for large letters.
I find that it’s easiest to make paintbrush lettering with watercolors. I always start out by moistening all of the colors in my palette with water so they are ready to use!
If you’re familiar with brush pen calligraphy, you’ll find that paintbrush lettering is extremely similar. In fact, the most important concept of paintbrush lettering — pressure exertion — echoes the main idea of both brush pen calligraphy and dip pen calligraphy. To make a downstroke, you’ll first want to saturate half of the paintbrush bristles in watercolor paint. Then, you’ll pull your brush down, exerting a good amount of pressure in order to make a bold and thick stroke.
Conversely, for upstrokes (and horizontal strokes), you should very lightly touch the paintbrush to the paper. You’ll want to exert enough pressure on the brush that an impression is made, but not so much pressure that the stroke is any wider than the one pictured below.
To practice pressure exertion, you can use the Letter Formation portion of any calligraphy worksheet to help yourself get the hang of it! For example, I used the Amy Style worksheet (pictured below) to improve my pressure exertion.
Once you’ve practiced a bit, you can use paintbrush lettering to create any calligraphy style, like the Janet Style gift tag below. Just make sure you work on a hardy paper; otherwise, the paper will warp because of the moisture in the paint. Watercolor paper is a good bet, as is heavy (70-80 lb.) drawing paper.
Paintbrush lettering can be used for a number of applications, but I especially like it on envelopes! This envelope utilizes all-lowercase letters and alternating colors to make for a compelling and artistic piece.
I actually prefer paintbrush lettering over brush pen lettering because the results are softer. Due to the nature of watercolor, there are some strokes that are very opaque, and others that are nearly transparent. It’s also easy to fix any paintbrush lettering mistakes without the repair being obvious! If, for example, your downstroke isn’t thick enough, you can go back in and blend more paint into the stroke. With brush pen lettering, you’ll be able to tell if a fix has been attempted because the color will be bolder in that area.
As long as you understand the concept of controlling the pressure you exert on your paintbrush, you’ll be able to create paintbrush lettering! To get started, you can download the free paintbrush lettering exemplar by clicking here.
Once you have printed the exemplar, procure a blank piece of high-quality paper such as watercolor paper or drawing paper. Using the exemplar as a reference, practice making the strokes on the exemplar ten times each. Then, write the letters as shown on the exemplar. It’s okay if they don’t look just like the exemplar; remember, you’re just practicing! Next, practice the numbers, then write the words at the bottom of the exemplar twice each. I prefer to use a size 1 paintbrush for my lettering, but any size you have on hand will be fine!
I hope that this short post was informative for you, and that you find the free paintbrush lettering exemplar to be useful! If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contribute them in the comments. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of your day, and thank you for reading TPK!
PS – I would be remiss if I signed off without mentioning the Pentel Aquash brush, which is a favorite among paintbrush letterers! This brush is great for lettering because it allows you to keep water inside its barrel. That said, I prefer to use regular brushes for two reasons. First, I like the freedom to switch up brush sizes; and second, the bristle material tends to be higher quality. Again, though, it’s just a matter of personal preference and what’s available.