2019 Serif Lettering Process

2019 Serif Lettering Process

It’s so exciting when inspiration comes without much resistance. The process of creating this little piece was one of those times for me! It just flowed out so easily. Lettering is a huge passion for me, so I want to share and document this process!

Inspiration for my 2019 hand lettered illustration

To start a new lettering piece, I always begin by brainstorming what the content of my finished lettering would be. Around the new year, there are nearly endless cheesy options for lettering quotes. I went through a few options and made a list of the ones that I considered: 

  • 2019 (I decided I wanted to write letters instead of numbers, so I nixed this one quickly)
  • Twenty nineteen (I liked this…written out with letters, no numbers)
  • New year, new you (too cheesy for me)
  • New year, new letters
  • 2019 – hopes and dreams (also too cheesy)
    • I thought this option might be a cool series, with a lettering piece for each hope I had through the year. I decided against it because it felt like too big of a commitment at the time.
  • Happy new year (did this another year already and didn’t want to be repetitive)

I like to avoid being too “extra” with lettering quotes, so I decided to stick to a basic “happy new year” messaging. In the end, I landed on a simple “twenty nineteen” in all lowercase.

My next step is to consider the lettering style. There are nearly endless options here, especially if you start falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole. Since this was a pretty small and fast piece, I didn’t do much research. Without thinking to hard, I quickly decided that these words would look great in a high-contrast, serif font. Serif fonts have been one of my lettering obsessions lately, so I chose to draw it in this high-contrast style.

How I choose a reference for my lettering style

My next task was to try to find some sort of reference. I’ve drawn serifs enough in the past couple years to be able to draw something from scratch that looks okay. But with something as simple as this saying, I wanted to grab a reference to help make it look extra clean. 

A while ago, I saw the Lettering Library Bundle go on mega sale. I was so excited that I purchased it right away. If you love type or lettering and looking for lettering inspiration, YOU NEED TO GET THIS. It’s magnificent. The collection is jam-packed with rare and vintage books full of alphabets, lettering and monograms. It’s amazing. 

See the amazing bundle here.

I dug this out of my Dropbox folder and started scanning through, looking for the perfect serif that matched what was in my head. I chose this, from this book “Pen & Brush Lettering & Alphabets – Blanford Press – 1961”. The type is labeled “Ultra Bodoni” and I love it! 


Starting your piece with grids and pencil sketches

With a reference in mind, I start on the pencil sketch. At the start, I begin with super rough, hand-drawn guides set vaguely where I think I want my lettering to sit. I go through and draw the skeleton of each letter, being sure to not draw too dark or too precise. Keeping the initial sketches light is important because want to be able to adjust the spacing of the letters quickly without having to start over. 

Once I’ve got my first layer of pencil and I like where all the letters are sitting, I lightly erase the whole thing. You should be able to barely see pencil marks. It’s important to still be able to draw more precise letters over the top without getting confused. After it’s erased, I go in with my ruler and start to draw my set guidelines before I redraw the letters.

I usually just add a baseline and x height for lowercase letters, but for all capitals, I do a baseline, x-height, and cap height guideline. Sometimes, if I’m trying to keep my letters really square and not tilting one way or the other, I add in vertical lines as well. 

From here, I start adding the second layer of more precise pencil lines over my first draft.  I want this pencil layer to be almost perfect so that when I go in with ink, I don’t have to think. I can just trace!

Inking – Finalizing your lettering with ink

My inking starts in the most basic way possible. I just outline my letters with a .01 micron pen (they’re archival and don’t bleed when wet!). Once I’ve outlined, I go back and erase all of my pencil marks…guidelines and all.
If you try to erase your pencil at the very end, after your last layer of ink instead of after your very first layer of ink, you risk the chance of having your thicker ink layers bleed or lighten when the eraser hits it. So I like to do super thin and light ink lines, erase and then go back over it with my final, thicker layer of ink. 

With this final layer of ink, I like to add all my details. I usually start by thickening all the strokes. This is a great time to clean up your first layer of ink and also make the piece look more finished. 

I thickened the overall strokes and then went back in and added a swirly, gradient texture to the inside of the letters. To get this texture I literally scribble in a tiny, circular motion until I get the density of strokes I’m hoping for. In this piece, it was pretty dark, so it took a few layers to get to the right shade. I almost always start at the bottom with these strokes and work my way up, adding less dense strokes as I go. 

Since it’s such a loose texture, it’s easy to keep going back in and adding more scribbles until it looks exactly how you want. 

Show your letters some love

That’s it! Once my final inking is complete, I start planning how I will share my lettering online.

Sometimes it takes me weeks to photograph and share my lettering. Other times I get it up within a day or so. I was excited about this one and since it was time-sensitive I shared it pretty quickly! 

I liked this lettering so much that I also brought it onto the iPad and created a digital version. Here’s a time lapse video of the creation of the digital drawing! 

So there you have it… my process from start to finish to create this little “twenty nineteen” hand-lettered drawing. 

Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to share more!

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