Friday, January 29, 2021

Freeform Friday: Our Review of 4 Calligraphy and Hand-Lettering How-To-Guides

If there is an upside to the last year or so, it's that while I've been keeping my distance from the world at large I have also managed to pick up a few new (utterly random) skills.  I have ventured into the wild world of home-schooling (rather reluctantly), tackled the basics of watercolor, and even learned how to make the world's most coveted holiday treat -- the Oreo Truffle.  Recently, I decided to learn the basics of calligraphy and hand lettering.  Since I always turn to books to teach me how to do things, I set about rounding up a few in order to get started.  Today's Freeform Friday, will take a look at 4 of those books.  (Images are from - Summaries from the books themselves - Some books, as noted, are given for free exchange for an honest review.)

The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners - Kristin Bowman

A letter from Kristin Bowman of June & Lucy:

Hello there crafty friends of mine!...My goal with this book is to help you avoid the countless months of research, trial and error, and mistakes that I made along the way, by giving you a straight forward, easy to understand explanation of the process behind hand lettering so that you can start your lettering journey with a strong foundation.

Length: 107 pages

My Review: The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners. What a mouthful!  From here on out I'm just going to call it Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering or MCAHL.

Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering begins with a brief rundown of important aspects of calligraphy and hand lettering, including posture, pen positioning, the basics of typography, essential tools, and the names of basic strokes. In terms of specific fonts, MCAHL focuses on three(ish) -- the Basic Brush Alphabet and Basic Monoline (in both upper and lower cases), as well as how to turn the latter into Faux calligraphy.  With each font, there are 3 opportunities to trace each letter on handwriting paper (the one with a top, bottom, and dashed mid-line) followed by space for roughly 9 more practice letters.  Of course, forming a letter twelve times isn't sufficient, but obviously the calligrapher can and should practice the letters on their own for full mastery.  

Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering also shows how to connect separate letters in a way that appears both attractive and natural, with practice space, and then moves quickly into forming words in both basic brush and basic monoline fonts (48 words total).  After that, several pages are dedicated to the more decorative aspects of lettering -- flourishes and swashes, botanical drawings, wreathes, ribbons, banners, doodles, and illustrations.  These pages serve more as inspirational examples with little, if any, practice room given in the book. The final section of MCAHL is devoted to composing hand-lettered designs in 5 easy steps.  The author supplies 8 different designs that are traceable, providing space to copy the design without guides and room to letter the phrase in a different style.    

From an amateur perspective, I feel that Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering is a nice introduction to the subject.  Is it the be-all-end-all "Ultimate" guide?  Not really, but it's a good start.  The books is pretty darn adorable as far as aesthetics are concerned, well-organized, however I was hoping for significantly more font examples and much more room practice.  To get the most out of this book, be sure to pick up a few packs of handwriting paper and a binder to keep your work together and track your progress.  This book is would be best for beginners who are interested in the art form but aren't quite sure if they want to dive into the deep end of lettering and calligraphy.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide - Paper Peony Press

Summary: Learn to letter and create beautiful designs with this beginner's guide and workbook! Every page is filled with tips, tricks, encouragement, and practice space to kickstart your lettering journey! Learn 5 different alphabet styles, upper and lower case letters, practice connections, and dive into design and composition with this beautiful lettering book. At the end of this book there are also 15 beautiful lettering projects to help you bring together your knowledge and skill and help you begin to create beautiful works of art! You can do this!! Let us teach you how to upgrade your handwriting and learn this amazing and fun form of art!

Length: 112 pages

My Review:  First, can we talk about how many times the word beautiful was just used to describe this book? FOUR times in SIX sentences.  I mean, it is beautiful, but seriously?!  It's called a thesaurus, people.  Okay, moving on.

Lettering and Modern Calligraphy (LAMC) begins with the 4 T's -- terminology, techniques, tools, and tips -- all presented in a simple, easy-to-follow format.  The book is similar in structure to the book reviewed directly above this one, but with a few key differences.  Both books cover the basics of lettering in their own way, but LAMC teaches five different font letter guides (brush script, hand lettering, serif, sans serif, and fun sans serif) rather than three and leaves a bit more room to practice the copying the letters.  However, LAMC does not have a separate section to practice individual letter connections.  It discusses them briefly, but jumps straight into using those connections by writing practice words, and then only in brush script.  

Finally, LAMC offers 15 lettering projects, 4 basic steps to accomplish them, and a place for the calligrapher to copy them out on their own.  As with the previous book, it's going to take more than the space provided to master the fonts and lettering projects, so I highly recommend having some extra handwriting paper nearby to get the most out of this book.  If hard-pressed to choose between them, I would grab Lettering and Modern Calligraphy before The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering, for the simple reason that it gives more font lettering guides and more practice space.  

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

An Introduction to Calligraphy
 - Véronique Sabard, Vincent Geneslay, & Laurent Rébéna (This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

Summary: Clear instructions and 129 photos welcome you to the world of calligraphy.  Starting with pens, inks, and writing surfaces you'll need, the book explains the basics, from filling the pen to holding the nib at the right angle.  Practice exercises help you understand upstrokes, downstrokes, the optical center, and more.  Then travel through time with a chronological introduction to five major styles of Western script, beginning with the Roman Uncial script of around 600 BCE and covering several important scripts that developed in the following centuries.  For each style, the book explains its historical use and its characteristics, teaches the correct formation of each letter, and offers suggestions and tips.  Then a practice exercise helps you master the style.  Learn the all-capital Uncial script, and create a beautiful wine list with it; try Gothic Textura for a calendar, or Chancery for a letterhead design.  A gallery of 24 masterworks by experts offers even more inspiration.  (Summary from book - Image from - This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review)

Length: 79 pages

My Review:  An Introduction to Calligraphy may be the smallest of today's books, but it is quite informative for its size and reflects the authors' love of calligraphy as a significant form of art and expression.  For those interested in the historical aspects of calligraphy, this book is the best of the bunch. It details the formal evolution of western script, focusing on changes in writing styles over time and including the different types of paper and implements used.  I especially enjoyed the small section that showed what each style would look like written with the historically accurate tool.  

As someone who doesn't like to devote a large chunk of change to any endeavor, the photographs in the materials section, which showcased a plethora of calligraphy supplies and assorted pen tips, were straight-up overwhelming.  However, the following pages delivered a smaller, more essential list of supplies, which talked me off the proverbial ledge.  The pages also detailed exactly how to prepare, hold, and move the pen, angle the lines, and space the letters to achieve the desire result, as well as a offering a few beginning exercises to loosen up the wrist and hand. 

Thoroughly warmed up, the reader is then prepared to practice any one of five traditional, time-honored scripts:  Uncial, Carolingian, Textura, Chancery, or English script. Each chapter focuses on one of these styles, including some basic history, tips for forming the letters, a selected text for the reader to practice (alas, I believe they are in the book's original French) and several projects, including a wine list, envelope, calendar, letterhead, and greeting card.  The final 10 pages of the book include a gallery of contemporary calligraphy from all over the world and a helpful glossary of calligraphy terms.  

Unlike the two previous book reviews, An Introduction to Calligraphy does not provide any space for the reader to practice, but it is significantly more technical in regards to detailed instructions.  For  example, it reports that English calligraphy slants at a 55 degree angle and that the body height of Textura is 4.5 to 5.5 nib widths.  That level of detail might appeal to one person and stress another out.  If you're curious, I fall into both categories.   Personally, I find that I prefer hand lettering cute projects to more formal calligraphy, but would recommend this book to those who are more interested in practicing traditional calligraphy and learning about it as a historical and modern art form.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Lettering from A to Z: 12 Styles & Awesome Projects for a Creative Life
- Phawnda Moore  (This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review)

Summary: This book will encourage you to rediscover your creativity and find joy in making letters and projects that will bring new meaning to your life.  Lettering artist Phawnda Moore has been teaching calligraphy and design for twenty-five years.  An award winning author, she steps into beginning students' shoes to select content, address anticipated questions, and offer solutions to the unexpected yet inevitable problems that are encountered in hand lettering.  With twelve lettering sytles, as well as cards, gifts, and journaling ideas, Lettering from A to Z is more than a practical book for your library.  Written for all levels of experience and blending traditional design principles and modern tools, this book is a companion to growing, creating, and sharing.  Phawnda's practical personable instructions includes: 
  • Twelve styles (including faux calligraphy, rainbow lettering, Uncials, brush, and script)
  • Customized practice sheet masters 
  • Layout, color, and design basics
  • Tips for illustrating calligraphy tools
  • Step-by-step instructions for beautiful cards and envelopes and other projects
  • And more!
Length: 224 pages

My Review:  Lettering from A to Z is more than double the length of any of the other books in this post, and for good reason.  It is significantly more comprehensive with a large variety of lettering styles, including basic handwriting, faux calligraphy, rainbow lettering, two varieties of monoline, uncial, italic, pointed pen script, lively versals, nature walk letteringbrush lettering in two mediums, several variations of drawn lettering, and the author's own original font.  The book dedicates an entire chapter to each of the font styles, with tips for success, recommended material lists, decorative examples, lettering guides, and blank practice papers (for photocopying).  The latter part of the book is comprised of a few chapters regarding other significant design elements and the alphabetical catalog that gives the book it's A-Z name, which briefly discusses different aspects of lettering and potential projects.  

As for my personal experience with Lettering from A to Z, I enjoyed the opportunity to dip my toe in the waters of lettering and look forward to learning more. I was delighted by how simple and straightforward some styles were and a little intimidated by the intricacy and detail of others.  While I don't currently have the right supplies to properly execute every font style, I was able to try quite a few with a respectable amount of success.  I'm not perfect at any of them, but I have hope that, with practice, I will steadily improve.  

I loved what the author had to say about the importance of fostering creativity in one's own life and the vital nature of handwriting in the learning process. I also appreciated her tips, supply recommendations, and project inspiration.  When all is said and done, Lettering from A to Z is not a book that you use up and cast away; it is an invaluable guide and a reference manual for anyone interested in starting their lettering journey.

My Rating:  4.25 Stars

That's it for our take on Lettering and Calligraphy Guides.  
We hope you have found a book to suit your needs!

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