ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Hand lettering and why you should try it

Hand lettering is a fascinating skill for children's illustrators. Suzanne Dore looks at the background, and sets a challenge (please read to the end!)

When’s the last time you wrote a letter?

More importantly, when’s the last time you drew a letter?

There’s been a resurgence in hand lettering within publishing in recent years, and it’s an area that is often over-looked by illustrators.

And, if you get good at it, it’s something that can add an extra string to your bow, 
 or more importantly…

…it could be a great addition to your portfolio.

It’s an ancient skill…

Think of Medieval manuscripts and those letters in the top left corners - they’re called drop caps. The ones pictured below are fairly simple, but they still break up the text.

Detail of a decorated initial 'D'(iu) at the beginning of the prologue to book 2, and a coloured initial 'S'(superiori) at the beginning of book 2 of William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum Anglorum. 
© photo courtesy of the British Library Board

You can also see some beautiful examples here.

Pictures were added to hand-written texts to ‘illuminate’ the words, which in Latin means to ‘light up’ or ‘enlighten’. This is much the same as children’s books today… images are added to words to enhance the story.

How beautiful is this illuminated ‘O’ ?:

© Wikicommons – Psalterium nocturnus O letter

Humans have been drawing letters in different styles since writing began. The Rosetta Stone, Chinese brush scripts, and Arabic lettering are all examples of how diverse writing can be. 
If you want to know more about the history behind typography, calligraphy and lettering, then you can start here, or here.

But it’s still very relevant…

Just visit your bookshelf, library or the shops. I bet that most of you have books that have hand-lettered titles. Here are a few books from my bookshelves:

© Photo - S. Dore

Look very carefully though, some fonts are used to make it look like hand-lettering. If repeating letters are identical then it might not be hand-lettering.

Hand lettering will always be unique… there are as many styles, as there are letterers.

It can be made to fit into a specific (often non-linear) space, which is very useful for book covers.

More expressive than a basic font, hand lettering can be used to convey something more about the contents or main character of your story. The title here is very obviously hand lettered, and it echoes the main character by use of black with white lines. The letters are playful and slightly scruffy – rather like Maurice himself.

Maurice the Unbeastly, cover by Karl James Mountford  ©photo S.Dore

So why not give it a try…

You could try adding your own twist to existing Serif or Sans-Serif fonts.

Another option is to manipulate objects to form your letters, eg. animals, buildings, people etc.

© Suzanne Dore

You can add a flourishes, textures, patterns. Can you alter your line thickness? Make your letter thinner, wider etc. How does this change the letter you’ve created?

You could even make your letters look 3D.

Sketchbook page of lettering roughs/ideas © S.Dore

The options are endless…

There are plenty of tutorials (and practise sheets) online to get you started. Or use this an excuse to visit the library, or, buy some more books!

You could try drawing a-letter-a-day #aletteraday, and there are numerous Instagram sites to follow if you’re interested:






Go on, you’re tempted, aren’t you?

If you have a letter, or two …or if you’re really keen… the whole alphabet, we’d love you to share them with us.

Words & Pictures want your letters… 

As we’re hoping to ‘illuminate’ the online magazine in 2020. Anyone whose letters get used will, of course, get a full credit for use. Oh, and if you can create us an ampersand (&) we’d love you even more!

Please send your ‘letters’ to:

by:  February 23rd 2020

Technical details required:

Format: jpegs only

Size: 100mm x 100mm at 300 dpi

Colour: Black ‘letters’ on white background only

Name format: “your_name_letter.jpg” eg. “Joe_Bloggs_G.jpg”

Other things to consider:

You can send us as many letters (or punctuation and numbers) as you like, preferably not 100 different letter ‘Z’s though. Initially, we want to write out “Words & Pictures” but we have plans for other uses too, so all ‘letters’ welcome. Uppercase is preferred, but not essential. As long as it fits within the dimensions mentioned above.

‘English’ alphabet only please.

If you want your letters to be in with a chance of appearing in Words & Pictures, you must be a current SCBWI member. Also, please, remember to make your letters legible, and not too detailed,
 they should be easy to read on a mobile screen.


By sending us your letters, you agree that Words & Pictures can alter the colour of your artwork, but not the design of the letter itself. You retain the copyright of your artwork and will be credited for any use.

Further reading

or if you don’t want to read anymore, just do a google image search for 'lettering art alphabet' and drool over the images you find …and then start drawing your own!

Header image: Suzanne Dore

Suzanne is Words & Pictures' Art Director. She is a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and writer. She graduated in fine-art, has completed many children’s book illustration online courses, and joined SCBWI in 2015. Longlisted twice for Undiscovered Voices, and shortlisted twice for Templar Publishing’s Illustration competition. She is currently unpublished and seeking an agent. 

1 comment:

  1. Totally inspired!! I will be working on my hand lettering, thanks for the inspiration!


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