16 Sep 2015

My Favorite Lettering Books

I love finding great tutorials and online classes to improve my lettering techniques, but sometimes there’s just no competing with a physical book. Over the years I’ve amassed quite a library of design, calligraphy, and lettering books. It’s tough to find books that are more than just a gallery, but also contain easily digestible information. 

Here are five must-have books I think every hand letterer should own!

Lettering & Type: Creating Letters and Designing Typefaces

Lettering and Type

This book is a great overview of typography basics, and is really insightful about the ins and outs of designing letters. If you’re looking for a book that explains the start-to-finish process of a lettering design and gives you actionable how-to’s, this is the best one I’ve found. The book looks small but it’s very thorough – it provides specific exercises to improve your lettering and goes over everything from developing a concept, to refining your sketch, to finding great ligature opportunities.

Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy

Modern Calligraphy

This title doesn’t lie. Molly Suber Thorpe is an incredible calligrapher, and this book takes you through all of the beginner steps. She provides detailed instructions for setting up your supplies (including tips for you south paws!), tips for improving your technique, and a step by step process for many creative calligraphy projects. I bought this book when I first started practicing calligraphy, and I think my work would have been an inky mess for much longer without it.

Typography Sketchbooks

Typography Sketchbooks

This book is a fantastic coffee table book, but it also has a little more substance than that. The photos of work in various stages of polish lets you peek into an artist’s process, and the text has some great insights from many lettering artists with tips for lettering and details about their process. I like to flip through this book when I’m feeling uninspired.

Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age

scripts

Louise Fili is basically the master of script lettering, and this book contains a huge collection of some incredible examples of script lettering from many time periods. If you’re interested in a book that delves into the history of script type (not a how-to for script lettering) this is a must-have. It’s also very useful as a reference if you’re looking to evoke a certain period or era in your lettering piece.

Mastering Layout: On the Art of Eye Appeal

masteringlayout

If you’re struggling with hierarchy and composition, you need this book! It’s focused on sign painting, but all of the tips and examples translate easily to lettering. It’s a comprehensive and approachable overview of the fundamentals of layout design. It helped me learn how to prioritize words in a phrase and build a layout that showcases the most important parts. The comparisons between different layouts of the same content are helpful for understanding that even though a layout may not be bad design, it doesn’t necessarily emphasize the most important information.

Together, these five books are a great starter library for any budding hand letterer. What are your favorite lettering books? Are there any I missed?

  • Ariel

    Oh, that layout book looks quite interesting – I’ll have to grab it. Some of my favourite lettering books include:

    Jessica Hische’s “In Progress” (so much information, so pretty, and she’s just so awesome!)
    Pretty much anything by Steven Heller – whether it’s his gorgeous collections of different styles of type, books about typography and design, or fun titles like his “Graphic Style Lab”, where he encourages you to flex your lettering/typography muscles by creating advertising for fictional wine companies and other fun things, he’s an incredible resource.

    Cristina Valko’s “Hand-Lettering for Everyone: A Creative Workbook” and Mary Kate McDevitt’s “Hand Lettering Ledger” are both full of information, tips, projects, and various ways to play with lettering and learn about it at the same time. Mary Kate McDevitt also has some great hand-lettering classes on Skillshare!
    Bethany Robertson’s “The Botanical Hand Lettering Workshop: Draw Whimsical and Decorative Styles and Scripts” – this one is a little lighter on instruction for actual lettering, though she does well at covering the basics of serif, sans serif, block letters, and script. What makes this book fantastic is the focus on adding botany – flowers, leaves, and other pretty growing things – to your hand-lettered work. Not only does she go over different lettering basics, but she goes over the basics of drawing flowers and adding them to your lettering pieces. It’s all presented in such a friendly, whimsical manner that’s very approachable. This is the first book I got about lettering, so it’s near to my heart! In fact, I think I’ll go leaf through it right now… 😉

    • Amber Garner

      I love Jessica Hische’s book! It’s so wonderful, as is all of her work – I definitely would have included it if it’d had it in my possession when I published this post! Steven Heller is also fantastic. He’s married to Louise Fili and they are like a design and typography power couple!

      Mary Kate McDevitt is also such a great resource – I’ve taken all of her Skillshare classes! I haven’t seen Cristina Valko’s book, but I’ll have to check it out!

      I love the botany addition to lettering. I always love when I see other artists doing that. I’m definitely going to have to pick that one up!

      Thanks for all of the additional suggestions!

      • Ariel

        It’s a really fantastic as well as incredibly useful book. I would definitely recommend grabbing a copy when you get a chance! One of the first people Jessica Hirshe worked for was Louise Fili, too, I didn’t realize she and Steven Heller were married! That is so nifty. I have a few of their books they’ve done together, they are great.

        Have you tried Jessica Hische’s class on Skillshare? It’s for creating a fancy drop cap based on a book of your choice. As an avid reader, I love it – I haven’t got a finished product yet, but she’s so helpful and so funny, too. I find myself laughing when I’m not expecting it – she’s one of those Internet People that seems like they’d be great to hang out with, too.

        Speaking of Skillshare, did you see that make-a-quote-into-a-poster class/challenge they released today that’s starting later in the month? I joined, and am excited about the group aspects of it as well as the project itself (I’ve never made a poster before!). Skillshare is such a fantastic resource, though I’ve found I have actually *completed* very few classes, instead enrolling & saving bunches and flitting from one to another.

        Cristina Valko’s book is similar to Mary Kate McDevitt’s – they’re actually about the same size, shape, and general heft, too – the latter is more instructional with structured prompts and then more freeform stuff in the back, whereas Cristina Valko’s is something where you start at the beginning and follow along but can also open up a page just about anywhere and do whatever activity/prompt is there. I love them both!

        The botany addition to lettering is really great, I agree. I looked through some of her examples of final products yesterday, and definitely saw some things I want to try! There are just so many things to try, something I really love about hand-lettering. I may get overwhelmed at times, but I’m never bored. 😉

        • Amber Garner

          Oh, I own and have read Jessica Hische’s books multiple times now! It’s one of my go-to lettering books. If you like Louise Fili’s work, I recommend listening to the interview with her on the podcast Design Matters. Really fantastic!

          I’ve done almost all of the lettering classes on Skillshare (there’s a post on here about my fav online classes!). Jessica Hische’s is fantastic! Her daily drop cap and her Penguin drop cap projects are just incredible.

          I’ve not seen the make a quote into a poster challenge! I’ll have to check it out.

          I agree, the possibilities with lettering are endless! That’s what I love about it! It’s hard not to get stuck in your comfort zone, though. Always have to make an effort to try new things!