Ryan Hamrick
Hand-lettering & Design


Letter-Building Method Two: Brush & Build

In an effort to consolidate the sharing of my thoughts and experiences with lettering into one archived, searchable resource, I’ll be reposting entries here from my column on The Industry. The following was originally published here on November 11th, 2012.

 Yesterday, we looked at a concept-building method I sometimes use that we called your scanner is your best friend, and how in the no-save-button world of analog, creating checkpoints with a quick scan can be a life saver if you decide you’d love to just undo back to your happy place.

Today, I want to show you a different method of concept building that I use, that you might say is sort of a step further on the skill scale from the Scaling & Shaping approach.

For this method, I’m going to be using ink, rather than pencil, namely a couple of Pentel Color Brush. Later in the process, I’m going to also put my fine-point PITT artist pen from Faber-Castell to good use for some finishing.

So let’s get started with a method I’m going to call Brush & Build.

Brush & Build

We’re going to start by grabbing a few sheets of plain white printer paper. Sure, go ahead and use your dot grid books or your Moleskines if you wish, but personally, I like to save those for more thought-out, detailed sketching. For this, we’re going to be filling up sheets fairly quickly, so something cheaper might make more sense.

With your brush pen of choice, simply start throwing down letters to get a feel for where your potential interactions are, where the interesting areas of the word or phrase you’re working with might lie, and how you might want your forms to look.

These ink “sketches” should be quick and, like before with Shaping & Building, try to experiment with it and attempt to make each one as different as possible from the others. This is extremely helpful in finding something you canreally get excited about. With the infinite possibilities of something as versatile as a letter, you owe it to yourself to thoroughly explore and find a style that’s truly special.

A lot of these are junk, and many are basically the same but perhaps attempted a few times to get the idea out properly. The important thing, though, is that we’ve explored a bunch of options, and finally, have the direction below to proceed with.

Not Important: Clearly, I can’t decide which spelling of whisk(e)y I prefer, something I’m guessing you might be able to relate to. I think the ‘e’ feels better, but then the US Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits uses the ‘whisky’ spelling, so whatever.

Improving Shapes and Adding Weight

Now that we know where we’re headed with this logo, we can begin thinking about the exact shapes we want these letters to take on. As you get better with your brush pens after practicing for a while (I’ve still got a ways to go before I’m really happy with mine, too), you’ll be a lot closer to your final look after the initial sketching phase. But for now, you’ll probably want to give some attention to stroke widths and shapes to make them a bit more balanced and attractive.

After you’ve been doing this for a bit, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to see your desired result in your mind and head more directly for it, like I’ve kind of done below. But while you’re first beginning to play with this method, start by cleaning up edges and slowly building them out stroke by stroke. This will allow you to better gauge not only the balance and uniformity of your weight and spacing, but also the equally important negative space.


Once you have your final inked logo, your next steps are similar to our previous method. The big exception of course being that this time, you have a solid, smooth image to scan that might even be much more suited for direct use as opposed to redrawing in vector. It all depends on the look you’re going for with the project at hand.

So if you haven’t gone and picked up a brush pen or two yet, you may want to go find one to give this approach a whirl. While you may find it challenging and maybe even a bit frustrating while you’re trying to get the hang of it, playing with these letters in such a natural and heartfelt way is something I’ve found to be a ton of fun, and incredibly rewarding.

You should follow me on Twitter to keep up with any updates to this post or even the methods themselves as they happen.

Get brushing!