Handlettering on a Budget: Affordable Tools to Start Your New Hobby

One of my favorite things about handlettering is that you can take it anywhere, and practice with any writing instrument! But when you start going through YouTube or Instagram for tutorials, it can seem like you have to buy a lot of tools. It looks like everyone’s got Tombow dual-tip markers, Ecoline watercolor markers, oblique dip pens with fancy holders, and the iPad Pro… and you don’t have the cash for all that.

Beginners, don’t be fooled.

Yes, there’s value in having good tools. But you don’t need the expensive stuff to practice! Here are the basic supplies that I think beginners need, and you can find all of them under $20 (and a good number of them for free if you’re… uh… resourceful like me).

    1. Pencil + a good eraser: Drafting is a must. I wasted so much paper and ink as a beginner because I was watching Instagram videos that were sped up and doctored. I also suggest wooden pencils over mechanical ones. The trusty yellow school pencil is a lot less harsh on paper. Art people can probably tell you why, but I’m not an art person. I think it’s because the lead doesn’t stay deadly sharp the whole time you’re drawing. You want something that’s softer because it doesn’t make ridges in the paper as you draw. These ridges could divert water when you’re watercoloring, or show through when you’re coloring with crayons or colored pencils.
    2. Ruler: Duh, it keeps straight lines. You can use this to draw out really specific guidelines for the tops, bottoms, and crossbars of letters if you’re a perfectionist. I just draw out lines like ruled paper so I don’t draw all over the place.
    3. Black pen: You pick the kind of black pen. Pictured is a gel pen that I stole from work. It writes fairly smoothly, and best of all, it was free! I also suggest the Papermate Flair pen… it’s just lovely.
    4. Sketchbook: Cardstock or printer paper are fine for practicing or sketching, but they’re not really absorbent. If you want to try color blending or brush lettering, get a sketchbook with thicker paper. Pictured is my favorite cheap Target sketchbook with 75lb paper. My favorite one is the U-Create Sketch Book!
    5. Washable markers: I cannot stress how amazing washable markers are. They allow you to blend colors like the pros, and they’re great, affordable tools with which to practice calligraphy! I recommend this pack of fat Crayola markers because 1) 40 colors!, and 2) they’re a lot more durable than the Super Tip markers that so many people recommend. My toddler has stolen quite a few of the thin markers and ruined them… but the fat markers have lasted!

I’ll be featuring these tools all week this week on my Instagram account. Follow the hashtags #letteringonabudget or #cheapaflettering, or just find me @nerdladydraws to see some awesome things that you can do with these basic tools!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 3

It’s always the short weeks that feel the longest.

With Labor Day off, I only had 4 boards to do this week. And I felt rushed through 3 of them. Now that we are getting deeper into the school year, I’m feeling time and obligations pulling me in every direction. The time I spend lettering in the morning is helping me stay grounded.

This week’s boards:

Day 11: Flowers for Algernon 

Day 12: Oliver Twist

Day 13: The House on Mango Street

Day 14: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride board was the only one that I actually had time to perfect this week! Love that one!

Favorite thing this week was hearing students and teachers share their opinions of the books and authors they’ve read from this week’s boards. I’m loving how much this project is encouraging discussions about Books! 

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 2

Even though I had only been whiteboard lettering + giving book talks for a week, I’m already seeing an impact: the world studies teacher gave her own book talk to start a lesson, and students and teachers alike are getting interested in learning lettering! Here are Week 2’s boards:

Day 6: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This was for the day I was paired up with the Math teacher, of course. 

Day 7: Lord of the Flies

Day 8: The Glass Castle

The night before,  I had resolved to finally learning the art of the flourish. 

Day 9: Night

I caught a few reluctant readers with this book talk!

Day 10: 1984

Unfortunately, we had a gas leak scare (it wasn’t a gas leak) on Friday that disrupted our schedule, so I didn’t get to give a book talk to 2 classes… good thing I chose a book that they’ll read in 10th grade anyway!

On to week 3! Posting these all on @nerdladydraws on Instagram with #literarywhiteboardlettering. 

Whiteboard Lettering: Week 1

School started, so now I’ve got 135 students standing between me and lettering practice. To keep up my daily lettering goal and build on my practice as an English teacher, I have a new project for the school year: whiteboard lettering with literary quotes.

Part of the new Texas teacher evaluation system requires that teachers have a professional goal that they actively work on throughout the year. Mine is to incorporate a short book talk and 10 minutes of reading time at the beginning of every class period as a way of encouraging reading in my classroom, and my school. That’s where the lettering comes in. To start my book talks, I share an essential quote from the work–a quote that I have lettered on the board. Because my school is a strange one that has no walls and no assigned classrooms, I get to leave literary quotes throughout the building, hopefully getting not just my own students curious about a book, but the others at the school. In about a month or so, I need to start turning over book talks to the kids, so I may have to adjust my goal. But for now, I’m loving it. Here are this week’s boards and a little of my experience so far:

Day 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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I have ALWAYS wanted to say Dumbledore’s words at Harry’s first Hogwarts feast on the first day of school, and this year I got the chance! Very few students admitted to knowing the quote on the first day. Three days later, after I had thoroughly shown my nerdy side, the majority of the students were proud to raise their hands and admit that they knew the story of The Chosen One.

Day 2: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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I got the idea for daily book talks from the NTCTELA conference in June–basically, a huge gathering of North Texas English teachers. The keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, celebrities in the ELAR world. Gallagher led a session about guiding kids through confusing pieces, and used Jekyll and Hyde as an example. Hearing him speak about the continued relevance of classic literature, when I feel like I am stuck in a world that is emphasizing only vocational reading and writing, was absolutely refreshing. Most of my book talks this year will be classic pieces because I want my learners to be aware of literary works that have and continue to influence our modern culture.

Day 3: Not really CS Lewis

This was to get kids started on reading an essay that I hoped they would be able to connect to. It was also a good chance for me to talk about Google quotes–this one is often attributed to C.S. Lewis, but it’s actually from Shadowlands, the biopic about him.

I found out that I could play with filters on my phone to clean up the glare and grime from my whiteboard, but then it looks like digital lettering… so I’m choosing the #nofilter route to show that this is, in fact, lettered on a whiteboard.

Day 4: The Namesake

Because I draft and practice the night before on paper, the whiteboard lettering process has only been taking me about 10 minutes. It’s still a fifth of my planning time in the morning, but it’s also 10 minutes of “zen” time that helps me calm down and get in the zone for teaching.

Day 5: The Lord of the Rings

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At this point in the week, the kids were comfortable enough with each other to raise their hands when I asked if they had read The Hobbit, and even give a little exclamation of nerdy excitement to see that I was going to talk about Lord of the Rings.

This project has been fun and scary… When there are no walls to hide behind, it’s scary to think that your work is valuable enough to share with a whole school. Stay tuned – I plan on sharing my boards and reflections every week (as long as grading doesn’t get in the way)!

The Time for A New Obsession

As a teacher and mom to a 10-month-old, it seems like it would be impossible to find time for a new pursuit. I don’t even have enough hours in the day to sleep! But with the stress of teaching and parenting, art and lettering are what keep me sane. I make time for it, and I take advantage of natural lulls to nurture it.

Right now, I’m writing at 3am, sitting on the floor of the nursery, as my daughter finally dozes back to sleep after 2 hours of playing with my hair. During those two hours, in between a diaper change and sleepy attempts at coaxing her back to sleep, I was building relationships and studying artists on Instagram. Before going to bed at the very grown-up bedtime of 10pm, during the short time I get with my husband when we’re both awake and the baby’s asleep, I got a quick sketch in while we watched TV. For the past three months, I’ve been learning tips and practicing during conference periods, pumping sessions, nap times, and late night feedings.

That’s pretty much the way of it–as I wait, as I try to be patient, as I force myself to stay awake so I can be with (physically, if not mentally) my family, I create. Summer’s been good to me, giving me time to practice every day and start to find my own style. Now that school is starting again, I’ll have to play with time some more. 

I think that’s the nice thing about finding a new obsession: the passion fuels you to stay awake, urges you to ignore the dishes and the laundry, and instead do this thing that is so much more fun. The challenge now is to keep this passion going as more obligations come up, and to remember to not just make time for my passion, but to make time work for me. 

Find your passion. Obsess about it. Bend time to your will. And ignore the dishes just a little longer.