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!

Thirteen Books to Close the Year: Books 40-53 of Literary Whiteboard Lettering

We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!

Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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This was actually a huge whiteboard! The entire text stretched about 7 feet tall!

What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.

Day 41: The Odyssey

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What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.

Day 42: The Hobbit

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This was my book talk right before we left for Thanksgiving Break, and right after we covered the archetypal hero’s journey. Seemed like a perfect text for the moment!

What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.

Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.

Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk

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What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.

Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata

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What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.

Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights

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What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!

Day 47: A Christmas Carol

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This was when I learned of a new app that would take clearer pictures of my boards, without glare from surrounding lights. The following pictures are still of my whiteboards!

What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.

Day 48: King Lear

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My students jokingly said, “Oooh, Ms. Gardner, you have a bad word on the board!” when the walked in. So of course I had to give a lesson on the word “bastard,” and I enjoyed every minute of it.

What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.

Day 49: Oedipus Rex

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What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.

Day 50: Antigone

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What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.

Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.

Day 52: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!

Day 53: Romeo and Juliet

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What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 9-10 (HALLOWEEN EDITION!)

October’s been all about monsters and stories that give you the heebie jeebies! What are you reading for Halloween?

Day 31: The Fall of the House of Usher

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Publication: 1839 (short story)

What It’s About: The narrator visits his ill friend, Roderick Usher. Usher and his sister live alone in a huge, rotten, creepy house. It feels very similar to the film Crimson Peak. My Gothic lit classes have covered this work to see an example of a classic Gothic setting, one which is still seen in today’s horror works: an expansive, but enclosed, space with several nooks and crannies for creepy ghouls and secrets to lurk. *shudder*

Read Online

Day 32: The Most Dangerous Game

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Publication: 1924 (short story)

What It’s About: Sanger Rainsford washes up on an uncharted island and finds that its resident, General Zaroff, hunts people. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his “game.” I’ve taught this work several times, but Zaroff’s explanation of his sport still gives me the chills.

Read Online

Day 33: Beowulf

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Publication: 700-1000 (epic poem, told orally); 975-1010 (date of manuscript)

What It’s About: A classic hero’s tale, this epic poem recounts the adventures of Beowulf as he battles 3 monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. This work is often studied as an example of the effect of the Christianisation on pagan literature.

Read Online

Day 34: A Monster Calls

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Publication: 2011 (YA novel)

What It’s About: A child struggles with coping with his mother’s losing battle with cancer by day, and faces a monster that sweeps him out of his room by night. If you read this story, you must get the illustrated edition by Jim Kay. The artwork is absolutely amazing!

I could not find a free version of this book online.

Day 35: The Divine Comedy

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Publication: 1472 (narrative poem)

What It’s About: Dante makes himself the main character as he travels through all the levels of hell, purgatory, and heaven in this allegorical tale of man’s journey to God. Most students study only Inferno, the account of Hell, because… well, it’s Hell and it’s exciting!

Read Online (I love this resource for Dante!!)

Day 36: The Phantom of the Opera

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Publication: 1910 (novel)

What It’s About: The Palais Garnier Opera House is said to be haunted by a killer ghost… but it’s actually a hideous but talented musician lurking in the shadows of the building. He preys on the young and impressionable Christine, who believes him to be the Angel of Music. The Phantom in the book is more murderous and less cuddly than the one in the musical.

Read Online

Day 37: Dracula

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Publication: 1897 (novel)

What It’s About: An Eastern European vampire wants to move to England to make a legion of vampires. I’m reading this book for the first time right now–so far, it develops a creepy mood beautifully. While looking up information on this book, I found that this is an example of invasion literature, a movement in British literature that popped up in the late 19th century leading up to WWI. I love seeing how political climates (in this case, the fear that outside forces will invade England and change English culture) influence the arts!

Read Online

 


These are part of my 2017-2018 project for my classroom: give book talks every day (or nearly every day), and letter a quote from each book on the board! I want to share examples of classic literature/good books with my students, with the hope that they’ll find beauty in words. Leave a comment if  you’ve got a good book suggestion!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 5-6

Because I work at a PBL school, my weekly schedule can get pretty weird depending on where we are in a project. Weeks 5-6 of the school year were part of our transition from Project 1 to Project 2, so I had to give up some English days to cover things like presentation etiquette and practice presentations. Our second project of the year covers American regions, so I continued presenting works from various parts of the US.

Day 20: Brown Girl Dreaming 

I adore this book of autobiographical, narrative poetry. This is a good entry into poetry for readers who are intimidated by it. It tells the story of Woodson’s youth during the Civil Rights era as she and her family moved through the Midwest, South, and Northeast.

Day 21: The Bean Trees

This book surprised me. On the surface, it seemed like a piece of “chick lit”: a young woman gets tired of living in her tiny town and seeks adventure by driving out west. When she makes a pit stop in Oklahoma, someone drops a baby in her car and vanishes. She takes the baby with her and finally settles in Arizona when her car breaks down. It sounds like a Lifetime movie. But this book has a sense of humor as the narrator navigates through her new parenthood, and grapples the topic of undocumented immigration when she makes her new family in Arizona.

Day 22: Dandelion Wine

A few years ago, I had a student who was terrified of growing up. All the adults in her life either pressured her about growing up or told her (truthfully) that growing up sucks. By the time she got to me in the 9th grade, the transition into high school had completely shaken her. I suggested that she read this book, the story of a boy who realizes that childhood and life will end one day, and she loved it. A lot of things happened that school year to give her more confidence about her place in the school and life, and I’d like to say that this book was one of them.

Day 23: The Great Gatsby

Yes, I realize I got the quote wrong. It should be “Can’t repeat the past?…” But I was going off memory and lettering while the IT Specialist was talking to me about some student concern. I didn’t realize until the end of the day. Oh well… It still applies to Gatsby.

Day 24: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Another book that surprised me. This is an beautifully written work of YA literature. I love the writing style, and it’s got a touch of the surreal: it’s the story of a girl born with wings. It feels like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the way it describes the history of her family, and like Chocolat with the way it shows how her family settles in a new town in the Northwest. It’s got a touch of romance for teens, and a touch of melancholy for adults.