My (Chalkboard) Lettering Process

If you’ve been one of the two people reading my blog (#himom & #heyhusband), you might have noticed that there’s a section titled “Hand Lettering Tips & Tricks” with no posts under it. I guess I initially just put it there as wishful thinking that one day I’d feel like I have something to contribute to it, but honestly I’ve never thought of myself as a great teacher.

That being said, since I’m trying to grow and push myself outside my comfort zone (#lifebeginsattheendofyourcomfortzone), I’ve decided to share some insight into my lettering process using a chalkboard piece I made a few weeks ago. Most of this process can be applied to creating pretty much any hand-lettered piece, whether for fun or for a client, up until the chalkboard part.

The first thing I did after I chose the quote I wanted to letter was decide on what I wanted my overall piece to look like in terms of style and design, and then I broke it down word by word to figure what I wanted to do with each word individually. The quote I chose for this piece was “Everyone shines given the right lighting”, so I knew that I wanted the design to include some sort of light, and I settled on “everyone” being in block letters and “shines” and “lighting” to be in script.

After that, I brainstormed and sketched out a few different designs and then chose the one I liked best to use for my final piece. I originally thought I’d go with some sort of string lights or a light bulb, but as I was sketching, the one idea that stood out to me the most was a mason jar.

Step 1 - Brainstorming & Sketching

Drawing is definitely not my strong suit, so I went to trusty Pinterest (#pinterestforlife), looked up “how to draw a mason jar” and found some ideas that included fire flies in a jar, which went perfectly with the quote.

For some design inspiration, I used my go-to book for chalkboard lettering, “The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering” by Valerie McKeehan. It’s full of so many great technical tips on how to prep your chalkboard and chalk (It’s harder than it seems! I'll tell you about that in a bit...stay tuned. You're hooked now, right!?), as well as layout and stylistic ideas. While I was flipping through it, what stood out to me for the “everyone” in block letters, was this “Yay, Ombré!” idea.

Step 2 - Researching Design Inspiration

Once I settled on the design direction I wanted to go with, I created a more detailed sketch, divided it up into sections, and then filled in the lettering.

Step 3 - Drawing the Final Sketch

When I was ready to start working on the chalkboard, the first thing I did was prime it by rubbing a piece of white chalk all over and erasing it. This is an important step when working with chalk on a chalkboard because it helps the chalk to adhere to the board.

Next, I measured the board and divided it up into sections and sketched my design onto it using a mechanical chalk pencil. Finally, I was ready to letter the final piece! Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and ironically enough, I gave you the super important advice about priming your chalkboard, but in this case, it completely failed me.

Step 4 - Tracing the Design on the Chalkboard

For some reason that I still can’t figure out, no matter how much I primed the board, my chalk just would not stick to it, but I promise it really is a critical step and it usually works! Anyways, since my chalk and chalkboard just wouldn't be friends that day (watch the video to see my epic fail #thestruggleisreal), I ended up using chalk markers to letter the piece. I wasn't really mad at that because I got to use this really pretty rose gold liquid chalk marker by NanoArt, which is sadly not available on Amazon right now :( I also used the bistro chalk markers by Uchida of America in peach, pink and white.

After I lettered the quote, it was time to add in the fun elements! Initially, I was going to create an ombré effect on “Everyone”, but I actually decided to go with a stippled look instead since it gave the piece a starry night feel. I drew fireflies inside the mason jar and all around the text to fill in the empty space, added more dots all around, underlined “right” and added some lines around “shines” for extra emphasis. Last thing left to do was to erase the grid lines I had drawn, but that too was kind of a fail because I just couldn't erase them all properly without messing up the lettering. After a less than straightforward process, TA-DA I was done!

Step 5 - All Done!

It took lots of trial and error to come up with a process for creating hand lettered pieces that works best for me, and it is clearly still a work in progress, but the overall lesson I’ve learned is that planning is key. Of course, sometimes you just want to grab a pen and paper and letter whatever you feel like, but when you’re working on a piece for a client, or even as an Instagram post, taking the time to measure, plan and sketch will most likely save you a lot of trouble.

There’s nothing worse than going in freehand and then getting halfway through your piece when you realize that you don’t have enough space for the amount of text you have left or looking at your finished piece and wishing that you had taken it in a different design direction.

If you want to see the full process video of me working on this chalkboard, check out @bashfullettering on Instagram!

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