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How to Make a Living off Your Hand Lettering Skills

Peter M March 31, 2021 · 6 min read
Making a living as an artist is no mean feat. It takes dedication, endurance and perhaps most of all, talent. If you’re looking to become a professional hand letterer, that’s an even more specific field, so the challenge is that much harder. But not impossible. Hand lettering is booming at the moment, with the style being extremely popular on products like prints, apparel and more. It’s also a common choice for branding and logo design projects. We’ve compiled a list of six tips to help you along the way in your quest to make hand lettering your profession and not just a hobby. Take a look, and if you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.

1. Boost your skill.

The first step to becoming a professional hand letterer is an obvious one: practice. But it’s important as it is self-evident. As much as you might think, the difference between the best artists and those who are just amateurs isn’t always raw aptitude. Sometimes it’s just practice and persistence. That means getting out the graphic pen or pencil, and making letterform after letterform. It also means fine-tuning your work until it’s pixel perfect in Illustrator or Photoshop (this might help). Some folk claim that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something. If you’re going pro, you’re going to need to put the time in to slowly increase your skill level. It can also be inspiring to follow artists that are on the same path. Follow the Instagram hashtag #letteringchallenge for a constant feed of ideas:

MATTHEW 5:9 – A good verse to remember today! No matter the outcome of this (or any) election, God is in control. He is the source of true peace. And He is the reason we can have peace with others. #blessedarethepeacemakers #Godispeace #election2016 #beapeacemaker #letteringchallenge by @30daysofbiblelettering #30daysofbiblelettering #letteringchallenge #christiancreative #Biblelettering #Bibleverse #Biblequote #handletteredverse ———————————————— #lettering #lettered #letters #handdrawnletters #handlettered #handlettering #letteredart #modernlettering #letteringco #makersgonnamake #letterit #designspiration #strengthinletters #artoftype #typegang #typespire #thedailytype #letteringpractice #idrawletters

A photo posted by Elise Alligood (@celisewalligood) on

2. Know your style.

If you’re hoping to make a living off your hand lettering chops, you’re going to need to have a clearly defined style. If you have a generic portfolio, you’ll get generic work requests. Have a good long hard look at your current pieces and ask yourself ‘What is my style?’, ‘What are my strongest and weakest points?’ and ‘What kind of work do I wish to become known for?’. It may be difficult honing in on that one aesthetic that you think could become marketable, but it’s a necessary task in any commercial art field. Now is also a good time to look at what work is produced by your competitors. No typographer (or designer) works in a vacuum, and keeping tabs on what else is out there is a must. At the same time, keep in mind that if your style is too specific, you might have a problem marketing your skills. Get that pen out and find the balance.

3. Learn from the best.

One of the surest ways to level up in any field is by emulating those who are already at the top. Like most areas of design, lettering and illustration is filled with talented folk who are more than willing to share their skills and help out those who are just starting out. Seek out letterers whose work you like, and soak up their styles by following them on Instagram or Twitter. We recommend talented folks like Jennet Liaw and Mrs Eaves. Both are legendary letterer ladies that have more than their fair share of jaw-dropping personal and commercial work up their sleeves. They’re also known to share tips and offer the occasional tutorial. Another gal that’s worth a follow is Mary Kate McDevitt, who offers up her advice in regular Skillshare workshops. If you’re after more than just lettering and linework smarts, a course like this one from Sean Wes might help you out with business basics too.

4. Sell your work.

Once you’ve gotten a decent portfolio under your belt, it’s time to start selling your wares. First up, it’s advisable to get representation. Speak to your local Illustration or Artist Societies to find reputable agents that can help you get commissioned work. Make sure your work is strong enough, and be realistic about the volume of work that you’ll get early on. It takes time and persistence to get paid work in any field, and professional hand lettering is no different. Commercial lettering jobs aren’t the only way to get paid, though. You can also try your hand at font-making, stock illustration, or diversifying your design projects until you’re successful enough to concentrate solely on lettering as an income source.

5. Network.

This doesn’t mean handing out business cards at conferences (although it can). We mean being up to date and including your portfolio on all forms of social media. Have an up-to-date portfolio site too, and be consistent with your personal brand everywhere your work is seen online. Follow, like and comment on work that you (genuinely) like. Share previews of your WIP (work in progress). Reach out to others for mentorship and be generous with those who seek advice from you. Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson swear by hand-written thank you notes. So if someone if you make contact with someone, what better opportunity to promote your special skills than a hand-crafted letter?

6. Arm yourself.

Finally, as we said above, no artist works in a vacuum. This applies equally well to the topic of arming yourself with the latest design assets like vector graphics, photography and typefaces. One of the beautiful things about hand-lettering is how authentic it is. It allows the artist to painstakingly craft a piece of art right there on the page. But that doesn’t mean you’ll need to start from scratch every time. Here at Creative Market, we have a wide variety of graphic elements to help you complement your work. Whether that’s the perfect photo for your instagram feed, a watercolor graphic element to use as a backdrop for your letterforms, or a hand-written typeface to learn and practice from – we’ve got everything you need and more.
So there you have it. A *handful* of tips on how to improve your hand-lettering, and hopefully become good enough at it to get paid at the same time. We wish you every success along your handcrafted journey. Do you have any other tips on how lettering artists can succeed? Let us know in the comments below.
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Peter M
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