I’ve started reading ‘Pen Lettering’ by calligrapher Ann Camp with a view to improving my understanding of letter forms and (hopefully) upping my skills when it comes to wielding them.

Through my various stints of creative education and now working as a freelance designer, I’ve picked up basic knowledge and skills for lettering and typography. I can comfortably choose typefaces and lay out text in a pleasing way, but often when I attempt to hand-draw letters, I can come unstuck. So I decide it was time for a booster.

The first few pages of Ann Camp’s 1958 introduction to lettering were illuminating. She explains concepts such as the spacing between letters, teaching that this should not be worked out mechanically because of their varying shapes. For example, letters made of upright strokes should have more spacing between them than letters made of curved strokes, which should sit closer together. The aim being to keep the white spacing between letters optically proportionate at all times.  Whilst I have always aimed for good spacing in my designs, I have never really learned about the theory or logic behind it.


…After the first few pages, she introduces some exercises, and that’s when things got HARD! I had to re-read her task explanation at least 5 times and apply a tonne of brainpower before I could properly get to work. In steps reminiscent of the ‘How to Draw an Owl’ meme (see below), she asks you to essentially rule out lines and copy the skeleton alphabet.


I’ve persevered. So far just practicing the lower case, the next step is upper case and then using both cases to form some words. The skeleton alphabet helps beginners to understand the basic form and characteristics of letters, before moving on to more complex stuff.

A sneaky peak ahead has shown me that the next exercise involves double bound pencils and what looks like first steps of calligraphy, so i’m keen to get there. I find it can be difficult to keep up self initiated challenges such as this one, where the results aren’t always instantaneous or glamorous. But I’ll stick with it for now and see where it takes me!