Tools: Brushes and Pens for Lettering

When I plan an edition of a book I know I am limited to the styles of metal type stashed in drawers in my studio: Caslon Oldstyle and Univers, some Bodoni, Bembo, and limited quantities of some other pretty faces. When I'm making just one book, however, rather than a multiple, I have to choose what style, size, and color, and how I want to execute them. Each style has a certain character to it and can enhance or detract from the text. 

For lettering tools, I generally choose from: a crow quill pen; a pointed nib; a ruling pen; and a variety of sizes of round and flat brushes. For reference, I thought it might be interesting to test them here and look at quality and brand as well. Here are my explorations.

Left to right and top to bottom: 
#3 round; #4 round; #6 round; #6 bright; #8 flat shader; #0 round; #00 (2/0) round

All are short-handled watercolor brushes except 
the blue-handled bright, which is an acrylic/oil brush.

#3 round. A medium small brush: I was able to use it for lettering in a few books. 
This is a Loew-Cornell brand, known as "economy" or "student" grade for a reason.
They are crappy brushes. You can see where I had to trim errant bristles.
They don't hold their point well and tend to look like they have bedhead.
You can see what happens when the hairs are split in the top word.
Another brand of this size would be better for detailed work.

#4 is a little larger. 
Too large for lettering in small books, but fine for larger ones. 
Again, the crappy brand, but this one hasn't been used as much.

#6. Larger still. 
Fine for lettering on big sheets of painted paper.
Still the crappy brand. And I mean crappy: on one of these the ferrule 
(that's the metal part that holds the bristles) came off 
and I had to glue it back to the wood handle with Tacky Glue.

#6 bright. 
This is a Blick student grade brush, but still better than the others.
It's fine, but I don't adore using it. Since it has a flat edge I could count up four widths
to find the x-height for the letters.

This #8 flat shader is really too big for books (and for this tiny card! bleh!), 
but excellent for painted paper lettering if you want
boxy letters or more pronounced thick and thin strokes.

#0. round. 
I just bought this brush and am trying it out for the first time here.
It is tiny and pretty springy, holds the point and easy to use.
It's a Utrecht brand. Not bad. 
I'm definitely more comfortable with a smaller brush.

#00. round.
Even smaller than the one above and a Blick "Master Synthetic."
It handled well. This and the #0 may be my new favorite lettering brushes.

I tend to be partial to pens because I can control the ink and the lettering better.
These are the two I most often use: the crow quill and a regular pointed nib in a holder.

The crow quill will give you a line as fine as the #00 brush.
It can be scratchy for some people.
Do not press down hard when the ink runs out or the point will break.
You have to be sensitive to the amount of ink you have or need to add
with the dropper.

This nib is much more flexible than the crow quill and writes almost as small.
You can buy more nibs to fit the holder, and they are not very expensive.

This is an old ruling pen.

See how the bead of ink is suspended between the points by surface tension.
You can adjust the width, but it still leaves a thicker amount of ink on the paper.
It can be a little awkward to use, but it is fun to try. Also good for lettering on 
larger sheets of painted paper.

Size and shape matter. Quality of brush matters. These are only a few possibilities.


Gwen Buchanan said…
Great post and demo! One of my favourite drawing pens is the Crow quill... it is such a flexible drawing tool. Love it.
I am not a book artist or calligrapher, but this is a beautiful, artistic instructional post. I found it striking.