In hand-lettering, calligraphy or graphic design in general, one must constantly evolve. And that starts with observation.
Those who claim they never take inspiration from existing work for their creations… Bullshit. You can be inspired by nature and all the amazing things under the sky, but clearly, if you’ve never seen letters in your life, you’re not going to create wonders.
And that’s normal: each letter has a structure, elements that are essential to their recognition and to become impregnated with them and then detach from them, you have to observe! The idea is to be careful and to know the difference between inspiration and plagiarism (but that could lead to another article because the subject is as vast as it is complex).
In this article, I present to you the three best calligraphy books in my opinion, why I love them and what they can do for you if you don’t know them yet. Of course, there are others, and of course, I haven’t read them all: it’s a subjective opinion, but it can guide you through.
The Golden Secrets Of Lettering by Martina Flor
I received this one last Christmas and read it in one sitting. It develops the whole creative process around lettering, from the sketch to the finalization.
You can feel that Martina put a lot of care in this book, everything is very clear, structured and concise. You’ll find some really useful information: beyond the traditional anatomy of the letter and the jargon, you’ll learn lots of tips and tricks to correct the optical effects on your lettering.
And frankly, it makes a difference, I hadn’t learned so many things at once in a long time. For example, did you know that the dots on the suspension points are smaller than the final dot? I didn’t.
The Lettering Workshops by Francis Chouquet
I only discovered Francis Chouquet only recently – when this book came out, in fact (because apparently I live in a cave).
Francis Chouquet is a bit of a reference in lettering in France and Switzerland, he is one of the administrators of the group ‘Je me mets au lettering’ aka ‘Les Apprentis Lettreurs’ group on Facebook which has about 10 000 members. This book is divided into 5 workshops, with progressive exercises to practice different styles of lettering.
His book is perfect for beginners – perhaps a little less for experienced letter writers (though) – because it really takes the basics of letter writing and offers a learning experience.
The idea is to go through the book at the same time as you practice. There are also pieces of inspiration from queens and kings of lettering and calligraphy (like Martina Flor, Tyrsa, Ken Barber…) and it’s always nice to have a variety of references to explore.
In Progress by Jessica Hische
A concise and easy to remember name. Seriously, Jessica Hische, she’s a bit of a lettering guru. At the beginning of the book, she exposes her tools, her equipment and some very interesting techniques around her process as a freelancer.
Then she details all the phases of her creative process, from brainstorming to the finished product. Vectorization is a well-developed part that is worth reading in-depth: we learn the technical basics of the Béziers curves and many tips to facilitate the process.
For example, always start with a wire skeleton of the lettering and keep a version of it so that you can return to the structure if you change your mind.
Once the whole process is broken down, Jessica shows how it fits into the real client projects she has worked on. We find the preparatory sketches, those that were not retained by the client, and the various adjustments.
I hope you enjoyed this little selection. Don’t hesitate to tell me what you thought about these books!