011: Hand Lettering with Natalia Lumby

Updated: Sep 26



Today is a special day for several reasons: today marks the 11th episode of my podcast and also the second interview episode! Annnnnd the interview is with my very good friend and colleague, Natalia Lumby. Annnnnnnnnd we’re talking about the very fun and trendy topic of hand lettering. I’m excited!


Let’s begin with a little about our topic today: hand lettering.


Before we can understand hand lettering, we must first understand the primary difference between ‘hand lettering’ and ‘calligraphy’. While hand lettering is the art of drawing letters, calligraphy is the art of writing letters. It’s a subtle difference but the former is much more strongly rooted in drawing artistic forms while the latter is penmanship. Hand lettering is much more about experimentation, while calligraphy was the primary method of writing books before the advent of printing (called ‘illuminated manuscripts’) and after it, too. All books before the mid 15th Century were written by hand. This was obviously an incredibly time consuming process. Gutenberg modelled his famous typeface, Blackletter, after the calligraphic letter forms of the time. Furthermore, hand lettering is most commonly used as display type (for short passages and for emphasis), which calligraphy is most commonly used for long blocks of text. Both hand lettering and calligraphy have rules and best practices, however there’s more room to play and break convention when hand lettering.


While we’re at it, let’s throw the term ‘typography’ into the mix, which is different from both hand lettering and calligraphy because it refers to a repeated system of letters. When using a digital font, typography refers to taking letterforms already in existence (typefaces) and arranging it in an aesthetically pleasing way for an intended audience. Just to throw in a twist, hand lettered or calligraphic type drawn by hand can (and sometimes are) digitized to create a font. When selecting and using these hand lettered or calligraphic fonts to create digital design projects, you’ve moved into the realm of typography.


While typography is like taking a box of spaghetti and a jar of spaghetti sauce and making dinner, calligraphy is making spaghetti and sauce from scratch. Hand lettering also requires making pasta and sauce from scratch, but you can have fun playing with different pasta shapes and infusing unique flavours in the sauce. Hungry yet?


Now a brief history of today’s guest: Natalia is an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University who works in the school of Graphic Communications Management. She’s an award-winning instructor who has a passion for typography and design in the realm of consumer packaging. Her latest work includes research and book chapters for the beverage industry. She also has a passion for hand lettering and she’s taught workshops and produced beautiful work on a variety of occasions. For my birthday a few years ago, Natalia took me to a watercolour hand lettering workshop. I was not terribly good at it but it sure was fun! It was also fun watching the other participants’ reactions when Natalia’s letterforms were near perfect from the first stroke.



Key Notes From My Discussion with Natalia:

  • The feeling of handmade in branding has made a huge comeback

  • Letters are any easy place to start to practice drawing because we’ve all been drawing letters since we were preschoolers

  • It takes a long time to become excellent at hand lettering, but it only takes a short time to become okay, which is encouraging for beginners

  • Strong lettering should have similar tilt/axis across all letters

  • Strong lettering is adequately spaced out

  • Paper makes all the difference when it comes to quality of the lettering

  • A brush pen works well, but so does a fat-tipped Crayola marker

  • Procreate and the Apple Pencil for iPad help Natalia get a final, usable piece of work fastest


Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

Photos: Natalia Lumby


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