Please Note : full disclosure – this post contains affiliate links to books I own, recommend and genuinely love!
If it is not your first visit to this blog, you likely know that the majority of the calligraphy and lettering tips, techniques and tutorials are based around digital tools, and usually connected to the iPad and Procreate in one way or another.
But today I wanted to get tangible and share my top five lettering books with you! I believe it’s important to have a broad range of input to pull from, and books add an extra layer of depth to fuel your learning and inspiration.
I shortlisted the following books not just because they are a beautiful visual reference, but the techniques and knowledge contained within them can be applied to any medium, including the iPad. Learning this theory, and discovering why particular tools deliver the style they do and how it applies to an overall genre is a game-changer for your lettering work.
Even though we may buy our brushes in a digital form rather than at the local art store, they still need to accurately replicate traditional tools that come from an existing rich history. It helps to understand the details so you can better discern quality brushes and elevate your skills.
The Golden Secrets of Lettering by Martina Flor
In The Golden Secrets of Lettering, Martina Flor takes us through the steps of her process from sketching through to composition and digitizing. She also shares other less obvious tips she has developed over her many years of experience working with clients.
There’s a really interesting section at the beginning of the book where she studies examples of shop signage. She highlights common attributes that make this group of letters that work together to form a piece of lettering – the slant, the ligatures etc. and gives us an education on these terms and how they apply in practice.
There’s an extensive glossary of the ‘DNA of letters’ which covers the anatomy terms and some fantastic visual representations of the theories she explains.
Following this, there is then an in-depth review of lots of decorative lettering styles which serves as a treasure trove on inspiration.
Martina takes us through her method for composing a lettering layout from establishing hierarchy and visually distributing the letters to form the overall shape. There’s even a section at the back that speaks to the business side and offers advice on how to price your work.
This book makes the list because it is not only extremely practical and informative, but filled with beautifully executed examples. You really get a feel for Martina’s extensive experience and her classic style.
In Progress by Jessica Hische
Jessica Hische could be considered a celebrity of the design and typography world. Her client list includes the likes of Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers, Tiffany & Co and the New York Times to name a few, and she has several side projects that were extremely popular (which she calls ‘Procrastiworking’).
Her book ‘In Progress’ is an in-depth look at how she approaches a project from sketch to finished vector art. She starts the book by sharing some personal information about how her career took shape.
If you’re familiar with Jessica (particularly via her twitter feed), you’ll know she is a very open person by nature. This book is no different and her personality is obvious throughout.
Even the opening to the book is enough to warm your heart : “To all the teachers who helped mold my overly enthusiastic, pathologically optimistic younger self into someone able and excited to pass on knowledge to those who will follow my path. I am forever in your debt”.
Jessica’s design journey started when she began working for the incredibly talented designer, Louise Fili, in her New York studio. The Forward from Louise speaks of that time with Jessica, and describes her as having ‘boundless abilities’ and being ‘fearless’.
Jessica then moves to the practical by looking at the different styles of lettering and explaining the difference between ‘lettering’ and ‘calligraphy’.
Her approach to design is very thorough and she spends a good amount of time in the research and concept stage.
When describing her brainstorming process, she says ‘… (you might fall in love with a fancy bit of vintage lettering on Pinterest, but it won’t be an apropos starting point for every project). It’s through this process of research that the primordial ooze of ideas is formed – an ooze that will eventually evolve into concepts through brainstorming.’
She then moves into thumbnails and sketching out the idea and speaks on knowing how the tool influences the letters ‘use the principles of pens and brushes to determine how weight is applied to my letterforms’.
Jessica is well known for being a master of the bezier curve. She gives a lot of detailed tips on how to approach vector drawing and point plotting. The tips she shares are things it would take you years to learn on your own and this section alone is reason enough to get this book!
She is extremely talented and seems endlessly productive as she also just released a beautifully illustrated children’s book called ‘Tomorrow I’ll be Brave’.
It appears she’s a fan of the iPad too – you can see a class where she takes us through designing a book cover in Procreate on Skillshare here.
Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters
This book is very special to me and was the very first reference I studied for learning Copperplate Calligraphy using a traditional dip pen & ink.
The structure is clearly presented and the information isn’t overwhelming, but helpful. Starting with direction on how to draw up your own guide sheets at the correct angle, looking at the tools in detail and then moving on to learning how to form the basic strokes for lowercase letters.
There’s helpful tips as well as showing common mistakes to avoid for each example. The lowercase letters are grouped according to common stroke components, ie. Group one is ‘The Simplest Letters : i, t, j, a, d, g, n, m, u, y’. So rather than alphabetical order, you learn in terms of the strokes that these group of letters have in common.
Then is then a section for connecting the letters and writing words. It then covers the basic strokes for the Uppercase Letters, and the Uppercase Letters themselves. I wish there was a bit more information on flourishing, but it really is an excellent resource for learning traditional form of Copperplate Calligraphy.
Scripts by Steven Heller and Louise Fili
Make sure you have a napkin nearby, this book is definitely drool worthy! Less of an informative or instructional book, but rather a repository of 275 examples of script covering ‘The Golden Age’ which ran from 19th to mid-20th centuries.
The introduction talks about the evolution of scripts from the early handwritten letters, through to the development of typefaces. Tommy Thompson, author of ‘Script Lettering for Artists’ (which is also sitting on my shelf at home) is quoted as saying script was developed ‘to its finest stage of beauty during the 17th and 18th centuries by European penmen and engravers’. Then using these specimens, the script typeface was born, and moved in and out of fashion throughout the early 20’s – 30’s.
There are hundreds of examples, beautifully collated and presented covering a range of specimens from books, magazines, newspapers, adverts, stationery and packaging.
If you are not familiar with Louise Fili, you can take a peek inside her studio in this Skillshare class.
Dangerous Curves, Mastering Logotype Design by Doyald Young
Doyald Young was a Typography Designer and teacher. He taught lettering and logo design at Art Center College of Design since 1955. He passed away in 2011.
Within this book he shares his sketches, drawings and developed logo designs from over 50 years. There are a staggering 900 of Doyald’s sketches included, ranging from corporate design, entertainment, product, monograms and fonts.
Here’s a small excerpt from the introduction by Nikolaus Hafermaas ‘… Speed is an illusion. The dynamic shapes of Doyald’s designs are actually perfected at a snail’s pace through countless iterations, fuelled by his impeccable sense of elegance and controlled by the razor-sharp precision of his steady hand.’
This book isn’t going to be for everyone as it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s contents are beyond beautiful to see behind the curtain of this meister’s work.
Are any of these books on your bookshelf? Which are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below!