Here are 5 of my best quick tips that can help you to better your watercolor lettering.
Does watercolor lettering feel difficult or advanced to you? It may seem that way, because the results of beautifully done watercolor lettering can look very professional! But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be an advanced technique. With these quick tips, you can learn how to use watercolors to create beautiful handlettering, even as a beginner.
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Watercolor Lettering Tip #1: Forget What You Learned About Letter Formation
I can’t even believe I’m typing this out, because I teach people how to handletter using proper letter formation. And I still do believe that is an important step to learn before getting to this point. There is a quote that says, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” (Picasso) and I agree! BUT… now that you do know your letter formation, we’re going to just forget all of that for a minute.
Because here’s the thing, watercolor lettering is not the same as lettering with a brush pen. You are no longer just controlling a felt brush tip. You’re controlling the bristles of the brush and the water that you added to it and the consistency of the paint that you’re using. It’s a lot.
And this trick can make that so so so much easier.
I’m going to give you the example of an oval, because I think most of us can agree that ovals are tricky! When you write your oval from top to bottom and then back up again, it’s easy for your brush to flop over at some point. This gets even trickier when we’re creating those same movements like in the bottom of a lower case s.
But because of the way that the water connects to other places of water on your paper, you can use that to your advantage by drawing half of your stroke, going to where the letter might end and then drawing backwards to meet up with your first stroke.
And all of a sudden it’s incredibly clear to me why I chose youtube to host my hand lettering tutorials. 😉 If you’re not 100% sure what I mean, watch the video below (at the 17:23 mark!) for an example of this! But my main point is, don’t be afraid to break the “rules” to get your letters looking beautiful!
If you need to paint backwards? That’s ok! If you had to paint your thin “upstrokes” by actually painting a very thin line going downwards… that’s ok, too!
Watercolor Lettering Tip #2: You Can Fix Your Mistakes
This is another step where I want you to use the medium that you’re lettering with to your advantage. Watercolor is forgiving because you can fix your mistakes.
Now, I don’t mean that you can erase it or anything like that. But if your downstroke isn’t completely thickened, that’s ok! Just go back and thicken it. If you didn’t bring the end of your letter up far enough, just drag a bit of it on. Don’t be afraid to play around with what you’ve already laid down onto your watercolor paper until it looks a bit more polished.
As a disclaimer, for this step to work, you should really be using watercolor paper as it will allow the water to rest on the paper for a bit before soaking in. This allows a bit more manipulation of your watercolors. I personally use this watercolor paper. I like to buy the large size and cut it down for smaller pieces of watercolor art.
Watercolor Lettering Tip #3: Your Watercolors Don’t Matter
They do matter.
But my point is that you can still create beautiful watercolor lettering using very inexpensive watercolors. The trick is that you have to get to know your watercolors. It’s ok to test out new products and splurge on professional grade art supplies. But I don’t want you to assume that a struggle with watercolor is due to whatever product you might be using.
Buying more supplies is super fun. But it will not correct a lack of technique, practice and persistence!
I have seen many watercolor letterers create beautiful pieces (and even sell products that have been digitized) using this very inexpensive watercolor set. A few of my personal favorites are: these, these & these.
Watercolor Lettering Tip #4: Learn To Control Your Water
Controlling your water is one of the trickier parts of watercolor lettering for me. I love to use a water brush and I wanted to share a few of the tricks that I’ve learned when it comes to watercolor lettering with a water brush:
- Waterbrushes require a very gentle squeeze, very often. If you are impatient (hand raised!), you may try to do this too firmly and end up with a big drop on top of your watercolor lettering piece. That can most definitely ruin what you’re trying to do, so quick gentle squeeze very often are key.
- Don’t mix your paint with your water brush. I have made the mistake before of grabbing a few colors and mixing them into a beautiful new tint for my lettering. By the time I was done, the brush tip was completely saturated with watercolor. This made it very difficult to get the water to flow from my brush. I now use a much larger paintbrush to wet my palette or mix colors.
- Use two cups of water. This tip isn’t as much about water control as it is to control the colors that bleed in your watercolor lettering. I recommend using 1 cup of water to clean the paint off of your water brush and then the other cup to rinse it afterwards. If you simply use 1 cup of water to clean your brushes, you will turn that water dark as soon as you rinse off a dark color. Then if you go to use a lighter color, you will likely tint your lighter colors an undesirable color. You can also use a paper towel to pat your brush a bit after rinsing.
Watercolor Lettering Tip #5: Think About Your Paper
I have said before that you don’t need to use watercolor paper when practicing watercolor lettering. I say this not because I don’t see the value in watercolor paper, but because I don’t want to waste expensive watercolor paper when just practicing basic drills and alphabets.
A large portion of watercolor lettering is the technique of actually writing with a brush. This requires lots of practice, which in my opinion doesn’t necessarily need to be done on watercolor paper. I do recommend a thicker piece of paper like this one so that your paper doesn’t get too wet and tear. But actual watercolor paper can be very expensive when you’re running through pages a day of practice.
But… when you’re passed the stage of just practicing letters, watercolor paper is a huge game changer.
The way that the watercolor soaks into the paper and dries with beautifully darkened edges is something so pretty that I can’t help but love it.
And to be honest, if you’ve been practicing with regular paper, you will probably find this to be an even bigger improvement in your lettering. You may notice a bit more time to correct those mistakes and add to your watercolor that’s already on the paper. It should be an immediate confidence boost for you!
I hope that this was helpful for you and has inspired you to consider creating handlettering through watercolors. Have you ever tried watercolor lettering? I’d love to hear below! If you’re looking for advice on what to purchase, be sure to check out my list of favorite watercolor supplies here.