I wonder if Ina Garten just woke up one day with impeccable taste and knew exactly which fancy olive oil she preferred. It’s possible, but not likely. Filling your toolbox — or, in my case, the collection of empty boxes and candle jars that my husband will definitely throw away first in the event of my passing — is usually a process that happens over many years, with tough lessons sprinkled throughout. My process of finding my favorite things included a lot of scouring the internet for others’ favorite things, trying the different tools out, and deciding if they work for me, too. Maybe that’s what has brought you here! Welcome. Happy scouring. I hope I can help.
I started my calligraphy journey with a kit from The Lettered Bride by Ashley Lurcott (I’d link, but no longer available anywhere!). It was comprehensive, but basic, and served as a perfect introduction to using these weird little things called nibs. I recommend finding something similar on Amazon just to get the juices flowing.
What you’ll learn very quickly is that everyone has a different grip, level of pressure, and overall lettering style. This means that a nib that I loooooove may be too sensitive for your heavy hand. Trial and error is the name of the game, folks.
I get all of my calligraphy supplies from John Neal Bookseller. Here are my faves:
Hiro / Leonardt #40 Nib (Blue Pumpkin)
Brause Steno Nib 361
Brause 66EF Nib
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Iridescent Ink: Copper Plate Gold, Copper, Bronze, Nickel
Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White Ink
GADGETS (necessary, not in a ~baby-wipe-warmer~ kind of way)
Topolino Magnetic Stirrer
We R Memory Keepers Laser Square & Mat (I have the Slider Writer, which is no longer in production, but same-diff)
Another trial and error situation for me, but I will try to save you some splinters. I get all of my wood from Home Depot. I bring in a diagram of how I want them to make cuts, usually so I can maximize each 48x96” board to get the most 24x36” and 24x48” pieces — my most popular sizes. I like birch wood best. Then, I bring it home and (have Daniel) sand it down and stain it. I’ll include some supplies that we’ve found make this process SO MUCH EASIER. Last step is to seal it before I letter it. This makes the ink glide more easily, and not soak into the wood as much. I am so excited to share these tools. They have each saved me about 500 hours of my life.
PREPPING THE WOOD
Varathane Special Walnut Classic Wood Interior Stain: My favorite walnut tone
HDX Terry Staining Pads: Saves you rags and brushes and a whole lot of mess
Varathane Satin Water-Based Polyurethane: Use a sponge brush to apply this reeeeal thick on top and let cure!
White Stabilo Pencils: Do all of your planning with these babies because they come off with water!
White Uchida Marvy Deco Color Broad Point Paint Markers: These are supes permanent and opaque, guys!
My best recommendation for sourcing acrylic is to NOT go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. I see that everywhere, but I don’t understand the suggestion when there are plastic wholesalers everywhere! Find a plastics supplier near you, make a friend, and send him or her the sizes and thicknesses that you want. You may be the only person in line for pick-up that has ever ordered a 5x7” piece of plastic and/or does not work for a commercial construction company, but whatever — it’s cheaper, faster, and better.
You may also see affordable acrylic on Amazon. I have had some luck with this in a pinch, but you really want to control the thickness of the acrylic. If you want to letter a large sign, you and your clients will not be happy with a flappy piece of thin plastic. You might need a .25” thick piece. Quality matters, folks!
I recommend mapping your design out on a piece of butcher paper first. Then, WINDEX THAT SUCKER to get the oils off or you will deal with bleeding ink. My favorite markers are linked above, too — Uchida Deco Color Paint Markers. Super permanent, won’t come off without a violent show of force, but so opaque and perfect.
NOTE: You might read on other hand-letterers blogs that they use water-based markers that come off with Windex and allow them to reuse acrylic. I do not like scratched acrylic, and I do not like making clients worry about smudging my work on the day, and I really, really (prepare for honesty here) do not like managing rentals — barf — so all of my pieces are permanent and yours to keep. To each, their own, though — find what works for you!
PAPER & PRINTING
After a few years of paying way too much for paper at Paper Source (which I love, but why pay retail when you are a wholesaler, right?), I decided to become an Envelopments Dealer. I love it. I use them for about 75% of all of my paper and printing needs. It’s easy, it’s efficient, and they offer tons of printing methods (foil stamping, letterpress, etc.). I love having all of those options in one place. I’ll list all of my favorite paper and printing sources below!
Indigo Ink: I use them when I find envelopes somewhere and need to send them to be digitally printed — they are awesome!
Canon PIXMA Pro-100: Love having this at home for quick projects, styled shoots, etc.!
Again, happy scouring — and happy trial and error-ing! Hope this is helpful. What did I miss? Let me know!