Letterform Illustration Process

Hello friends! I wanted to share a glimpse into the step-by-step process I take with my letterform illustrations. Below you will find a breakdown of the steps I follow, materials I use, as well as some inspiration to get started. Enjoy!

After I've decided on a letterform I like to gather some resources for color samples. Pinterest is a great resource for such things. I usually already have a good idea of the color palette I plan to incorporate but seeing some other combinations can spark some additional ideas! I also like to gather photos of items to visualize my floral ideas and texture hints. Below is the color structure I wanted to highlight in this piece.


My working methods have shifted slightly as I now use a brush pen for the line work. However, I've included all the materials I've used up to this point so you can consider some alternatives!


1. Waterproof India Ink - This is the ink I used when I painted my line work with a small brush. Works well, but can be a bit transparent at times.
2. Carbon Ink Cartridges - I use these ink refills with my Kuretake Brush Pen (#3). I use these as the pen is not sold with waterproof ink as an option. Luckily, these fit the pen perfectly!
3. Kuretake Brush Pen - This pen has quickly become my favorite tool for line work. Not having to continuously reload a paintbrush is a great reason to switch over!
4. Grumbacher Sable Rounds (size 3/0) - As small as they come, this size is great for inking as well as for very fine detail with paint.
5. Grumbacher Sable Rounds (size 0) - This brush is what I use for the majority of the painting. The tapered tip allows for easy maneuvering and deliberate application.

As for paints, I use high grade acrylics. Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red Medium, and Ultramarine Blue. If you know color theory, you can essentially mix any hue you might need with those three (plus Titanium White and Ivory Black). There are a few other colors that can lean cool/warm, but these basic three can get you started.

Now that you know what I work with for materials, it's time to start the step-by-step process. I've listed out the basic phases that my illustrations go through from start to finish!


After choosing the letter to work with I sketch all details to scale. Doing this is helpful as I can transfer my illustration directly to the working surface without losing quality or important features. Next, I prepare a piece of tracing paper with graphite as this is what will transfer as I copy over my illustration.

In the first image here, you can see the illustration board is down first, then the tracing paper that is covered in graphite (facing down), and on top of both is my letterform illustration. The following image shows what happens when you trace over your drawing and the graphite is being pressed to the surface. This is such a handy technique that has saved me countless hours!

Once my illustration is transferred to the board, I pre-mix all my paints and block-in the designated areas. For sake of demonstration I began the inking process early but I usually cover the entire illustration with paint before I ink the line work.

At last, the finished piece! These usually take anywhere between 14 to 20+ hours. It may sound like a good bit of time but that does include everything from beginning to end -- and it is extremely rewarding!

I hope you enjoyed seeing a glimpse into the process of my illustrated letterforms. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to share this with someone who might find it useful too!