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Try Your Hand at Lettering (and Get the Tricks to Look Like a Pro)

In these modern times of instant messaging and email, it's especially sweet to receive a handwritten and heartfelt note -- even more so when it's adorned in a way that has it bursting out of your mailbox. On these pages, learn how to unleash a simple skill and easily embellish cards and gifts, as taught by a professional.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

Relax. Stay loose. This isn't calligraphy. You don't have to string along each letter in continuous, uniform strokes -- or have the pressure of permanent ink. Rather, pencil in characters first, then embellish and add color. Valerie McKeehan, owner of chalk-art shop Lily & Val ( and author of The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering (Workman), calls it "the art of drawing letters." The effect is charmingly old-fashioned yet freshly modern all at once.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

Make a Statement

These cheerful notes look as sweet as the messages they convey. Pink ink on similarly colored paper makes a nice display -- or go high-contrast to sing out your sentiments.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

1. Create a Guide

Remember how helpful that writing paper was in first grade? Same idea here. On stationery or a gift item, decide where you'd like your message to appear. Then, with a number-two pencil and a ruler, lightly draw two parallel lines -- one for your letters to sit on, the other to mark how high you’d like them to go. (As you get the hang of it, you can also try lettering along a curved baseline for a playful look.) Etch out the lines on scrap paper, too.


2. Do a Sketch

Most fonts originate from one of three standard typeface styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Choose one, or explore more options in your computer's font menu or online. (Search "hand lettering," for example.) Practice your word on scrap paper: Start with the general shape of each letter, then build on that to craft each character. Once you're comfort able, replicate it lightly in pencil on the desired surface.


3. Add a Little Flourish

Experiment with decorative touches, such as curlicues and leafy laurels. These little accents pack big personality and can help you hit the right note, whether you're going for a lighthearted, serious, or celebratory tone. Test them on scrap paper before working on the real thing.


4. Make It Bold

Fill in the strokes with colored pencil, ink, or marker, working from the top down to avoid smudging. Anchor your wrist on the table to steady your hand, and allow the ink to dry completely before erasing your guides and any stray pencil marks.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

The Write Stuff


For the smoothest, most brilliant results, consider our favorite tools: Try the ultrafine points on Le Pen markers for small-scale projects, and the broad points on Tombow Dual Brush pens for larger formats. We love Sakura Gelly Roll pens, used for the gifts on page 107, because they glide effortlessly along paper. Look for them at your local art-supplies shop.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

What's Your Type?


Match your font to your message. The minimalist look of sans serif, right, reads as casual and unfussy. Serif, with its tiny lines at the end of each stroke, feels classic. Script's elegant loops instantly elevate anything.

Photography by: Ryan Liebe

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered


A handwritten name or phrase makes a basic notebook giftworthy and turns a plain box into a keepsake. Personalize nonpaper items, too, with an embellished belly band, sticker, or tag.


Clockwise from top left: Luggage tag, by GiGi New York, $40, Rectangular box set, by Hay, in Red, $45 for 5, Diagonal Striped Bigger Bitty bags, in Aqua, $6 for 20, Address label (on bag), by Avery, 1" by 25/8", $7 for 10 sheets,


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