A little peek into my lettering and calligraphy library of books, and why I consider them must-have books for either learning hand lettering and calligraphy, or just getting inspired. I also mention a couple of books to guide you in case you want to start making money with your artwork. So keep reading!
I know that starting with lettering and calligraphy can seem super overwhelming, but trust me, this series will take all that pressure off. I will cover all the basics and set you up for a great beginning in hand lettering & brush calligraphy. (or maybe “brush up” on some forgotten content)
If you are *just* starting, the very first thing you should grab after pens and paper is a good book, but how to know which lettering or calligraphy book to get? There are just so many out there.
Well, that is the reason why I am sharing my absolute favorite books and the ones that you should DEFINITELY add to your library, whether you are a beginner or advanced letterer.
Whether you want a book to learn how to draw letters, for inspiration, or to learn about lettering and calligraphy history. You will find a book on this list for you. I separated them into easy categories, and I am showing you my favorite pages of each one, so choose one and hunker down!
But before we go into the details of each one, I just want to share a little encouragement: I see so many people try and get frustrated so fast when trying something new.
And with lettering and Calligraphy, just like with anything that you are learning from scratch, intentional practice is the backbone. Just like you would not expect to have hard-rock abs after one day at the GYM, you can't expect to be a master lettering artist overnight. BUT don't get discouraged and don't give up before you start to see progress!
This is only the beginning of a wonderful journey! And now, let's dive in!
Practice and Instruction lettering & calligraphy books
1The ABC of Custom Lettering: A Practical Guide to Drawing Letters by Ivan Castro: The very first book I would recommend, whether you are interested in Calligraphy or Lettering, is this one. Ivan Castro is an amazing Designer from Spain, his work is truly breathtaking, and has a very particular way of teaching.
This book unlike some of the other ones listed does not have step-by-step instructions on how to draw letters because Ivan believes that each individual should explore and create their own style. BUT it has everything you need to start and understand the basics of calligraphy and lettering.
The reason why I think this book is so great for beginners is because it starts with calligraphy so that you can understand how letters are constructed, where the thick and thins go and then -after you understand why- goes into the lettering portion, that way you have a base and understanding of letter construction once you start “drawing” them.
I also like that it defines the terms “calligraphy” and “lettering” to easily understand, what it's NOT lettering –like “brush lettering” (but no worries, I have a whole post where we are going deep into the real definitions here =] (you can also find this book in Spanish here)
2The Art of Calligraphy: A Practical Guide to the Skills and Techniques by David Harris: I love this book because of how much it covers the history of calligraphy and different historic styles.
It's a great guide if you are interested in more than just the script calligraphy styles, as you can see in my pictures, this is a step-by-step kind of book, where the practice portion is explained with different pictures and diagrams, it has easy to follow directions and list materials you should check out.
I also love how it explains the origins of each alphabet, overall a very solid book BUT if you are looking for a more “modern calligraphy” style kind of book, this is not it.
3The Big Awesome Book of Hand & Chalk Lettering Paperback by Dina Rodriguez: This book is also a step-by-step kind of book, Dina walk you on how to construct letters and the materials she uses, she also shares the whole process when constructing a piece, from concept and stretches all the way to the final piece. This book is a solid option that covers everything you'll need to know if you are planning to embark on the chalk-lettering journey or if you want to paint letters on a chalkboard.
Dina's is very straightforward and easy to understand, the book has 15 different alphabet styles—from Black Letter and “melting” to circus and Victorian, as well as serifs and scripts—along with numerous borders, corners, banners, bursts, frames, and other accents. It also has illustrative examples for each lettering style and more than 100 step-by-step illustrations.
4Chalk Art & Lettering 101: An Introduction to Chalkboard Lettering, Illustration, Design, and More by Amanda Arneill & Shannon Roberts: Now I might be a little biased for this book, because both Amanda and Shannon are IG-friends and I love what both of them do in the lettering world, so when they teamed up for this book I knew that I had to include it in my favorite book's list.
The book is a step-by-step instruction and very beginner-friendly. These ladies teamed up to teach all you need to know to create your own chalk artwork. It includes the basics of making and seasoning your own chalkboards, various alphabets, and lettering styles, steps, and processes in chalk art, including banners, flowers, and more.
5Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe: I love how in-depth Molly goes in this book sharing examples and practical tips to learn and improve in modern calligraphy, she shares from materials to super handy tips to get you started, the book includes examples that you can trace (using extra paper that is not included).
In this book, she also shares projects and examples so you can apply and practice what you are learning. Also, she has classes in Skillshare that you should definitely check out!
6Hand-Lettering Ledger: A Practical Guide to Creating Serif, Script, Illustrated, Ornate, and Other Totally Original Hand-Drawn Styles by Mary Kate McDevitt: I know that a lot of people have complained so much about the number of blank pages in this book, and I get it because I also don't like to draw directly on my books (I like separate tracing paper or notebook for that).
But if you leave that little detail on the side, the information in this book is great for beginners and Mary Kate is such an amazing artist, her examples are lovely and if you want to learn from her, she also has classes in Skillshare that you should look into.
History of lettering & calligraphy books
7A History of Lettering: Creative Experiment and Letter Identity by Nicolete Gray: The best way to start on lettering is by taking a look at what has been done. Nicolete Gray puts lettering back into its cultural context, demonstrating how it changes in relation to western art and society and providing examples of lettering from a broad spectrum of techniques and sources.
It traces letterforms through the centuries, looking at periods of experiment, retrenchment or return to historical or theoretical sources, paying special attention to the influences contributing to these changes.
Inspirational lettering books
8The Golden Secrets of Lettering: Letter Design from First Sketch to Final Artwork Hardcover by Martina Flor: This is a comprehensive, beautifully illustrated guide to hand lettering. While it's not a step-by-step kind of book in the sense that you will be instructed to make letters.
Martina shares her whole process with easy-to-understand instructions and guidelines, plenty of inspirational examples, and hundreds of hand sketches and illustrations, She shows us how she transforms her initial lettering concepts and hand-drawn sketches into a well-shaped, exquisite piece of digital lettering that can be sold and published. Martina Flor is an amazing Argentinian lettering artist, and I've been admiring her work for the longest time, so when she released her book I was beyond thrilled (You can also find her book in Spanish here)
9In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist's Sketchbook and Process by Jessica Hische: This book reveals the creative and technical process behind the amazing work of Jessica Hische. You can see her “process” from conceptual thumbnail sketches to her polished finals for major clients such as Wes Anderson, NPR, and Starbucks.
The result is a well of inspiration and brass tacks information for designers who want to sketch distinctive letterforms and hone their skills. This highly visual book is an essential—and entirely enjoyable—resource for those who practice or simply appreciate the art of hand lettering. It's definitely the kind of book you want to “display” on your desk or coffee table because it's so cool.
10Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design's Golden Age by Steven Heller & Louise Fili: This book is great for those times you are feeling uninspired, it has such a great compilation of script lettering including different historical pieces and in different styles, it's more of a magazine format in the sense that the images are the main element.
Drawn from the Golden Age of scripts, from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, this is the first compilation of popular, rare, and forgotten scripts from the United States, Germany, France, England, and Italy. Featuring examples from a vast spectrum of sources―advertisements, street signs, type-specimen books, and personal letters.
11Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller & Lita Talarico: This is also an inspiration kind of book. It is a collection of typographic explorations and real designers and typographer's sketchbooks and doodles. This collection of typographic explorations, arranged by designers intimately reveals how over 90 of the world's leading designers and typographers continually strive to find new and exciting ways of communicating through letters and words. Established designer and up-and-coming talents.
12Geometry of Type: The Anatomy of 100 Essential Typefaces by Stephen Coles: This book explores 100 traditional and modern typefaces in detail, with a full spread devoted to each entry. Characters from each typeface are enlarged and annotated to reveal key features, anatomical details, and the finer, often-overlooked elements of type design, which shows how these attributes affect mood and readability.
The sidebar information lists the designer and foundry, the year of release and the different weights and styles available, while feature boxes explain the origins and best uses for each typeface, such as whether it is suitable for running text or as a display font for headlines. (it does not explore hand-lettering, but it does have some samples of script fonts) It's very helpful if you want to understand the kind of details that type designers consider when creating fonts.
13The Elements of Typographic Style: Version 4.0: 20th Anniversary Edition by Robert Bringhurst: Now this book might not be for everyone because it is highly technical, but if you are interested in designing type or a more in-depth book about type analysis, this is the book for you. This book is definitely not a light read, but the content is invaluable!
Renowned typographer and poet Robert Bringhurst bring clarity to the art of typography with this masterful style guide. Combining the practical, theoretical, and historical, this edition is completely updated, with a thorough revision and updating of the longest chapter, “Prowling the Specimen Books,” and many other small but important updates based on things that are continually changing in the field.
Creative business books
14Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines by Artists Guild Graphic: While this book is not about lettering it has been a lifesaver when it comes to creative work, I freelance quite a bit, so knowing how to price your work and to set different prices depending on the kind of platforms you are working, is a must.
But that information can be really hard to find, that is why this book is the best!
This is an indispensable resource for people who create graphic art and those who buy it. As the graphic art marketplace continues to evolve to meet the needs of both digital and print media and as clients struggle with shrinking budgets in the current economy, the need for up-to-date information on the business, ethical, and legal issues is greater than ever.
ps. Stop underselling your work!
15The Calligrapher's Business Handbook: Pricing and Policies for Lettering Artists by Molly Suber Thorpe: This is a guide to the best business practices and pricing strategies for calligraphers and lettering artists. The only complaint I've heard about this book is the fact that is super thin (71 pages), especially after reading the previous book (400 pages), it just doesn't feel like it is much material, granted this is very specific to Calligraphy and the way Mollie works, so if that is the specific thing you are looking for the content is more than good.
Molly does share her hard-earned insights to answer your most pressing business questions, and she has packed these pages with the advice you won’t find anywhere else, covering a range of topics for freelance calligraphers.
How to select the best book for you?
The first thing to consider would be, what are you expecting to get from the book? because if you are looking for step by step instructions on how to construct alphabets, that book would be a completely different one as if you just want to “get inspired” or are looking for more technical knowledge about lettering or Calligraphy.
Most of the negative reviews I've found from this kind of books all have in common the fact that people expected or wanted something different from the book. Like that one person that complained about “Typography sketchbook” to only contain pictures of different artist doodles XD (Oh silly!)
So guys, set your expectations accordingly =]
Also, when selecting a book, if you are not able to preview what it's inside. Or if there are no reviews for it, the best way to know if you are going to like it is to research the author. Check to see if they blog and if they teach things in social media. Chances are that if you like their teaching style, you will be comfortable with the way they lay out their books.
I hope you liked this selection and one of these books can help you in your creative journey! I personally love having all these books to help me get out of an inspiration-dry hump, or when I need to price a project and I have never worked with that kind of delivery before. These are also beautiful books, so they look great on bookshelves and all the authors are people I admire.
RELATED: Prefer online classes instead? Take a look at my blog post with the best online Calligraphy and lettering classes for beginners.
Stay tuned for more hand lettering and Calligraphy goodness coming to you next week! And if there's a particular subject you are struggling with and would like me to cover, just let me know in the comments or contact me!
Oh, If you want to check out my full list of favorite lettering tools, you can find it right here!
Happy creating! (and reading!)
Sunday 27th of September 2020
The ABC is really good. I've studied and read many books and online tutorials and took Sean McCabe's Learn Lettering course, but this (aside from the business aspects of that course) is the best resource I've found.
Monday 28th of September 2020
I also bought Chalk Art. I have been lettering for about a year now, but all of my chalk projects in the past have been a shot in the dark, off-center, and didn’t last. After reading this book I can go into projects confidently. I’ve already seen so much progress in my lettering and illustrations and now finally have the techniques to make my chalkboard dreams a reality!
Sunday 4th of March 2018
I am so excited about this post, I was contemplating getting the book by Dina, and now that I saw the inside and your review I'm 100% getting it! thank you so much, I'm pinning this for when I have more "play" money :)
Wednesday 7th of March 2018
Hi Patricia! I'm so glad this post helped you decide for Dina's book, I think it's a really cool one and packed with a lot of different styles, so definitely worth your $$ =]