Handwriting Day w/ Featured Artist Brenda McGilvra

This year for National Handwriting Day (January 23rd- sharing the same day as John Hancock’s Birthday), we are very happy to introduce you to our latest featured artist, Brenda McGilvra!

We’ve enjoyed getting to know Brenda as not only one of our customers, but more so as an amazing lettering artist! Have a look at some of her work here in our blog and read more about how it all happens!

(And for more information on any of the products mentioned in this blog, just click on their names to see their page in our Marker Supply webstore!)

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Getting Started

*How long have you been practicing hand lettering? Was there a specific thing or person that got you interested in it?

It was over 35 years ago that I attended a traditional calligraphy class.  I was hooked and from that point on, I was self-taught by hours of practicing and picking up calligraphy jobs along the way.  In 2016, after becoming an empty nester, I decided to pick up the pens again and I haven’t stopped creating. It was Instagram, and seeing posts from other letterers that fueled my desire to learn modern calligraphy and to share my art.  

*Which lettering markers did you first start with? Would you recommend them to beginners, or have you found something else you think might be better for folks just starting out?

Oh boy….what markers didn’t I try?  Ha, ha… I was picking EVERYTHING up in an effort to letter like other people, not realizing it wasn’t the pens that made them write well, but their foundation to lettering – drawing letters. I quickly decided what worked and what didn’t on each medium based on what was needed for the surface being lettered on. 

For lettering on paper, Tombow, is an excellent brand to start off with and they even have a Beginner Lettering Set which is perfect because it enables you to try both the small and large tips.  For beginners I recommend the Tombow hard tip or the Pentel Sign Brush Tip pens.  Once you feel confident in your letter formations then move to the Tombow soft tip pen.    

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Favorite Supplies

*Do you have certain markers that you always have on hand, your “go-to” choices when you are inspired to write?

I ALWAYS have Tombow brush pens, Sakura Micron monoline pens, Posca acrylic paint pens as well as Elmer’s Painters and Sharpie water/oil-based pens on hand.  I never know what type of job I will be asked to do.  This variety allows me to letter on paper, wood, glass/mirrors or chalkboards!

*Are there particular sizes or types of tips that you prefer to use?

Honestly, I love large brush tips because I seem to have more control, but using large pens isn’t always practical when working on a lettering piece for a client.  If I am lettering for an Instagram post, using a large tip is fun because it allows me to be more creative with blending and adding highlights etc… Tombow and Zig Brushables (another favorite!) have the perfect large tip because it is not too hard or soft which allows for great control.

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Beyond the Basics

Something we quickly noticed, and really love about Brenda’s lettering, is that her talents extend beyond basic markers on paper. She puts many different writing tools to use, and letters on a variety of surfaces. Not only does she utilize brush pens both big and small, but also adds effects with gel pens, colored pencils, and embossing markers. She also creates custom wood signs, globes, vases, and other objects with art & lettering using paint pens.

*When you branched out from just paper and started lettering on other objects, which projects did you try doing first? Any memorable favorites? 

When I branched out from just paper, I started off with wood.  It was easy to go to the hardware store and pick out the wood to cut and stain.  I love the effect of lettering on darker-stained wood with white paint markers. This process does take longer since using white painters requires two or three coats. 

My favorite job was for a wedding in which the client wanted aisle markers.  I lettered on six large pieces of wood that stood at each aisle of the outdoor ceremony and the bride was able to hang these as cherished memories of her special day.   

*Are there any surfaces you’ve found extra challenging to write on? And are there any tips you have to improve lettering on those tricky objects?

I always find it challenging to write on glass and mirrors!  I have tried using chalk markers, water-based and oil-based pens. Whatever medium you end up using, the trick is to never add a second coat when it’s dried.  Visually we may want to add to the colors opacity, to brighten it, but on glass/mirror, once dried, the pen tip acts like an eraser and removes the ink.  What I do love about lettering on glass or mirror is that it is forgiving!  It is easy to erase and fix!!!!  Practice on a section to get a feel for the slickness.  It is helpful to “puddle” your ink on a palette or dish so it’s easy to “wet” your nib before the letter dries allowing you to fill in any streaks. Note: seeing streaks is normal when using glass/mirrors.

When lettering on small wood pieces, like tree slices,  it is important to buy extra-fine tips because this allows the letters to show the “thick and thin” lines when using faux calligraphy. Having a variety of size nibs is crucial when lettering on wood. 

*Any simple techniques you’d like to share about adding special effects to lettering? Or which types of pens you use for doing so?

Adding special effects to lettering is what makes the piece “pop”.  Using Uni-ball Signo Gel is a must!  The white color can be used to add highlights within the letters.  This can even be done with a white paint pen.  Outlining or adding drop shadows is a favorite technique of mine.  Play around with outlining the letters with a monoline pen directly next to the color, or by leaving space to create some playful dimension.

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Words of Wisdom

*Do you ever struggle with what to write, or how to design a certain piece? Where do you often find inspiration for your work?

I definitely struggle with what to write, but Instagram and Pinterest solves that issue!  The Lettering Community has wonderful monthly lettering challenges so I never have to think of what to write. There are also great online classes and tutorials that teach letter composition.

*Any words of encouragement to those just starting out or who may be frustrated with not making progress as fast as they want to?

Be patient!  Save all your work so you can see just how far you’ve progressed.  We all started off as beginners and with daily practice you will get better and better.  As with anything, you need to train.  No one can run a marathon without training.  You must train your muscle memory in lettering.  Complete the drills until you are comfortable with the brush pens, move on the letter formations and then connecting the letters.   

There are wonderful lettering teachers on Instagram and they are happy to answer your questions and give you directions.  Lastly, do NOT compare yourself!  Everyone develops their unique style after the foundation is laid.  Happy lettering!!  Please feel free to DM me if you have any questions.  

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A huge thank you to our featured artist Brenda McGilvra for sharing her time and talents with us! Make sure to check out her Instagram profile @LetteringYourWay to see more of her incredible artwork. We know you’ll like what you see! 🙂

Also, as always, feel free to tag #MarkerSupply on Instagram and show off your own handwriting styles and projects. We love to see what your markers are making!

Happy Handwriting Day,
~Marker Supply

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