This was the year I ditched my digital organizing system and started using lovely planners with thick, smooth paper. I bought my first fountain pen and some gel pens and started appreciating the really beautiful lettering I saw other people using as a way to turn bullet journals, calendars and planners into art.
I’ve learned that calligraphy is more about beautiful writing while hand-lettering is drawing. In lettering, you build up and draw letters, using a gel pen, brush pen, or Sharpie. In calligraphy, you use a dip pen with nib and ink and create a letter in a single stroke. Lettering is about design, a kind of readable art, while calligraphy is about penmanship, infusing writing with emotion and beauty.
That said, the line between them is not always clear, and even some books with “hand lettering” in the title are really more calligraphy books. But for anyone who’d like to learn lettering anew, brush up, or give a gift, here’s a list that includes how-tos, inspiration, and even some historical and cultural context:
Creative Lettering and Beyond Inspiring tips, techniques, and ideas for hand lettering your way to beautiful works of art, by Gabri Joy Kirkendall, Laura Lavender, Julie Manwaring, and Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn
A fun and comprehensive guide to modern calligraphy, illustrated lettering, chalk lettering, and lettering crafts. Great for the beginner who wants to bujo in style or hand-write those holiday cards.
This one is great for anyone who gets a little intimidated by the perfect products great designers. Hische shows us inside her technique, down to erases lines and dents, sharing her own thoughts about her creative process. Not a how-to, but more of a portfolio/memoir.
Calligraphy for Kids, by Eleanor Winters
Created for 8-14 year olds, anyone starting out in calligraphy will appreciate the detailed, clear instructions, delivered without condescension. Colorful, clear layouts, practice exercises and worksheets as well as suggestions for tools and supplies (chisel-edged markers!). Like many similar books, offers a DIY project section at the end.
Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy, by Molly Suber Thorpe
For folks who want to jump right into making wedding invitations, thank you cards, gift tags, etc. Divided into three sections: weddings, entertainment, and personal stationery, it offers lots of DIY crafts and examples. Useful tips on materials and loads of pages of letters in different styles.
The Joy of Lettering, by Gabri Joy Kirkendall and Jaclyn Escalera
A fun book that includes an overview of the history of writing. Offers several DIY projects with simple instructions using a wide range of media, such as watercolor, gouache, and wood. Includes a section on how to digitize your lettering. projects perfect for the holidays include typography wrapping paper and envelopes.
Little Book of Lettering, by Emily Gregory
Chapters on digital lettering, hand-drawn illustrational type, and three dimensional lettering. A carefully curated collection of inspiration from a wide range of artists. Sturdy, compact, and surprisingly comprehensive.
Calligraphy: A Book of Contemporary Inspiration, by Denise Lach
An inspirational book for calligraphers at all levels featuring Lach’s calligraphy-inspired art. Lach uses the textures and details of nature photography to create calligraphy as a personal creative expression. Really stunning.
Shodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy, by Shozo Sato
Shodo is traditional Japanese brush calligraphy, often used for Zen Buddhist aphorisms. Calligraphy, with its discipline and practice, is a way to integrate the focused, meditative state of mind essential to Zen, so this is both an introduction to calligraphy and to Buddhism. The author presents thirty zengo, and explains brush technique in standard and cursive forms.
Mastering Hebrew Calligraphy, by Izzy Pludwinski
One of the most special things in my home is the calligraphed ketubah my partner and I signed on our wedding day. This book brings out the beauty of Hebrew letters. A terrific reference, it features several different scripts from ancient to modern, as well as sample ketubot.
Signs of Our Times: From Calligraphy to Calligraffiti by Rose Issa, Juliet Cestar and Venetia Porter
Explores how over 40 artists from the Arab world and Iran have used words and letters in their work over the past six decades. Created by curators and scholars, it’s not just a beautiful book, but one rich in art history and culture. It traces both the calligraphic and larger art movements in the Arab world and Iran over three revolutionary, exiled, and internationally inspired generations. Expensive, it might make a special gift or a lovely book for display.