Hand Lettering

I’ve found that a six millmetre x-height seems about right for the size of pen that I’m using and the proportion of the lettering that I’ve got in mind.

I’ve got a great excuse for practising hand lettering: I’ve been asked to prepare some wildlife sketchbook pages for publication. Although we’re going for a sketchbook format, the spreads need to tell a story, rather than being presented as artwork.

I want to try and evoke the spontaneity of a sketchbook page but without the false starts and my occasionally indecipherable field notes but it’s difficult to strike the right balance and not to end up with the page looking too concocted.


My captions set in the hand-lettering typeface Maryland on a spread in InDesign CC 2017.

Before I start on the time-consuming task of hand-lettering my captions, I set up a page in Adobe InDesign with illustrations and text boxes in place, to check that I can fit all that I want to fit onto the page.

I like the hand-lettered typeface Maryland (above) which is a change from Comic Sans, the go-to typeface for this kind of thing. Maryland is available to subscribers to InDesign CC as what they call a Typekit font, which users are licensed to download for use in the program.

It’s a livelier typeface than my own hand-lettering and I guess that I could use it for the page but nothing is going to look more at home with my drawings than my own hand-lettering, drawn with the same pen and ink: a Lamy Vista fountain pen with an Extra Fine nib, filled with a mix of Noodler’s brown and black inks.

Lamy Vista



Drawing Letterforms

I’m careful to refer to the typeset version of the text for each line, e.g. line one: ‘Nibbling a pine cone’, and not to be tempted to squeeze in the odd extra word. I rule lines seven millimetres apart for my text and, unlike the titles, I don’t find I need to draw a line for the x-height. My letter spacing closely matches the set type in the Maryland font.

My text might be wobbly because of my shaky hands but that applies to my drawings too, so the two complement each other.

I feel that the process of lettering is similar to drawing and I find myself thinking about shapes and rhythm; it’s so similar to when I’m drawing a fence, the branches of a tree or the fronds of a fern: I’m looking not just for the individual shapes but also the spaces between them.

So far I’m doing better on my text than my main titles (top) but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to improve with practise.


Adobe InDesign CC

Meet the Author

It’s our great nephew Henry Roman’s christening today and I’ve been collared by Oliver, aged eight, and Ted, aged six. Oliver asks me to draw a snake – I’m going to need a bit more practice with that – and Ted requests a husky, which again I struggle to draw from memory; I definitely wouldn’t trust that character to pull my sleigh.

Oliver, who has been reading my Deep in the Wood, which he claims is his favourite book, asks me which was my favourite out of all the books that I’ve written. The Britain sketchbook, I guess.

“Did you write all the books in the world?” asks Ted.

“There are a few that I didn’t write.” I explain.

He’s asks me to draw a Dalmatian (and also could I write a book, just about dogs for him).

“What’s it’s name?” I ask him, having been slightly more successful than I was with my drawing of the husky.



Another Waiting Room

Another waiting room, another chair, but, at last, I’m getting signed off after the temporary loss of vision in my left eye six weeks ago. It was most probably caused by a very small stroke, otherwise known as a TIA (Temporary Ischaemic Attack) so now, apart from taking the tablets, I can get on with my life again. 

Chair at Wetherspoon’s

My appointment was in Pontefract so, while we were here, we took the chance to revisit the castle, the museum and the library.

The new visitor centre at the castle includes portraits of some of the more colourful characters from its past drawn by John Welding. An exhibition at the museum features a hundred year’s worth of posters and other ephemera from Holmes Printers of Gillygate, Pontefract.

And just one more chair . . . this one was on the terrace at Betty’s, Harlow Carr, Harrogate, last Friday.

Squirrel Sketches

I’m drawing some illustrations of red squirrels for my next Dalesman article but, when I visited the red squirrel feeding station at Snaizeholme last October, I concentrated on taking photographs.

My aim is to give the impression that my sketches were drawn from life. I don’t think that I’d ever be able to achieve the same feeling of spontaneity by working from a photograph, but I’ll try to suggest character and movement rather than getting too involved in details such as the texture of the fur.

I’m drawing direct from a photograph on the screen, rather than starting with a tracing, which would be a sure way of getting the proportions right. My inevitable second attempts at lines give a similar effect to when I’m drawing a living animal and it moves slightly, adding a degree of animation. That’s the theory, anyway.