Lettering expert Ian Barnard shares his artistic process

In issue 1 of Simply Lettering magazine, we catch up with hand-lettering artist Ian Barnard to find out all about what inspires his work. Here’s just a little introduction to Ian and his creative process.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Ian and I’m a hand-lettering artist, which roughly means I make a living from drawing letters. A lot of my time is spent teaching and entertaining people through short videos on Instagram and YouTube, and I also run an online store where I sell digital resources that help people to get better at hand lettering. I do a little bit of type design, workshops and talking about typography.

Could you explain to us your process from blank page to finished piece?

It usually follows this four-step process:

1. Get inspired…

I find inspiration in many places: online sites like Pinterest and Designspiration; book covers in my local bookstore; chatting to other people; travelling to new places; listening to music; watching a film; supermarket shelves – especially the wine and beer aisles, they have a vast array of typographical branding; learning a new skill or just doing something outside my comfort zone. Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places, so never try and force it. Saying all that, I still find I have the best ideas in the shower!

2. Start rough, start small…

Even though most of my work is produced on the iPad, I always start with a pencil and paper first. This stops me from getting distracted by all the cool tools I have at my disposal. So say I’m doing a hand-lettered quote, I’d start off by writing out the words at the top of the page. I then draw boxes around them, to give me a rough idea for the size of each word. These boxes are then arranged to form the composition. Then I make lots of really small thumbnail sketches trying out different styles of lettering, which usually fall in one of four groups – Script, Serif, Sans-Serif or Blackletter. At this point, I’m still not worried about it looking neat. You’re just trying to get out as many ideas as possible. You need to go through a lot of bad ideas to finally settle on a good one.

3. Redraw & refine…

Once I’ve chosen the idea that seems to work the best for the quote, I open up Procreate on the iPad and get to work recreating the thumbnail I’ve chosen, getting the layout and the position of the letters where I want them. Then I start constructing and beautifying the letters, utilising the fact that I can keep refining them by creating a new layer and going over the existing one, a bit like using tracing paper for the analogue method. The more you can do this, the better looking the finished thing will be. As I get near completing my work I look for three things with my letters.

  • Consistent weight

Do all the letters share the same width, both the vertical and horizontal stems?

  • Consistent height

Do all your letters sit on the same baseline and have the same x-height?

  • Consistent angle

Especially for a script, choose an angle and stick to it through the whole word

Nail all three of these and you’ll have some really good-looking letters. Guidelines will instantly make your lettering look 10 times better, so always take the time to draw out some lines to help you.

4. Share it…

Whatever piece of lettering I’ve done, be it a quote or custom piece for a company, I post it online. But rather than just posting the finished thing, I always try and add some other value to help my audience. It could be that I show the rough sketches I’ve done to get the final idea, describe the tools I’ve used or why I’ve chosen to use a particular quote and what it means to me.

Do you have a favourite piece of work that you have created?

A piece I did with a quote from B.B. King (above) about learning was a turning point in my lettering journey. This took it from being just a hobby to getting a decently paid job after years and years of practising these skills. It also got me featured on quite a few blogs and art feeds and is a quote that I still really love to this day.


You can find out more about Ian and how he got started in typography in issue 1 of Simply Lettering magazine.





Issue 1 of Simply Lettering is on sale across the UK from the 18th July. Pre-order your copy today with international shipping from CraftStash.

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5 Comments on “Lettering expert Ian Barnard shares his artistic process

  1. Mea Jennin Nierva

    July 13, 2019 at 1:15

    thank you for your tips on handlettering, i usually search for inspiration wherever I go and if i can i re create it

    • Sharon-Elaine

      July 13, 2019 at 10:44

      It’s great to know that professionals love pinterest for inspiration too!

  2. Tracey Gwynne

    July 14, 2019 at 3:36

    Start rough…love that! I put so much pressure on myself to make it look perfect from the beginning. Got a new IPAD and pencil so I can create lots of lettering quickly and practice

  3. Jayne W

    July 15, 2019 at 4:32

    Love this!

  4. lisamaybank

    July 15, 2019 at 6:35

    very helpful video

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