Creating The Kind Of Book You Wished Existed Using 70's Script Lettering
Book covers are always one of the first things hand lettering artists are excited about making because type plays such an essential role in their success. The lettering needs to be readable and decorative enough to get the reader’s attention, while also being the visual anchor of what stored inside its pages.
In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through my process creating a “How to” book cover from scratch that represents the kind of story you wished existed using my 70’s Script workbook as your inspiration. I'll walk you through how to set up your composition, refine your letters, and make your artwork as meaningful as possible to help your message hit home with anyone who sees it.
Figuring out the title of your hand-lettered book cover
Imagine the kind of book that would hold the answers to all your most pressing questions like how to prioritize yourself or how to finally stop procrastinating. You don’t need to actually write this book, (of course, extra bonus points if you do), but I want you to choose a title that resonates with you. Because most likely if you relate to the title, all your followers on social media will too.
Start writing down a list of all your biggest struggles whether or not they are personal issues or just your latest frustration with your career. Don't worry about making an exciting title yet, only the bare necessities to get the point of the book.
For my book, I want to talk about my body issues, but I don’t want it just to say “How to stop being fat,” because I don't want to shame women who are overweight but rather help them love themselves no matter their size. So instead I want to put a positive spin on the title, because honestly who wants to buy a book that just instantly makes you feel bad?
Here’s a question checklist for making a great title:
Do I understand what the book is about?
Is the title relatable to other people or just me?
How can I soften this title or spin it more positively?
So I ended up with “How to love my Thunder Thighs.” That way it was positive, fun, and more importantly, it speaks from my own experience since I choose to say “my” versus “your.” With a topic so sensitive, I don’t want to tell people how to love their bodies but rather to tell my story on how I try to every day.
Starting out with layout and grids for your lettering phrase
The first step in any project is creating small thumbnails of pretty much chicken scratch just to feel out some basic ideas for composition. This could be only grids showing what kind of containers you want your lettering inside of like in a rectangle or an arc. Or include rough doodles of any objects or people you want to draw with your phrase.
If you are planning on adding an illustration to this design, be sure to simplify it, so the text is the biggest and boldest thing on the page. So adding in subtle icons, a scenic background, or just one figure in the composition would be best without overpowering your title.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of margins from the edge and to choose a standard book cover size like 5x6, 8x10, or one of those neat square 8x8 books. That way once you're designing is done, you can actually mock it up on a real book. I’d hate for you to go through all the trouble of making a book cover, without being able to really show it off.
When it comes to the actual layout of your lettering you want to plan out your visual hierarchy which is figuring out how to guide the eye by making certain words bigger than others. For example “Thunder Thighs” in my piece is the main focus which is why I decided only to have those two words in my 70’s Script instead of words like “How to” taking the reins of my design.
Then I just simply play with different containers of my lettering to find a composition that would fit inside my book nicely while also showcasing the illustration of a woman behind it. Once you figure out the best way to stack your letters based on your thumbnails, then I want you to start working bigger to re-draw the wireframe of your sketch using basic shapes, doodles, and guides.
How to add custom ligatures to your script lettering
Once you have all your guides in place, you can finally start hand lettering the skeleton of your letters. Since this script style is super thick, I want you just to use the weight of your pencil to draw the letters before you start to add weight to them so we can play with placement and ligatures.
If you have letters like “t, g, b, d, h, j, l, p, q, or y” in your phase, then these are the letters that have ascenders and descenders that you can add licks and curves on. Pretty much any line that above or below your basic lowercase letters you can give some extra customization really giving your book cover that wow factor.
Especially if you have script letters that are stacked on top of each other, you want to make sure that you are adding licks that help fill any negative space between them first. You don't want to go overboard with ligatures, only use them to help fill any weird gaps in your letters or to highlight your words by underlining them.
You'll want to experiment with different curves and loops until you find just the right lick to help fill the space. Then once the skeleton of your letters is all mapped out, you are ready to start adding in any background elements.
Always work on the lettering first since it’s the main draw of your design, then add design icons, a background, or character that will only help draw the eye towards it without overshadowing the letters.
Adding weight and the best way to proof this lettering style
Once everything is in place, you can begin to add weight to your letters piece by piece. I recommend adding in all your thicks first, then go ahead and add subtle weight to the thin parts of your letters. This is a pretty thick style, so you’ll be adding weight to every letter regardless of the thin sections.
Just remember, since this is script, you only add weight to the lines that are going down not up. For example, it’s not the first stroke of an A that is thick, not the crossbar, but the second half of the apex.
Before you ink your lettering, you can make sure it’s error-free by taking measuring the thickness of each letter to make sure they are all the same. This is easiest if you are drawing digitally and can just drag a shape tool to measure out the width and then just compare it to the other letters to see if they match up.
But, if you are working traditionally, I would just cut out a small piece of paper and use it as a ruler to then measure it up against all the thick parts of your letters to see if they are consistent.
You'll want to repeat this process not only for the thin parts of lettering but also when it comes to the tilt of your letters, also known as the axis. This is where you draw a line of the angle of the letters making sure all the others match up against it. A subtle difference is acceptable, but you may notice your words having a bit too much wobble making it harder to read them from a distance.
As a final tip for this specific script lettering style are the terminals and licks at the ends of strokes that are normally a bit thicker then even the thickest parts of your letter. Notice how I drew a little circle inside of each curve? This helps make the ends all look consistent and also gives you a perfect curl every time.
Final design tests and mockups to help you perfect your book cover design
Once your sketch is proofed, you can add in the ink layer. Before you move on to the color phase, I want you to invert the colors of your ink drawing, making the background black and the letters white. This forced perspective will help you sniff out any kerning errors (the space between letters) or any weird pockets that might be between your words if they are stacked on top of each other.
Then when adding color, a neat trick if you are working in Photoshop or Procreate is to add an adjustment layer dropping down the saturation of your colors. If you notice that two colors were sitting on top of each other in grey scale or too similar in contrast, this will help you choose a slightly different hue or brightness to the color that will give your colors a more balanced look without competing against each other.
Finally, once your book cover is complete. You will want to to show it off on a mock-up. If you purchased my 70’s Script Workbook Bundle, included are two Photoshop book mockups for you to use where you can simply just add your artwork to get a realistic look at what your book would look like printed. This will help you with final tweaks like placement and color so your piece can rock the internet.
Learn This 70's Script Style To Make Your Book Cover Even More Badass
Add this style to your skill set and save money while you do it. By signing up to my Patreon you get this workbook bundle for $9 off my shop price and you get lots of extra goodies. Not only do you an extra tutorial and 2 free Photoshop mockups to help you show off your book designs, but you also get access to my Secret Art Diary Podcast and past live lectures for artists.
Everything that's included in this workbook:
Included Photoshop or Procreate files
Print out pages to practice traditionally
Instant download when you sign up
Upper and lowercase letters
Step by step Drawing Challenge
2 Book Photoshop mockups