This is the Design Challenge featured in Volume 2 of Lettering Adventures, teaching students how to create their very own sticker design in vintage Blackletter.
STEP 1: Choose your content
To get started, choose a short 2 to 4 word phrase that uses your favorite curse word, and think of the animal that can best represent your message. For my project I choose, “Fuck it,” something I say on an almost daily basis for one thing or another.
When I think of “Fuck it,” I think of strength, power, and just general bad-assery. So for this piece, I’ll be using a wolf head to help illustrate my phrase. Since this message is aggressive, I thought having a wolf showing some teeth and snarling would be the best route.
STEP 2: DRAW THE ILLUSTRATION FIRST
To start, select a photo for reference to create the sketch of your animal head. Feel free to trace an existing photo or create your own unique animal face. For this project, I’d recommend using a face looking straight on rather than tilted or in profile so you can easily mirror your illustration for a more symmetrical layout.
Draw a line down the vertical center of your illustration and just draw the elements of one side of your animal. Then duplicate and flip it so your piece has a center focus. You have the option to add facial features or just use the silhouette of the head to leave more room for your content.
Draw an inside margin along your head to make sure that your lettering and supporting elements don’t touch the outside lines. Since this project is for a sticker, we want to make sure we have a nice die cut image that doesn’t have any complicated shapes.
STEP 3: CREATING GUIDES FOR BLACKLETTER
Select your best thumbnail to create your first rough draft. Start by drawing the main shapes of your composition. Then draw a margin and containers for your lettering to go inside of. For your first skeleton, lightly write out the phrase in all capital letters, in pencil, for placement. Lastly, draw over your skeleton to find interesting ways to customize your letters.
Once you have your animal head, you can begin to sketch out ideas on where to place your lettering. You can choose to fill up the entire face with lettering, or just a section of it, like the cheek, forehead, or mouth. For my drawing, I decided to keep it simple and placed my lettering front and center on the forehead for a real statement piece.
Since you have to build up each letter shape by shape, you should set up guides to keep the letters staying aligned and even.
Typically, you have a cap height that refers to the top of your capital letters, a baseline that goes along the bottom of your letters, and an x-height that measures the top of your lowercase letters. For this style, since it’s condensed, the x-height is pretty high and should be placed 1/3 between the baseline and cap height.
If your phrase has letters like j, g, and p you’ll also want to include a descender line that goes below the baseline. This indicates where the tails of letters should end. You can also use the descender line to mark decorative swashes and curls that come off of the capital letters.
I personally like to add additional guides that mark where my serifs and chiseled strokes go. Since this style has so many shapes, the more guides you include, the easier it will be to keep your letters looking consistent.
STEP 4: BUILD YOUR PHRASE SHAPE BY SHAPE
For placement purposes, roughly draw in your phrase along your guides to make sure every letter fits inside your illustration. Be sure to leave plenty of room between each letter so they don’t overlap and look clustered. Then, using the Blackletter type style taught in this book, begin to draw out your phrase shape by shape.
Since Blackletter can be hard to read when only capitals are used, I would recommend using title case or sentence case for your piece to ensure that your hand-lettered project remains legible.
STEP 5: ADDING IN LIGATURES
Before you start adding any filigree, look for any opportunities to customize your phrase with ligatures. Ligatures are a great opportunity to help fill the gaps around your letters to help your piece look more complete.
If you have a t, l, b, d, or h in your phrase, you could include a flourish along the top of your phrase that creates a wave over your lettering by extending the main stem or crossbar. Or, if you have any letters with a descender like g, j, p, and q, then you can have a flourish underlining your phrase as well.
I always like to make the capital letters in my piece stand out with a flourish weaving over or under the other letters.
STEP 6: TIME FOR FILIGREE
Once you have your lettering in place, you can begin to draw in different pieces of filigree to help fill up the negative space in your animal head. When placing in your first stroke of filigree, try to follow the natural movement of the face, and don’t feel the need to fill up every nook and cranny.
When drawing filigree, I typically start out with a few C and S swirls and then add additional pieces coming off them, almost like adding branches of a tree. Just be sure not to overload your pieces with filigree - there is such thing as filigree overkill.
Just like how we drew the head illustration, I want you just to draw one side of the face so you can later mirror to the other side.
Now fill the leftover empty spaces with accents like dots, drops, and bursts so you can have an even amount of illustrations throughout the face. When adding these elements, be sure to follow the flow of your line work. No straight, boring lines needed here.
Duplocate your artwork and mirror it on the other side. You may need to edit a few decorations in case it doesn’t perfectly line up with the other side of your lettering.
STEP 7: REFINE, INK, AND PRINT
Once you have the blueprint for your piece, you can now begin to refine and edit as needed. At this phase, take several breaks so you can come back to your drawing with fresh eyes so you can easily spot mistakes. When proofing your work, check for spacing and weight of all your elements to make sure all your letters and filigree appear balanced.
When you’re ready, ink your piece slowly and carefully for a smooth, even line weight. I ended up going with mono-weight filigree so my piece wouldn’t look too cluttered.
Then I scanned in my artwork into Photoshop to clean up my line work and add subtle inline graphics, which helped my phrase stand out. I then inverted the color, making the piece stand out in white against the background, and sent it off to be printed as a die cut sticker.
If you decide to create a sticker from your piece, I highly recommend using stickermule.com. They are the same service I use to create stickers for all my printed zine patrons, and they do an excellent job.