Once you have a very basic lettering style mastered, you can start to alter it. Many people like to develop their own “personal style” of lettering—this can help set you apart from other calligraphers, and keep you from just copying everything on Instagram and Pinterest. Though I do have a primary "go-to" calligraphy style that I've made my own, I think it’s very handy to have several different styles up your sleeve. That way, you can letter in many different contexts. For instance, you'd use a casual, fun style for a chalkboard sign at a kids' birthday party, but you might use a more formal, oblique script for a formal event like a wedding. The wall art that you design for a modern, professional-looking flat is going to be pretty different from the style you'd use to create a piece of art for a boho loft.
So, you need lots of different styles—but how do you create them without just copying? How do you go about finding your own personal style?
Start by using this guide to mix up your letters, and see where it takes you! This exercise will undoubtedly give you plenty of ideas. The possibilities are endless!
Let's say the above example is our starting point—a basic, upright style. (This is the style you'll learn in my introduction to hand lettering, Simple Script, which is a great and more importantly FREE place to get started learning faux calligraphy. It will ease you into learning brush pen lettering too). I will also show you the changes to make to your basic strokes, to help you better visualize exactly how to mix up your style. I'll be referring here and there to different stroke types; if this is new to you, I definitely recommend downloading Simple Script.
We'll keep this at the top of our page for the sake of having a reference, so you can see how each "mix up" compares to our starting point.
Thicker or Thinner Strokes
One of the easiest changes you can make is to simply add thicker or thinner strokes—either by adding greater depth to the downstrokes, making your upstrokes slightly thicker, or both.
If you are going to make your downstrokes very thick and chubby, I do recommend making your upstrokes slightly thicker as well. Otherwise, the letters will feel off-balance.
Taller or Shorter Letters
Experiment next with making your letters shorter or taller vertically. You can see that both of these changes make the same letterforms look very different! You'd hardly believe that these strokes are the same basic shape.
You can also experiment with changing the x-height of your letters. Meaning, you can make letters like the x, a, and o taller or shorter (the first five strokes in the lineup), while leaving the vertical length of the tails on the h and j the same (the last two strokes in the lineup).
Wider or Skinnier Letters
Our starting point style is actually pretty skinny already, and I didn't want to compress it further. So, the above example demonstrates wider letters. Notice how the strokes on the right compare to the original; they are much more rounded.
Technically, the calligraphic term for when your letters are slanted to the right is "oblique," but most people will refer to this as "italic." Regardless, this is not the first change that I'd recommend trying to make, nor the first style to master, because it's very difficult to make your slant consistent for each stroke (though some good practice paper with slanted guides will help). And, as you can tell by the strokes above, the actual shape of your strokes will have to change as well. But, it's a "mix-up" for your lettering that really pays off, because it is really helps to achieve a more formal style.
Spread Out Horizontally
Create the same size letters, but spread them out more horizontally by adding longer lines between the letters. In terms of your strokes, this will mean elongating your entrance/exit stroke. Don't go overboard on this, because too much space will interfere with legibility. But, adding a moderate amount of space between your letters can create a much more light, airy feel, helping your letters to breathe. It can also add some sophistication and formality to upright letters, which often feel pretty casual.
You can also try to condense the space between your letters. Our starting style is already pretty condensed, and to condense it further without compromising legibility wouldn't make a big difference, so it's not pictured above. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try it! Just like adding space, this will largely affect your entrance/exit stroke, which is that line you use to connect letters to one another.
Change the Shape of Your Strokes
You can also change the overall shape of your strokes, as long as you do it uniformly. For instance, the example above is demonstrating a bit of a thin and almost "spiky" style. I made the strokes skinnier, and made the bowl at the bottom of the strokes a little bit more abrupt, almost like a checkmark. You can see this most visibly in the entrance/exit stroke.
Bring in Some Bounce
Make every second or third letter descend below the baseline (the line upon which all of your letters rest). The under turn stroke and compound curve (third and fifth in the lineup) lend themselves particularly well to this purpose. Just make the downstroke a little bit longer before coming back up to connect to the next letter!
The next step, to create even more bounce, is to start putting some letters and/or strokes above the baseline, too.
Go Off the Grid
If you're a little too locked into the structure of the grid, and creating "bounce" is a real struggle for you—just get rid of your graph paper entirely! I kept the graph paper in the example to show you how each of these letters compare to one another. Each letter is almost at a different level than the other letters, creating a fun and casual style. I don't recommend disregarding a baseline altogether, because you'll find yourself slowly heading upward or downward after awhile, kind of like writing on a chalkboard. It's still important to write in a straight line!
Next, try making some of your letters slightly different in size. Since you've hopefully already learned how to be consistent in size, now try breaking some of the "rules"! You'll notice that my "N" here is larger than the other letters, and the "O" and the "A" are smaller.
Mix & Match!
Now for the funnest part: start combining two or more of the suggestions above! For instance, make your letters slanted/oblique, and add some bounce. Make your letters short and fat, and add some space horizontally.
For my first example above, I made all my strokes thicker and made my letters wider, and wrote on a slant. Then, I added lots of bounce and disregarded the grid!
For my second example, I decreased the thickness of all my strokes, increased horizontal spacing to let my letters breathe, and added a slight bounce but kept a pretty discernible baseline.
I developed almost all of my lettering styles by starting here—just altering different aspects of my letters, creating different combinations, and experimenting with different stroke shapes. Sometimes, you just need to jump in and start trying different things, even if you hate the first 10 styles you brainstorm—just start getting your hand familiar with a bunch of different strokes, and you never know, you might walk away with 5+ more styles to add to your calligraphy repertoire!