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What is Chalk Lettering and Why is it So Effective?

Find out what chalk lettering is and why this vintage style is blowing up once again

While it might bring up memories of bad math classes or, for members of Generation Z, movies about bad math classes, chalk lettering is a world away from stuffy classrooms and equations.

The intricate discipline has experienced a renaissance in recent years as brands and businesses look to the visual appeal it offers to present their work.

Chalk lettering is a discipline of the people. It’s cheap, accessible, and we’ve all done it: everyone remembers scrawling something in chalk as a kid, onto a pavement or in a classroom, getting chalk dust under their nails as they blend their masterpiece or erase a mistake.

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Ximena Jiménez

By its nature, chalk is impermanent; it rubs away. Like a great concert or delicious cake, when you see it, it feels like you’re capturing a moment. Tomorrow, it might be gone.

While there are plenty of software programs and apps that recreate the chalk lettering aesthetic, the real-world incarnations of the craft are where its magic really comes from.

The power of chalk lettering lies in its simplicity.

Materials

All you need to start is a piece of chalk or a chalk pen and a surface to draw on. Some artists apply these techniques with an acrylic board and markers.

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Dusty Hands
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Ximena Jiménez

Fonts

It is comprised of just three main fonts: script, serif, and sans-serif.

Serif

Serif fonts have “feet”: the bases are elongated at the bottom. This structure can give words that classic printing press look.

Sans-serif

Sans-serif fonts don’t have feet. They tend to look more informal.

Script

Script letters are joined together and resemble calligraphy. They tend to give a sense of flowing handwriting and elegance.

These fonts are simple enough to get the basics of, meaning you can join the chalk wave with zero experience.

Don’t let this fool you, however: there is always more to learn. The creative possibilities are endless thanks to the numerous fonts within those three main pillars.

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Ximena Jiménez

Experimentation

How you play with size, placement, shape, and thickness can transform the final result. For example, a common way to add flavor to any word is by extending the entrance and exit strokes. You can also give more volume to script lettering by thickening up all of the downstrokes.

Taking the writing of your publicity off the computer and into the real world also means you can explore shade, shape, and cross-hatching to your heart’s content, scrubbing out whatever parts you don’t like.

Just like with any typography, the devil is in the detail. Working within the boundaries of chalk lettering is ironically liberating, and your experimentation can go as far as your imagination and creativity will take you.

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Ximena Jiménez

Beyond the letter

Chalk lettering isn’t just about the letters.

Even the most basic element, the chalkboard, can work in your favor: not many visual arts rely on a black backdrop. Whether it’s a classic white chalk or a collection of colors, the darkness of a chalkboard means your text is going to stand out.

That’s not the only way you can take advantage of your background, either. Add even more power to your quote with banners and ribbons to emphasize the whole piece or just one word.

And how do you get a frame from chalk lettering? Drawing one. Even variations, punctuation, and conjunctions are tools to control the balance and flow of your work.

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Panco Sassano

Versatility

Nowadays, you can buy almost anything in chalkboard. And if you can’t find it, you can paint a chalkboard onto it or take advantage of any rough dark surfaces you can find.

So, don’t hesitate, pick up a piece of chalk and get scrawling.

You may be interested in:

- The Amazing Letters of James Lewis.
- Introduction to Brush Lettering, a course by James Lewis.
- The Golden Secrets of Lettering, a course by Martina Flor.

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