In the Letters by Julia studio - July

In a bid to blog more and to give a better idea of what happens in my lair made of pens I thought I'd do monthly round ups of what projects I've been working on (if I can talk about them) and general musings from the past month. This has been on my to-do list since Aug 1st so we're doing well already ha! Never mind. Please note I'm doing all of this purely by looking back at my calendar so loads will probably get missed out but hey ho. You expect me to remember months?!

So July! It actually proved to be an exciting month after the grey bleakness of June. Wow that was quiet (it happens, self-employment and all that...) but in the last week of June a brilliant ray of sunshine called Buzzfeed brightened my inbox with a super exciting project that was turned around and released in only a few weeks! I love when that happens as waiting to talk about work is the worst. In case you haven't seen it on my social media I was asked by Buzzfeed UK to create a series of lettering pieces based on "8 important things about sex people say they know but don't always do" for their collaboration with the Home Office's "Disrespect Nobody" campaign. I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to work on this project because, for one, flipping BUZZFEED and for two it's a super important topic that needs to be talked about more. I feel like these messages should be made into billboards and splashed across the country so no one is under any illusions about consent. It seems obvious to you or I (I hope!) but there are some gross scumbags out there.

You can see the article with all the pieces here.

That project took up a lot of my time during July. The style of lettering I used is quite labour intensive as it involves sketching, more sketching, drawing it all up in procreate (yay for my ipad pro!) and then colouring in Photoshop. I prefer to do all colouring on my desktop as the monitor has better colour calibration than my various gadgets. There was also a week mid-July spent making edits to all the pieces as the initial colours used were deemed a bit too light. I'm a fan of bright colours on darker backgrounds so that was some feedback I could get on board with! This project as a whole just summed up why I love doing this for a living. The work was inspiring, I was allowed a fair amount of creative freedom (being hired due to MY style) and the people I was working with were lovely to talk to. I felt good.

In between the Buzzfeed work I did a couple of quick turnaround lettering bits for Penguin Random House which I do every now and then. Not stuff for actual books (at the moment) but for what I'm assuming are pitches and the initial stages of book jacket design. I've done a fair amount during the past year so I'll have to whack it in the portfolio en masse at some point. I do love a quick mini project to keep me on my toes! It sends my brain into "organise calendar" mode and I start looking into the matrix and swapping things around and squeezing extra bits of time. Makes me feel alive hah!

Towards the end of the month I squeezed in a quick project for Moonpig. I still design a fair amount of cards for them but as they all tend to be licensed designs they don't go into my portfolio. This time it was a very quick Little Mermaid card for Valentine's Day next year. Yes, I have a ridiculous job, but I LOVE it. Oh the variation. On an unsettling note I was informed that next year is the Little Mermaid's 30th anniversary. I was sure they were mistaken because I remember seeing it in the cinema. Nope. Oh dear *tucks white hair out of sight*.

In all the in-between bits of these projects I was beavering away working on my own greetings card ranges which I license out to Moonpig (and hopefully more companies in the future!). I have an increasingly massive back catalogue of card designs now and I really need to find a way to display them on my website. I'll find a way at some point!

So as you can see, Letters by Julia is about a lot more than calligraphy and the stuff I show on instagram. I did have a wedding place card job somewhere in the mix but that work in general seems to be on the downturn for me as I'm focusing more on the commercial side of my business. It's a balance I'm happy with.

I hope you enjoyed a little insight into my studio! Let me know if you enjoyed it and want to be a regular thing.


Tools of the Trade Part 2

Today we’re looking at my favourite tool - the Pentel Aquash Pen.

Aquash Pens.jpg

I LOVE this pen. I cannot be without it. It’s what I use for basically all of my brush lettering (unless I need something way bigger or smaller) and my pen drawer is FULL of them, all in various sizes.

Now, this pen is supposed to be used by watercolour artists. The idea is that you store water in the barrel and just squeeze it when you dip into your paints. Perfect for on the go. However, I'm not a watercolour artist so I use it however I damn well please!

These days I just use them as a dip brush (I love a chunky handle and these are perfect for grip - I can’t stand anything too thin or dainty) but at first I would fill the barrel (intended for water) with ink. This worked nicely for a time but pretty soon the ink would dry and clog the tubes rendering them useless (unless I dipped). So nowadays I don’t put anything in the barrel.

I love them so much I even mark my current faves (sometimes I accidentally mess up the bristles or I just want to use my newest one) so I can easily reach for it in my drawer. That's what the copper tape on the broad tipped pen and the inked end on the medium tipped pen is about.

So if you're interesting in trying brush lettering, I definitely recommend giving them a try. As always, this is just *MY* experience and opinion. If you try them and don't like them, that's fine. Find what works for you! And don't blame me.

Tools of the Trade: A Series

I get asked a lot of questions about what I do, but the most frequent topic is about what I'm using to create my lettering. Now, I'm a strong believer in it NOT being about the tools (give me a shitty pencil and a scrap piece of paper and I'll still do my thing) but since there is so much interest I decided to photograph everything I have and take everyone through it. This may take a while! Just please remember: just because I have these things, doesn't mean they will work for you or that you should run out and buy them. I have an extensive pen collection that has been built up over a number of years through experimentation. My best advice is just to get out there, find things that take your interest and give them a go!

Anyway...on to part one: Calligraphy Pens!

Calligraphy Pens.jpg

The Speedball holder is the calligraphy pen I learned with (and teach with). It may not look fancy but the shape is fantastic and it provides such an affordable way to dive into calligraphy. I still use one to this day as I really can't fault it. I even put some copper tape on the end so that I can keep track of my own one when I teach (that's MY pen dammit).

The holder with a cork tip is a lovely, substantial holder that some find more comfortable as it's softer on the fingers during a calligraphy marathon. Whilst I do like the hold of it, I find the cork just absorbs too much ink which gets everywhere. Now, I'm a messy calligrapher at the best of times but this really takes the cake. You can see how black the formally cork-coloured end is - my fingers looked exactly the same.

When you follow experienced calligraphers on Instagram, etc, you'll most likely see them using an oblique holder. For a while you also saw me use one! It took me forever to get the hang of as I'm left handed, but dammit I was a calligrapher and I needed to use the same pen all the other calligraphers were using! Or so I thought anyway. What a mook. The oblique holder, identified by a flange (pause for giggle) which holds the nib off to the side, is basically so that right handed people can write in an italic manner. Now, as a leftie I can simply do this by changing the angle of my hand (italics always lean to the right so I just angle my hand 'inwards'). To use an oblique holder as a leftie means I have to angle my hand unnaturally off to the left which is quite uncomfortable. Finally, after quite a lot of work using this position, my wrist started complaining quite seriously at me. When I made the connection between my pain and my calligraphy I panicked thinking I was soon to be out of a job. MY HANDS WERE RUINED! No they weren't, calm down. I was simply using the wrong tool for me all for the sake of being like everyone else. Even though in reality plenty of right handed calligraphers use a straight holder. I was just being an idiot. The moral of that ramble is: probably don't use an oblique holder if you're left handed and value the use of your wrists. You can get left handed obliques (with the flange on the other side) but wow that did not work for me. Waste of money that was!

Once I decided to head back to straight-holder-ville, I thought I should treat myself to a fancy one. The calligraphy thing was most definitely a major part of my career and wasn't going away. I also wanted to celebrate making the move to full time freelance and being able to keep a roof over my head with lettering so I decided to commission the amazing Tom's Studio to make me a swanky one-of-a-kind holder just for me. It doesn't really show on the photo, but the white part of the holder has a subtle grey marbling which is just dreamy! It's made from resin but actually has marble dust in it so it feels like stone to the touch. It's just so comfortable to use when I'm at my desk for hours working on a commission. I'm tempted to commission another one that's black with gold marbling.... maybe for my birthday (pretty pens like this don't come cheap!)

So those are my holders. I don't just have these four, I have several of each kind (apart from my Tom's Studio one). You could call me a pen hoarder. You'd probably be right.

That leaves us with nibs! A much simpler affair. I'm sure plenty of calligraphers use all kinds of nib but I just get by with two. 

The Nikki G is the nib I learned with (and teach with along with the Speedball holder) and is such a lovely nib that I use it for most work when I can. It's a Japanese drawing nib that has such delicate thin strokes but it capable of creating quite chunky thicks if needs be. It's beautiful and lasts really well.

The Brause 361 (also known as a 'Blue Pumpkin') is a softer nib that creates thicker lines overall, although with a light touch your calligraphy doesn't have to be a chunk-fest. I only tend to use this nib when I'm using thicker inks. That generally means metallic and acrylic-based ones. I find the Nikki G doesn't deal well with thin strokes with these inks as it's too thin so the thicker nature of the Brause is a better choice. The only thing I will say though is that I find it wears out quite quickly. I have a huge graveyard of them on my desk!

So there we have it! Calligraphy stuff! I'll tackle inks another day. This has gone on quite long enough.

Stay tuned!

Cotton Bureau

I create so much random lettering for social media, for fun, for whatever, so I decided to join Cotton Bureau to see if I could turn some of it into cool t-shirts and, hopefully, some cash. Expect to see a lot of t-shirt ideas that I pretty much just want to own myself ha!

Lucky little me had my first design approved with no hassle which was a nice pick-me-up. I assumed as it was my first rodeo they'd have some tweaks or advice for "next time" (a nice thing about CB is that they're very hands on). I suppose I was just referencing back to my ill-fated attempts at designing for Threadless waaaaaay back in the day when I was still trying to be an illustrator. But "Gym Goth" was accepted and is now available to purchase! If 12 are bought within the next 2 weeks the shirt will go into production. Here's hoping! I really want the vest so I can proudly wear it at the gym. I'd be much obliged if you went and had a look!

Welcome and Mr President

Holy cow, I've finally decided to jump on this blog bandwagon thing! I hope you're excited. I can't promise that I'll update it often, but when I do it'll be because something interesting happened. Don't expect it to be polished either! Brain dumps will probably occur. I'll probably use it to talk about big projects or projects that aren't quite suitable for my portfolio, speaking of which....


Back in March I was approached by the agency Mr President to do a piece of calligraphy for an installation created to develop a new positioning for the area of St James's, London. I produced 3 versions of the same quote by hand, one of which would feature.


Today I actually went to go and visit the installation to see which piece was picked!


It's so bizarre to just happen across a piece of my lettering just chilling in the street in London!