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In her first workshop of 2015 Gemma O’Brien will give participants insight into the hand-drawn processes she uses to create unique lettering pieces.  Hand-lettering is an invaluable tool for designers today that allows flexibility, freedom, customisation that often is inhibited by working solely with fonts in a digital space.

This class will give an overview of the differences between writing, lettering and typography before moving into a series of short exercises to demonstrate key principles of letter construction, rhythm, contrast, composition, balance and techniques of letter customisation (swashes, flourishes, decoration). Using calligraphic principles as a starting point participants will spend the second part of the day conceptualising, drawing and refining a custom piece of hand-lettering under Gemma’s instruction.

This workshop is designed for participants who have an existing art, advertising or design background who are interested in refining their hand-lettering skills to use in their own professional or personal practice. This course is designed to give participants an understanding of the principles of letterform creation through demonstrations of techniques by Gemma O’Brien, hands-on participation in individual and group exercises,  one-on-one guidance, and critical discussion among peers.



SESSION ONE: 10AM – 1.00PM (with 15 minute coffee break)

Introduction, context, theory and short exercises based on calligraphic principles that inform lettering.

  • Welcome, introduction, quick warm up exercises.
  • Discuss the links between typography, reading/writing, culture, memory, communication and the human experience.
  • Explanation of differences and links between writing, lettering and typography. Overview of relevant terminology.
  • Contextualisation of lettering within the broad landscape of letterform-based skills and crafts (type design, sign painting, letter carving, calligraphy) today.
  • Overview of Roman letterforms created using a flat brush to explain principles of stroke contrast, variation and proportions. Double-pencil exercise over model alphabet.
  • Overview of letterforms created with a pointed brush to understand rhythm, and movement. Brush pen exercise.  Model alphabets will be provided as reference.
  • Experimentation with cola-pens + balsa wood to explore non-conventional calligraphic approaches.
  • Group discussion and analysis of how to identify these calligraphic principles in examples of typography and lettering.
  • Overview of brief for afternoon, and selection of word for final project.


SESSION TWO: 1:30PM – 5.00PM  (with 15 minute coffee break)

The afternoon will be dedicated to creating a unique piece of lettering informed by the calligraphic exercises in Session One.

  • Conceptualising your design: approaches to linking content, lettering style and meaning.
  • Composition, spacing, layout: how to achieve a balanced layout.
  • Letter relationships: Analysis of letter combinations and positioning to look for opportunities for customisation.
  • Customisation: How to make your letterforms unique using swash letters, flourishes, quirky letterforms or decorative techniques (shadows, illustrated embellishments, inline strokes).
  • The final two hours will be spent drawing and refining individual projects with one-on-one consultation from Gemma.
  • Group critique and wrap up.

Class numbers will be limited to 15 to allow enough time for one-on-one feedback and direction

What you'll get

Each participant will receive a kit with everything required on the day and the tools to continue to practice the skills you learn on the day, at home. It will contain:

  • Workbook of sample alphabets
  • Pencil + Sharpener + Rubber + Ruler
  • Fine black marker
  • Tracing Paper
  • Broad Nib marker
  • Brush Pens x 2
  • Balsa Wood for experimental calligraphy exercises
  • Black ink

what to bring

  • If you have a preferred mechanical pencil or drawing tool that you feel most comfortable drawing with please bring this along.
  • A few options of a single word  or short phrase that you can use as the basis for your lettering project in the afternoon session.
  • Personal sketchbook/notebook
  • Lunch (or you can go to a nearby cafe)