How much does it cost to become a Letterer?
Knowledge is power, and education is an investment.
Especially since running a business, I am very interested in numbers and the value of what I offer, and how much people are willing to pay for it.
Since I don’t have a degree in typography or graphic design, I guess I have to call myself self-taught. But that’s not entirely true, is it. I have learned from a lot of teachers along the way, and here’s a list of my lettering and calligraphy education to date. (All prices are approximates of what I paid at the time, and obviously they may have changed.)
My first lettering course was “Better Lettering” with Caroline Kelso. It was $20 and super simple, but a great introduction. Around the same time, I participated in a bunch of lettering challenges on Instagram - it’s daily practice, gives you visibility, you’re part of an online community, and there’s inspiration in seeing others put their spin on the same words.
I then invested $299 in Sean Wes’ Learn Lettering masterclass. He dives a little deeper into the principles of lettering and also shares some of his business building tips.
I then invested $380 in a weekend workshop in person with Jackson Alves. We spent two days learning Italic, Foundational, Brush, and lettering. That’s a lot of content to put into two days, but a nice overview for a beginner like I was, and helpful to start differentiating between lettering and calligraphy. I was totally lost during the photoshop and vectoring parts, but it was nice to be among all the other talented designers in class.
After that weekend with Jackson, where I had the most trouble with the broad nib styles, I wanted to face the challenge and continue my education and dive deeper. Can you say glutton for punishment? ;-)
I joined the Society of Scribes in New York and took Introduction to Italic with Eleanor Winters for $260. She’s amazing. I really liked her teaching style. She was organized, told us exactly what to do, did a lot of demonstrations, and best of all went around the class and told us what we did wrong, why, and how to do it better. I liked it so much, I spent another $260 for the Italic II class, where we practiced variations and capitals. I felt like a bit of a masochist, because it was such a struggle to get the hang of it, but once I did, even just a tiny little bit, I felt that much more accomplished.
In the following year, I invested another $260 and took Introduction to Copperplate with Elinor Holland, also an masterful teacher and calligrapher. Liking your teacher is so important when you want to learn something, I think, otherwise you might be endlessly distracted by their voice or mannerisms.
I also invested in workshops at the Cooper Union. I took two days of Flatbrush Fundamentals with John Downer ($440), a master brush artist. I love the sign painting style so much and it’s really quite a learning curve to get right. Unfortunately, I fell ill and wasn’t able to stay for all of the class, so I might have to take it again.
More courses include two days Spencerian Lettering ($440, not to be confused with Spencerian calligraphy), Italian style, and two days Brush Lettering (another $440) with Ken Barber. He’s the head designer at House Industries and his lettering work is absolutely amazing.
I got a chance to help host Ryan Hamrick’s Curves Ahead tour in New York in 2017, where he shared tips and tricks around his sketching and vectoring process. I’d love to go into more detail to learn his cartouche secrets.
I used to have a Lynda subscription ($240), where I wanted to do the 18-hour Photoshop and Illustrator programs. Turns out that’s not really how I learn best, especially such complex programs. Now when I don’t know how to do something when digitizing my work, I either ask my colleagues in my co-working space, or search for that specific task in a YouTube tutorial.
I use Skillshare ($15/month) for continuous education, e.g. in illustration, sketching, and iPad lettering, or just checking out process ideas and doodling for my own pleasure and benefit.
The Adobe Creative Cloud Suite costs $55 every month and gives me access to all their applications. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I’m using them enough to warrant the investment, but I’m the kind of person who wants to have everything ready and available “just in case” I need it at short notice.
Going through all the materials I’ve purchased at Amazon, Blick’s, John Neal Booksellers, Michaels, and Muji would take too long, but I’m going to attempt a break-down. You can find links to most if not all of these items on the Resources page.
Rhodia and Canson notepads, best for calligraphy and brush lettering practice because they have smooth paper that doesn’t catch on the metal nibs or fray the brush tips of your Tombows are between $10 and $14, depending on size and sales offers. I have about 10 of those.
Tracing paper, great for iterating your lettering projects, is also about $10 per pad. I have 3.
As for pens, I have several sets of Tombow Dual Brush markers ($16 on average for 10), and also several Fudenosuke hard and soft ($4 each), Microns ($16 for 10), and Faber Castell’s ($25 for 8).
I had a brief watercolor experimentation phase (circa $50 for brushes, Winsor & Newton colors, and watercolor paper pads), and when I feel like I need a pop of color in my creations, I go back to them.
Now that I use the iPad Pro a lot more ($999) with the iPad Pencil ($99), I need less paper, which sits really well with me, to be honest. Fewer trees have to be planted because of me, yay. But yes, the downside is, it’s not pen and paper. And there’s just something about going analog that I love.
Of course I have a lot of books on my shelves as well, but I think I’ll keep those for another time.
So let’s tally up: it looks like I have spent $2,799 in workshops and classes, circa $990 for a year of learning through software subscriptions, and I have a materials inventory worth about $350, plus electronics.
Going forward, I have a budget for continuous education and look forward to spending it on more skill-building classes as well as community-oriented conferences.
I’d love to hear your favorite learning methods and resources, so I hope you can take a moment to comment below. Thanks! :-)