Let’s face it—chalkboard lettering is the next big thing. Whether you’re an artist seeking a new way to show off your calligraphy skills, a restaurant owner in need of an appealing way to advertise your specials, or a small business owner crafting signage for events, using chalk on a chalkboard is the way to go.
But what if you’re terrible at lettering?
Well, most of us are terrible at anything we’re new at. That’s where practice comes in! Don’t hold yourself back just because you’re a beginner—take the leap and start somewhere. Anywhere. Pick up a chalkboard and a wet erase chalk marker and try out these steps on our beginner’s guide to chalkboard lettering.
Step One: Choose Your Surface
This step may be obvious, but it’s important nonetheless. Whether you’re just practicing or starting a project, the first thing you’ll want to do is decide what you’re going to letter on. This includes the surface (real chalkboard, chalkboard contact paper, or chalkboard paint), the shape (square, rectangle, or something more unique), and the size.
The Benefits Behind Each Surface
Each surface has its own list of benefits, such as:
- Full-size traditional chalkboard: Ideal for displaying full menus in restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops.
- Foldable sidewalk chalkboards: Ideal for wedding, baby shower, and other special event signage as well as displaying daily specials.
- Small tabletop chalkboards: Ideal for place setting, displaying fun facts, and labeling.
- Chalkboard painted walls or canvas: Ideal for displaying full menus in professional settings or giving kids a place to flex their creative muscles at home.
- Chalkboard contact paper: Ideal for use on objects such as canisters, boxes, and cabinets.
Step Two: Create Your Concept
Once you’ve got your surface at the ready, you’ll want to come up with your concept. Are you creating signage for a wedding reception? A menu for a food truck? A personal piece of art? When creating your concept, you will want to match it with the theme of the business or the special event. This includes your phrasing, lettering style, and any added design elements.
If you don’t want to sketch, you can create your concept on software such as Photoshop. Then, you can print the concept out (true to size) for reference or as a transfer method.
Step Three: Create a Rough Sketch
Put your ideas down on paper before you begin on the chalkboard. A piece of notebook, graph, printer, or sketchbook paper will suffice. There’s no need to get fancy here; you’re just making a sketch. Like a rough draft, but for drawing.
During this step, you’ll want to draw out how you want the overall piece to look. You don’t have to go crazy with fancy lettering here; feel free to use your everyday handwriting. The purpose of this step is to find a composition that works, familiarize yourself with each letter, and understand the layout of the words. You’ll also want to count the number of letters in each word so that you can find your center points.
Step Four: Create a Final Sketch
Now that you’ve got your idea down on paper, you can move onto the next step: drawing the final sketch. This sketch will be similar to your rough draft, but you can practice your fancy calligraphy and design features.
Pro Tip: Divide the draft into halves at least once so you know where your center is. Then, draw containers in various shapes. Fill these containers with your letters. When it comes time to draw the real deal on your chalkboard, you’ll have a better idea of placement—and a better chance at getting it right the first time.
Step Five: Prepare Your Surface
This step is more of a personal choice, so take it or leave it. If you’re of the sort that likes to break in a surface before you get started, this is the step for you.
Tackle this step by scribbling over the entire surface and then cleaning the surface. Repeat if you’d like. This step makes drawing a little easier (and makes it easier to hide mistakes if you make them).
Step Six: Sketch the Skeleton
Once your surface is ready, sketch out your halves and containers. Then, fill them with the skeletons of your lettering.
If you chose to print your concept, this is the step where you can either use it as a reference or perform an image transfer. You can complete the transfer by placing a piece of paper over more paper covered in chalk dust, tracing the design with a pencil, and transferring chalk dust directly to the chalkboard.
Step Seven: Polish the Letters
Now that you have an outline, go to work polishing it up. Thicken the letters where necessary, ensure that they flow, and add a bit of contrast if you so desire. Take time to ensure that the letters’ thicknesses, contrast, height, spacing, and angles are uniform.
Step Eight: Fill In the Letters and Add Decorative Features
This is one of the most fun steps of all. Here, you can see your concept really come to life. You’ll be surprised at how great it looks, too!
Take the time to fill in the letters and add any decorative features, such as extra shading or illustrations.
Step Nine: Clean Up
This step is also one that you can take or leave depending on your personal preference. If you’re in the camp that wants a weathered look, feel free to bypass this step and call your art complete. The swirls and texture from previous erasures will contribute to the rustic, nostalgic look you’re after.
However, if you want your design to be highlighted from a pristinely black background, you will want to act on this step. Take the time to clean up around the design, carefully wiping away any smudges or marks that are inconsistent with your design. A microfiber cloth and a Q-tip are great tools for this step.
Take a step back and look at the beautiful art you created. Whether it’s commercial signage or something fun for your home, you’ll no doubt be impressed at your new abilities. Now the question is, what sign will you make next?