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Hand Lettering Today – how naive is too naive?

How naive is too naive hand lettering?

Do you ever see hand lettering and think “a kid could have done that”? It doesn’t appear as if there’s any real skill involved? I’ve asked myself that many times, especially since I spent years honing my lettering skills. My goal was to have consistent angles, widths, and spacing. If it wasn’t as “perfect” as possible, it wasn’t worthy of being used for anything.

Well, I’ve had to rethink all that. Perfection is good, it can also be boring. Given: some lettering does have to be perfect, if that’s the tone for how it’s being used. For example, would a fancy hotel, perfume, or jeweler take the chance that their brand looks sloppy, goofy, or just plain poorly done? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, say your client wants to appear youthful, daring, or cutting edge; now a little “imperfection” is a good thing. It gives it a human touch and the imperfections add interest; it’s not boring, it’s unique, and it’s definitely not a font.

But how far to go with the imperfections before the lettering starts to look sloppy or goofy? Well, that’s a judgement call and it’s not an easy one.

naive hand lettering examples

Naive hand lettering; the good, bad, and ugly.

One of these I really like. The other two don’t cut it.

As an experiment to help satisfy my doubts about how easy or hard it is to make naive lettering, I found lettering online that I really liked – because it was so naive. It was fun to look at. I got out my brushes and set to work on trying to mimic the style. I thought, “If I can make nice, consistent lettering with a brush, then making widely inconsistent lettering would be easy.”

How wrong I was. It is hard. Making “perfect” lettering involves getting into a rhythm and flow. Each stroke starts heavy and ends light. The letter and word spacing are consistent. Naive lettering required me to fight those tendencies. Now I didn’t want all that consistency. Some letters are heavy, some light; some letters are tightly spaced, others widely spaced; capital letters can mixed in. There is a rhythym, but it relies on inconsistency. Instead of thinking of the next letter having the same feel as the last one, I am forced to constantly think, “How do I make this letter different from the last?”

Well I did persevere, and I am happy with the results. But I’ll never look at naive hand lettering and think “that looks easy.”