Basic Brush Lettering Techniques
April 25, 2022

Illyahna from IllyBoo Designs takes you through the basics of brush pen lettering with Tombow. She is modern calligrapher and lettering artist based in Oxford, UK. This blog will demonstrate that lovely free flowing version of calligraphy that’s become super popular.

Illyahna takes you through brush lettering with Tombow.


Hi, I’m Illyahna from IllyBoo Designs. I’m a modern calligrapher and lettering artist based in Oxford, UK. Today I’m going to show you the basics of brush pen lettering, that lovely free flowing version of calligraphy that’s become super popular.

It’s a great style for beginners, as it’s easier to learn than traditional calligraphy and uses a larger variety of brush pens. It also offers a lot of room for flair and creative expression.

I’m going to take you through some warm up exercises by using various strokes that will lead into the shaping and construction of the lowercase alphabet. 

Tools you'll need

Tombow Dual Brush Pens, choose any contrasting colours. I’ve used Black N15, Pink Punch 803 and Carmine 845, in addition to a Tombow Pro Dual brush pen ABT PN75 (optional) to create some contrast shadowing. This is an effect I like to use on my lettering layouts and words to make them pop. It's a nice detail to add in at the end of any lettering piece. 

Step 1. Basic strokes and warm ups

Step 1a

Step 1b

Step 1c

Step 1d

Step 1E

Before we can do any lettering it’s really important to start with some basic warm up exercises. This not only stretches and warms up your writing hand, it also helps you to start building muscle memory around the formation and shaping of each stroke. These strokes are the building blocks to all of your letters. 

There are a few things to consider before the first line is created though, like how to hold your pen and the amount of pressure you need to apply.

You generally want to position the pen at a 45 degree angle (Step 1a) , so you can get the best use out of the brush tip. Thick down strokes are achieved by using the length of the brush tip (Step 1b). Lighter up strokes use more of the tip of the brush (Step 1c). It takes a little practice to find the perfect pressure, but that’s why we do these exercises (Step 1d and 1e). I usually ensure I’ve spend a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes working on these warm up strokes before working on my main artwork.

Remember your lines don’t have to be perfect from the start of the warm up. Focus on achieving the right amount of pressure, rather than how straight or wobbly some of the lines might be. The wobbles do get better the more you practice. 

There are 7 different shapes I want to you continually keep practicing (see below): 

  • a thick down stroke
  • a thin up stroke
  • an up turn or ’n’ shape
  • a downturn or ‘u’ shape
  • an oval shape
  • a descending loop 
  • an ascending loop

Seven Different Strokes

Step 2. Lower case letter construction

Right, now that you’re all warmed up, it’s now time to move onto creating letters, yay! I have broken the alphabet into 5 different sections below. We’ll work through each category one by one, so that by the end, you’ll be able to master the entire alphabet!

I’ve started with the ‘o’ shapes but you can start with any of the groups. I have used contrasting colours to help show you how each letter is constructed. All of the letters are combinations of the basic strokes that we’ve just practiced. For example, if you are creating the letter ‘b’, this is made up of a thick down stroke and an oval shape. If you were writing this normally, you’d create the down stroke first, followed by the oval shape. This is a good guide for the order of the strokes in any letters, to follow how you would write it in your normal handwriting. Really, there’s nothing more to it than that. Have a go at the letters below, using the arrows as a guide!

'O' shapes

  • a,b,c,d,e,o,p,q.

'Stem' shapes

  • l,k,t,f,i,j

'N' shapes

  • h,n,m

'U' shapes

  • u,w,y

The Misfits

  • r,x,z,v,s

Take your time to observe the shaping of the different groups during your practice. Calligraphy is about piecing the letter shapes together bit by bit, rather than writing everything out in one go. Keep the execution simple. You can start to become more expressive with the shaping once you have honed the construction of each letter. 

This is the start of your journey into brush pen lettering. You can try practicing with any brush pen you like. If you are an absolute beginner and find the larger brush pens a bit daunting to use, then I would recommend using a Tombow Fudenosuke. These are my favourite small tip pens as they give you more control and precision with your lettering, but don’t shy away from all the different brush pens that are available. Most importantly, have fun!

I would love to see how you get on! Please tag me in to your brush pen practice on Instagram and Facebook @illyboodesigns. If you are looking to take your lettering further then sign up to my newsletter where I will inform you of my new workshop dates. I offer brush pen lettering basics and a 2-part workshop into modern flourishing techniques using brush pens. 

Thank you!

About me:

I’m Illyahna, owner and calligraphy artist behind Illyboo Designs. I started my calligraphy journey over four years ago and although I still consider myself a newcomer to the world of calligraphy, I have worked within the creative industry as a fashion and graphic designer. So I am able to draw on those skills, to create beautiful bespoke lettering artwork in any project I do.

I teach calligraphy workshops for all abilities and I have my own range of lettering starter kits, so people can join in the fun and practice at home. I also work with Tombow UK where we run online brush lettering workshops. My love for creating beautiful stationery and capturing special moments through my designs doesn’t end there, as I am available for celebratory events and commissions too.

You can check out everything I do via my website at



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