Well hello! Long time no write!
I’ve been meaning to do a post about chalk lettering for a while now as several people have asked about it and now that I’ve been doing it for long enough to not feel like I’m talking about things I don’t know much about, I feel that I can confidently give some tips and describe my full process to anyone curious enough to read about it.
Just to give you some background, here are a few chalk lettering pieces I have done in the past, some as personal projects and some as client work:
The “Welcome” piece is my most recent work, done for my baby shower and specifically in preparation for this blog post. I’ve posted a process video of it on my YouTube channel and a much speedier version on my Instagram. Here’s the YouTube video for reference, where you will see some of the things I will talk about in action and be able to follow along:
Before I get into my process, though, I want to show you the tools I use for my chalk lettering work and some products that I have tried. Here are the basic must-haves I always use in addition to bringing my chalk (I will explain how I use them in detail further in the post):
Small ArtBin (that surprisingly fits A LOT inside)
Jar (for water or coke)
Ruler (length depends on size of project but I usually bring an 18” one or a regular 12” one)
Sharpener with a wide opening that fits chalk
Aaand here are some tools I sometimes like to use but they are not usually necessary:
Chalk holder (helpful for keeping your fingers clean and ready to erase small details)
Black+Decker laser level
Small measuring tape (for bigger jobs when a ruler is just too small)
In case you’re wondering if I ever use a projector - I don’t. I have one and have used it once but it took me longer to get it set up and working properly than just drawing without it. It’s not the best projector and I’m sure I will need a better one if I ever had to do a very large mural, but for chalk jobs, I don’t really need it.
Also, here are some chalk brands I’ve tried. I tend to use Crayola for white and the others I bought to have a variety of color options. My favorite colored chalk is the one on the right, Alphacolor. This is the most buttery and saturated chalk you’ll ever use. The only downside is that it’s so soft and buttery that it erases easier than other chalk, but I haven’t had too many problems with it.
For the Welcome sign, I used Crayola for white, Bazic colored chalk for the purply pink color on the drop lines, flowers, and pink dots, Alphacolor for blue in the leaves, dark pink in the flowers, and yellow dots, and Huntz Chalk for the green of the leaves (it’s less yellow than regular green chalk). What I like about the Bazic, Huntz, and Sargent chalks is that they have color options that aren’t usually available with regular chalk. There are darker greens, lighter pinks, brown, and paler blues and yellows:
I always sketch my pieces out on my iPad beforehand because it’s so easy to make it look like chalk on a blackboard quickly. I always try to use the same proportions as the board I will be working on so that there are no spacing surprises later (although always be prepared for some spacing surprises since it’s not easy to make the actual chalk piece match the drawing 100%). Once I’m done, I print it out and mark up a quick grid that may come in handy on the day of the job. It can be as simple as measuring out the center lines, but I usually split the page into quarters horizontally and vertically, like this:
As far as the tools go, the only prep I do is that I pack my bag with all of the essentials the night before and make sure that I sharpen one box of white chalk from both sides. It’s great for detailing and having a full box of them ensures that you won’t have to waste time sharpening on location.
And now we are ready to start on the chalkboard!
I measure out the center lines on the chalkboard first (in the video above you’ll see that I didn’t use a ruler since it’s a pretty small board and simple composition so I just eyed it, but with client work, when it matters more, or with larger boards, I will pretty much always use a ruler or measuring tape).
Then, I use my yarn and tape to mark out the angle of the type on the board using the grid as a reference. For example, I see that in my drawing the bottom of the “W” is around the lower quarter mark on my sketch, so I placed the yarn in the lower quarter of my board. I love using yarn because it makes things so quick, easy and mess-free.
Draw out the skeleton of your letters in very light hand since you want it to be easy to erase if you make the word too big or too small. If it’s too big and you’re running out of space, you can always quickly adjust the yarn lines to be closer together, which will help make the word smaller, and vice versa.
Once the skeleton is done and it all fits, draw out the thick and thins of the letters, again with a very light hand, using the yarn as your guide. This is where you’ll realize sometimes that you don’t have enough space since the thicks will add more width to your word and you may need to adjust some things. This is why a very light hand is important here because you don’t want to make a mess of the board at the very beginning.
When you get everything to fit right, it’s now time to finally really press into your chalk and fill in the letters.
Next, you can sketch out your borders and details, again with a light hand. You might notice that my final chalkboard looks a little bit different than my original sketch. This is why you should always be ready for spacing surprises because once I drew out the word, I realized that my leaves and flourishes could not fit the same way as they did in the drawing, which is ok, you just have to be ready to improvise a bit. I just drew the leaves in a bit differently so that it would look better.
Now that you have all of your details sketched out, go ahead and fill them all in! You can then use your Q-tips again to clean up all around your drawing and erase any random marks. And you’re done!
I try to stay away from using water much for cleaning up details because it usually just spreads the chalk and then it’s harder to erase the wet white marks.
Use Q-tips when you have small areas or details to erase. I try to use them dry mostly, unless I have some stubborn areas that don’t look clean after using dry Q-tips or my fingers.. I like to use my fingers to erase small areas since that could sometimes be the easiest way to erase.
Try using Coke instead of water, which helps to make the erasing mark much darker (but keep in mind that if your chalkboard is a bit grey/chalky under your drawing, the Coke marks might be darker and more visible).
Sometimes, I use my hand as a measuring tool, a tip I learned from Lauren Hom. You can use your outstretched hand to gauge the heights of letters or distances between things.
Always step away from the board and look at it from afar before finalizing anything. The bigger the board, the harder it is to see proportions and details, so make it a habit to keep stepping away to see the full composition.
This post is all about regular chalk but I did want to mention some of the chalk markers I use if the job calls for it. I’ve used VersaChalk, Arteza, Bistro Chalk Markers, and Super Chalks:
And that is that! I hope that you enjoyed reading this post and have found it helpful. As always, if you have any questions at all, please ask away in the comments below!