Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Collage Drawing Painting Sculpture

Creative Lettering

Sara Ottomano

In the Art Studio, we often encourage guests of all ages to explore the combination of words and images. We’ve facilitated storytelling through bookmaking, used words to inspire artmaking, and our drop-in art program is currently centered on combining drawing with collage to celebrate the alphabet.

This past summer, we explored creative lettering in an evening adult workshop where participants played with letter forms, color, and movement.

Two participants smiling and looking at other people's artwork

We started the workshop with a warm-up, painting with liquid watercolor on a large wall surface. Participants were encouraged to engage specific muscle groups and joints to paint lines and make marks on the large watercolor paper. This warm-up not only loosened up our muscles to use in more fine-motor activities later, it also helped participants develop their hand-eye coordination and loosen the grip on the drawing tool. We discussed how fatigue and cramping can develop from an overuse of certain muscles, so warming up all the muscle groups and switching between them can help prevent strain.

Participants standing in front of the wall and painting the large watercolor paper.

This warm-up activity got everyone thinking about which muscles we most often use to write, (our fingers and wrists) and that the shoulder joint and elbow were best for painting on a large scale.

Close-up of a participant painting on the wall, using their wrist joint.

The paint colors, yellow, red, and turquoise, also yielded beautiful mixtures when layered and overlapped.

Close-up image of the colors mixing to make green, orange, and purple.

We also explored how pressure changed the weight of the line. When moving upward, we experimented with brushing lightly for a thin line, then on a down stroke pressing harder to yield a thick line. This exercise of varying pressure is a technique used in brush lettering and pointed-nib calligraphy to create letters with distinctive thin upstrokes and thick down strokes.

Detail of red paint strokes where the upstroke is thinner than the down stroke.

After experimenting on a large scale, we then translated the exploration onto a flat surface. We explored new materials: watercolor palettes, different paper options, and markers.

Two participants focusing while painting with watercolor palettes.

We tested how pressure worked with the markers, and how the watercolor palettes worked differently than the liquid watercolor. We thought about the angle of the paper, drawing tool, and the angle of the table surface and how those angles affect the letters. To encourage exploration, I called out prompts to spark new idea, encouraging letter making that were squat, tall, curvy, robot, slanted etc.

Close-up of a participant painting the alphabet with watercolor and varying their brush strokes.

A participant smiles while creating letters that touch the top of the page and go all the way to the bottom.

A paper covered in the word "brown" where each word is done in a different style, some with small letters, others bold, some with only straight lines, some with narrow lines.

After experimenting with letters on flat surfaces, we then switched to creating letters in 3-D with wire.

Participant focusing on shaping the wire into a word.

Sculpting letters helped us think about the connections between letters and letter spacing with a limited amount of wire.

Words in wire spell "peace", "love", and "oh!"

To round out the evening, we had a free exploration of materials to create artwork inspired by letters. Some chose to focus on a single letter, others created phrases, and some combined the two.

The letter "F" made from a collage of stamps.

An artwork with collaged fish on a blue background with the word "Thanks" painted on.

Participant working on an artwork where the word "Wool" is partially cut from collage papers and partially written.

An artwork where the word "Treasures" is written on a collage paper then glued to a larger collage of a treasure box filled with stamps.

At the end of the evening, participants walked away with their artwork and the Art Studio held onto the large-scale watercolor experimentations.

The large-scale mural fully painted with lines and swoops after the workshop ended.

With the beautiful swoops, dashes, and lines, we were inspired to cut them up and turned them into cards.

A pile of cards made from the large-scale painting exercise, each one with painted abstract lines and swoops.

So the papers will have a second life, holding hand-written notes from the Art Studio.


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.