Brush Lettering: Workshop and Brush Pen Review

In late October I attended a wonderful brush lettering class run by Quill London. The session is for beginners and is hosted by Emma Block and Teri Muncey who both use brush lettering in their careers in illustration, styling and design. I had a great time, met some lovely people, came away with a piece of wall art (!) and some good quality supplies, and indulged this newfound hobby of mine.

The class flew by and over the course of a couple of hours we practiced upper and lower case lettering, numbering styles, pattern-making with the brush (useful when producing cursive letters like S and lower case E) and created our own statement piece. I chose the sentiment “work hard, stay humble” because it’s a solid motto in life (and nice and short in case I was terrible at brush lettering). When I got home I decided I would put it up above the desk as a little motivator to carry on with this hobby and as a small piece of decoration. I think it fits, and seeing it makes me very happy, especially because it’s not perfect.

An evident part of the class was the demonstration of individual style. Everyone’s brush lettering style was different, whether it was through letter spacing, darkness of the ink used, difference between thick and thin brush strokes, slant, etcetera. This is definitely one of the appeals of brush lettering to me; each person’s is unique and I genuinely don’t think you could produce “ugly” script. I’ve definitely developed my own style and I’m not really sure where some attributes of my “font” come from, as I don’t necessarily write with these decorations with other pens. Tall letters like D, L, and H have a small loop at the top, and long letters like G, J and Y have a small loop at their tails.

Although we used a paintbrush and bottled ink during the class, I have actually acquired a few brush pens during my stationery shopping sprees. I have tried them out and doodled with them, but I wanted to hold back on judging their performance until after I’d taken this lettering class so that I could get a better grasp of the basics. I certainly didn’t want to judge my lettering using brush pens in case I could use them for better results; a bad workman always blames his tools, after all.

Since the class though I have been doodling away much more with the brush pens and have put together some thoughts on how they write according to my preference. Disclaimer! I am no expert at brush lettering and very clearly need to continue practicing. These are my efforts after practicing for a couple of weeks.

The pens I’ve been trying out are:

  1. Muji calligraphy pen.
  2. Kuretake brush pen. I can’t actually find a link for this online, mostly because the Kuretake packaging is all in Japanese. Its vital statistics are probably very obvious on the packaging to a trained Japanese eye. I picked it up at JP Books in Soho.
  3. Tombow ABT brush pen. I’ve got this in black, green and cerulean.

I’ve tried these pens out on bog standard printer paper because ink generally has good contrast against it and it doesn’t attract any particular soaking in.

This pen has a very soft, flexible brush nib and is the closest brush pen I’ve tried to an actual paintbrush. The ink is very black and the pen is clad in signature Muji style.

The pen is a good shape to hold and takes pressure well. You need to use this fairly slowly to get a consistent line and the brush fibres are quite obvious, particularly when writing round letters. Writing quickly or getting carried away with flicks means that you lose the density of the line easily and although. this can provide a pleasing handwritten effect, for me I find it makes my script look messier, like my brush was running out of ink and I didn’t think ahead to ink it up.

I found this pen the hardest to control and I think it shows in my script. I find it difficult to keep my sizing consistent and differences in thick lines vs thin lines seems more evident with this pen than with the others.

It is priced at £2.50 so is a good way of getting started with brush pen lettering and Muji shops are quite accessible in London and online. I’m not sure I’m going to continue using this pen for script too often, but I’m going to give it a go with brush sketching; the natural brush look may be better suited to this use than lettering for me.


The Tombow ABT is a dual ended brush pen with a fine tip at one end and a brush tip at the other. The fine tip writes very smoothly and produces a very clean line.


This brush nib is not as flexible as the Muji brush pen, which is better for my style of writing. However, I find it difficult to achieve a striking difference between thick and thin lines to give that authentic brush lettering look. I’ve seen several videos on Instagram of brush artists producing some absolutely beautiful script with these pens.

So far I have found the hardest aspect of brush lettering overall to be achieving a consistent and yet thin line. My thin lines tend to get a little jumpy and broken and the Tombow pen shows this disjointedness. With this pen however I actually really like the effect of not trying to achieve the thick and thin contrast, but instead applying a consistent pressure. I used this pen for lettering my boyfriend’s anniversary card and used this technique rather than an alternating heavy/light pressure. This is how it came out on the envelope.

The ink runs very well and doesn’t jump. Writing at speed does not seem to affect the consistency of the line and it blends well so that if you need to go back and fill in a small line or join two letters together, the overlap in ink isn’t immediately obvious. This is very useful for me because I’m not quite there yet with joining up letters and my natural brush lettering style seems to be more isolated letters.

So far I would recommend this pen. It comes in a huge array of colours which means that getting used to using the Tombow will come in useful for all kinds of writing and crafty needs. Looking at the pictures of all three sets of script I think it’s close between the Tombow and Kuretake as to which pen wins on overall lettering appearance.


Is it just me or can you just tell from the lettering of the pen name that I like this one best? Or does the word “Kuretake” just lend itself well to being written and looking pretty? I was a bit afraid of using the Kuretake pen at first because it seemed very stiff and I didn’t want to apply pressure to the nib for fear of bending it out of shape. Once I’d got over this ridiculous fear though and used it as it is meant to be used… I loved it.

For the same amount of pressure as the Tombow and Muji, this pen produces the thickest and blackest line and the blackness does not fade with speed or with less pressure. It has a pleasing squeak against the page that makes you feel like the brush fibres aren’t going to come apart and produce any scratchiness in the letters, and the resultant line is extremely smooth. I’m quite prepared to admit that I like this pen so much because it’s very forgiving and it’s certainly true that inconsistencies in thin lines in particular are not as obvious using this pen – in my opinion this makes it a great choice for a beginner to use and get good results from fairly quickly.

Close up of Kuretake lettering

I also think the Kuretake is most satisfying to use because it has the best contrast between thick and thin lines which gives the script its artisan look. However it seems quite hard to come by, and strangely I haven’t managed to found it online yet.

So those are my thoughts so far! Kuretake is an easy winner, and the performance of the Tombow pen makes me want to keep trying because I’m convinced I will achieve lettering perfection with it if I apply a good few more hours to practicing with it. I’ll carry on trying out the Muji pen but I don’t think it’s for me with my lettering style and pressure. I’m going to keep my eye out for affordable brush pens and continue trying them out as I think they are a very adaptable way of using brush lettering in everyday life, whereas the paintbrush and bottled ink duo seem more suited to large lettering or specific designs. Do you have any suggestions? Which out of the three I’ve tried do you think looks best with my style? I’d be thrilled to hear any feedback!

If you would like to try out Quill London’s workshop you can find them here. They sell out quite far in advance so get your name on a waiting list of pop it in the diary for a few weeks time to look forward to! I’m going to their Modern Calligraphy class this month and I’m excited already!

September Stationery and Bookish Bloomsbury

I have been reducing my expenditure slightly on stationery over the last couple of months. I should say that this doesn’t mean the quantity of stationery I have acquired has reduced. The truism “quality over quantity” has probably sprung to your mind, but one of the best aspects of this particular passion of mine is that great, unique and usable stationery comes in all shapes and sizes, for all prices.

One piece of stationery that I love and have decided I can’t live without? Washi tape. Perhaps to some, these decorative tapes appear relatively useless. But since incorporating them into my various written pursuits, I find I can’t get enough of the stuff. Using washi tapes can add instant luxe appeal to the most drab of Paperchase sale cards. It adds splashes of colour to darkly-coloured notebooks and boring office-cupboard plastic wallets. It can be used as page markers or bookmarks. Borders, lines, boxes in a scrapbook. I am a bit obsessed. I have about 20 different washi tapes and I chop and change these in my daily collection just like my pencils and pens.


Much of September’s stationery I bought in person and on a singular occasion. I went for the most wonderful walk in Bloomsbury recently. It’s amazing what you see when you’re actually looking for it. The British Museum is very famous for its wonderful collection of Greek antiquities, and while I nosed around museums all over Greece recently it’s noticeable how many pieces of Greek art and history are actually on loan from the British Museum… to Greece! On taking a stroll past the British Museum I noticed for the first time that many of the shops nearby have a Greek theme. That would have never caught my eye before my recent holiday. Anyway, my reason for being in the area in the first place and the eventual moral of this story is that Bloomsbury has the most fantastic aura of bookishness and literacy about it. Over the course of about four hours I strolled around with a coffee (Holborn Grind, delicious) stopping off at various independent bookstores and stationers. Best day ever.

One of my first stops was Blade Rubber Stamps. This is a shop devoted to, well, rubber stamps. I love using rubber stamps and often incorporate them into notes and letters. I’ve been lusting after a date stamp for some time, having been patiently waiting for this cute little one (number 11) to come back into stock at one of my favourite stationers’ Present & Correct. Blade Rubber Stamps has a vast range of products; seasonal motifs, short messages in vintage style type, floral designs, black cabs… you name it, it’s on a stamp. They had a great selection suitable for letter-writing, and I was particularly drawn to a tiny snail stamp (as in “snail mail”). But then I found this beauty. So far the quality of the stamp seems excellent; it produces a lovely and extremely fine colonial font. I’ve been inking it up with my Lion stamp pad as the ink comes out brilliantly black. Gorgeous isn’t it?

Onto some of my paper and ink acquisitions over the last month. I purchased a couple of my new washi tapes from Volte Face on Great Ormond Street, and the rest I picked up at another of my favourite stationers’ – JP Books in Soho. JP Books specialises in Japanese products and the display of books and magazines (predominantly in Japanese) fascinates me. Oh the hours I’ve spent in here. It’s ironic because the stationery collection isn’t vast, but they stock products that I just haven’t come across anywhere else. All that testing and handling and reading takes time. First and foremost I bought myself a Tsubame Cream notebook. I have read reviews of the Tsubame Fools range of notebooks online and I know that they are well respected for their bleed resistant, watermarked paper. On opening this notebook you are confronted with the creamiest of papers. The cover is soft-bound and has a leathery effect to it, and there is a great, very lightly woven linen-style binding on the spine.  I’ll update on this when I get stuck into using it properly. Oh and I’m too nervous to write my name on the cover. I don’t want to ruin the look and feel of it by scrawling my name on the front yet!

My other two purchases are disposable pens and came at a snip. These are the Pilot Uniball Signo RT1 in blue black (0.38mm) and a Kuretake brush pen. While I love a good fountain pen I do have a special place in my heart for fine gel pens. The Pilot RT1 is a very smooth pen to write with and I really like the blue black tone.  While it’s not going to win prizes with me for uniqueness, it’s a worthwhile everyday pen and I’ve been using it consistently at work ever since I added it to my weekly collection at the expense of all my other pens, which is actually quite an accolade considering how much thought I put into said weekly collection. The image at the top of this post is a sample of how the RT1 writes, very occasionally I have an issue with the ink skipping (as you can see on the word “mean”) but overall the ink is consistent. I’ve only doodled and jotted with the Kuretake brush pen so far. I’m actually attending a brush lettering workshop later this month for which I’m hugely excited. I’m planning to keep it safe to use and practice with after I’ve picked up some tips and tricks to produce beautiful brush calligraphy!

On my walk I stumbled across Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street. Persephone Books is predominantly a publishing house with a bookshop attached, specialising in female writers particularly from the early 20th century. I couldn’t walk out of this shop empty-handed. This book, “Someone at a Distance” by Dorothy Whipple, was recommended to me as featuring a meaty plot and having a very literary style of writing compared to some of the more light-hearted books on offer. I proudly walked out with this under my arm and I’m about to start reading once I finish the current book I’m on (“Confessions of a Sociopath” by M.E.Thomas). I’m looking forward to it because it seems to be different to my usual fictional choices which have recently included “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce, “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozens, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “A Song for Issy Bradley” by Carys Bray). Persephone Books deserves its own blog post though and I’m popping back soon to meet the staff at Persephone Books to learn more about their publishing style, book selections and future editions.

Have you used any of these products? I’d be delighted to hear your reviews.