Once the preserve of the classroom – evoking homework, detentions and spelling tests – chalkboards have migrated out of the school environment and are having a serious moment. They're now in our homes, favourite bars and the coolest of boutique hotels thanks to their ability to provide a changing canvas of ideas and organisation.
But, however you might try, recreating that calligraphy-style lettering you've pinned a thousand times on your Pinterest board just doesn't quite look right. Don't throw the chalk in yet – help is at hand. Alison Carmichael is a professional lettering artist, who's created lettering for everyone from Nike to McDonalds. We asked her to give us some top tips to create Instagram-worthy chalkboard lettering every time.
What tips would you give a beginner for creating chalkboard lettering at home?
Keep it simple to start with. You could plan a loose layout to follow as a template on your computer just to get the hierarchy of words, scale and letter weight in place and then print it out and trace the shapes, adding embellishment and a handcrafted look. With chalk, because it is pretty hard to control the thickness of line, it is best to design it so that the letters have a good amount of letter spacing.
Any tips for making sure you don't run out of space with your design?
There are a few ways you can do this. Firstly, you need to make sure you are designing on paper which is the same ratios to the wall/chalkboard you are drawing on. You could create a grid and translate it from paper to board like that. It is important to map the whole design out very lightly in chalk first so you can make sure you are happy with where everything is fitting in.
Then stand back from it so you can see your whole design. I tend to draw it all out lightly, then work over the top of the light version removing smudges using a damp rag or Cotton buds for tricky bits and finer details.
When I have done larger commercial work where the pressure has been on to reproduce something very precisely, I have used a projector to project the artwork onto the board and used that to trace the whole thing down. This is a failsafe method!
How can you build up your chalkboard lettering with more detail?
The larger the lettering is, the easier it is to make it look precise and clean. I use normal chalk sticks for the main bulk of the work but where there are perhaps finer details needed, you can use a pastel stick or even a pastel pencil. These are really good for drawing fine lines, cross hatching and small details or drop shadows.
Which of your designs are you most proud of so far?
I enjoyed making a type piece recently made entirely from cake decoration sugar strands for an exhibition celebrating female artists called “There’s a Good Girl”. It was a nice change for me to be able to art direct my own piece and have fun doing whatever I wanted. I was also recently asked to design and hand-paint a bespoke mural for the new Nike women's store in London, which is the first of its kind in Europe. For this job, I actually used a custom-blend of Dulux paint to create the words "Victory looks good on you."
Who or what gives you inspiration?*
I find inspiration in everything, particularly historic design. I have archived stuff that I like for years in scrapbooks, anything from menus to handwriting on postcards, magazine cuttings etc.
Where's the best place to find good lettering examples?
The Victorians were the masters of ornament and flourishes so if you want some inspiration for shapes and ideas, look on the internet or in reference books and learn from the best!
How did you discover your love of typography?
I always loved playing with letterforms from a very young age and decided to study graphic design at college where I specialised in hand lettering. There was something about crafting letters by hand which I found more satisfying than working on a computer.
Why do you think typography is having a 'moment' right now?
Perhaps after a long while of seeing a lot of computer generated graphics, which can sometimes feel a bit 'samey' and lacking in individuality and personality, it is nice to see a hand behind a piece of design rather than a mouse… if that makes sense!
See Alison's work at www.jellylondon.com
All images courtesy of the artist.
Give Alison's tips a go with your own blackboard