Chalkboard Lettering - Tips & Tricks
Chalkboard art has become increasingly popular over the years, and for good reason. It's a fun and creative way to express yourself, whether you're creating a menu board for your cafe, designing a wedding sign, or simply decorating your home. But, where do you begin? Especially if you are like me and are left handed and it seems like an absolutely impossible feat (without at least making a giant mess). Which is such a shame since I absolutely LOVE the aesthetic of those Instagram and Pinterest worthy chalkboard designs. So while yes, creating chalkboard art can seem daunting, here are a few simple tips to help you ditch the fear and get on your way to creating beautiful and eye-catching designs.
Choosing a chalkboard
Ok well this one is obvious. But first things first, you'll need a chalkboard to work on. There are various types of chalkboards available, from traditional slate to porcelain-coated steel, to chalkboard paint that you apply to whatever work surface you are wanting to work on. And chalkboards also come at a wide variety of price points as well. So it's important to choose a chalkboard that suits your needs and style. If you're creating a temporary design, a regular chalkboard or chalkboard paint will do the trick. But, if you're looking for something more permanent, you may want to invest in a porcelain-coated steel chalkboard. This is my current favorite chalkboard to work on, with the gold frame it makes for absolutely stunning little lettering pieces (and the fact that its magnetic and can serve as a place for family notes is a bonus). I also LOVE this larger wooden framed chalkboard that I use for my kid's traditional "first day of school" photos.
Here are a couple other options that you can use for non-traditional chalkboards which are also super fun to experiment with and find what style you like the best:
Chalkboard paint - this is a black chalkboard paint that you can brush or roll onto almost any
surface, including wood, metal, glass, your wall, or plaster board signs. A fun use for this is to take an old (or new, you do you!) kids table and paint the surface so they can create chalk art directly on it. If you want to see some of the most amazing inspiration for chalkboard wall art, check out Stefan Kunz and prepare to be absolutely amazed.
Chalkboard contact paper - ok so I LOVE this stuff, and have used it for years to create labels for spice jars, bins, pantry storage, etc. I cut it into the shape I want and then use a soft white pencil or chalk pen for longevity.
Kraft paper - Ok so not technically a chalkboard, but one of my other favorite surfaces to do chalkboard art (maybe I should just call it chalk art in this case?) is on kraft paper. There's something about kraft paper that I feel in my soul - I can't explain it. It's like a simple yet gorgeous blank canvas for any medium, including chalk. Especially when it is paired with this dreamy kraft paper wall dispenser.
2. Sketch your design
Before you start drawing on your chalkboard, it's a good idea to sketch out your design on paper first. Coming up with a design on the fly on a chalkboard is a whole other level - and while some people have this skill (and you can certainly develop it over time), it makes things harder especially when you're starting out. Sketching out your design first will give you a better idea of the layout and help you avoid mistakes on the chalkboard, or at least minimize them so you aren't spending an excessive amount of time doing clean up.
3. Use the right tools
There are several tools you can use to create chalkboard art, but the most important one is, of course, chalk. Chalk comes in various forms, including regular chalk sticks, chalk markers, and liquid chalk pens. Regular chalk sticks are great for creating soft, smudgy lines, while chalk markers and liquid chalk pens are ideal for creating crisp, bold lines. You may also want to invest in a chalk holder or chalk sharpener to make it easier to work with regular chalk sticks. But beyond just the chalk you are using, there are other tools you can use that make the actual process of creating your design easier and more polished. Here are the various tools that you can look into and how I use them:
Chalk: Yes, obviously, chalk comes first. It doesn't have to be fancy by any means, but like any tool there are going to be differences depending on the brand or type (crayons are all crayons, but think of the difference between Craylola vs. RoseArt, and you will know what I mean). The great thing about chalk, it is pretty cheap as far as art supplies go. Whether you are looking for all white or a colorful variety pack, you can find it just about anywhere.
Chalk pens: Chalk pens (or paint pens) are amazing for creating more permanent designs, or brighter and more vibrant ones. I love using these when I am doing informational signs (such as my kid's back to school signs), or when I'm doing something I want to last longer, such as labeling pantry items. The color options are limitless with chalk pens, from pastels to primary colors or even vintage, so the sky is the limit on your design.
Chalk pencils: Oh I love me a good chalk pencil. It definitely, like the others, has a time and a place that you want to use them (doing a large design with chalk pencils alone can be very tedious since the surface area of the chalk is much smaller), but if you are looking to do more delicate, smaller designs (like my "Make Things Happen" design in the photo above), a chalk pencil is the way to go. It is also the perfect tool to use to do your initial sketch of the design on the chalkboard itself, even if you are going to go back over it and build it out further with more substantial pieces of chalk or chalk pens/paint pens).
Chalk holder: This is a nice to have, for sure - but getting chalk all over my hand is a surefire way to get chalk dust all over my design. So a chalk holder makes the process cleaner and the ultimate design neater.
Chalk sharpener: So how often you need this/use this will depend largely on the lettering style you are going for, but if you want to have any sort of detail to your design than a good sharpener will go a long way in helping you create detail and fine lines. This is one of those "duh" moments I had when I was using chalk and realized that I could sharpen it instead of hold thick pieces at the perfect angle to get a nice crisp line. You can use any old pencil sharpener for this, although one thing I will say is the shavings are simply chalk dust, so getting one with a bottom makes cleanup a bit easier.
Cardstock: This is another trick I had to learn in large part because I'm left handed, but a piece of cardstock or paper will come in so handy if you lightly lay it over any area you have already designed and are needing to rest your hand back on that area to design another area of the chalkboard. (See the section at the end of this blog if you are looking for some other left-handed specific tricks)
Q-tips: Ok, hear me out. But as a lefty, I have to find the best tricks for clearing up smudges and fine tuning the design once I get it drawn out. Q-tips are my favorite tool to dampen and clean up the edges of my design, erase small smudges or smears, and sharpen the overall outlines of the design. I keep this case with my craft supplies and can't tell you how many uses I have found for them with various projects.
Baby wipes: Same with the Q-tips, I use baby wipes (water wipes specifically because that's what I use for my kids so I have them around, but also they tend to have more "water" in them) to clean up smudges, smears, and any messy areas on the chalkboard that are less detailed than an area I need a Q-tip for (or, if you're wanting to get super extra, wrap the Q-tip in a baby wipe)
4. Experiment with fonts and styles
One of the best things about creating chalkboard art is the freedom to experiment with different fonts and styles. You can mix and match different fonts, play with letter spacing and sizing, and add flourishes and decorative elements. And the same lettering styles you might do on paper have such a different feel to them when they are recreated in chalk. Don't be afraid to try out different styles until you find one that suits your project and personal style. For practice learning the basic techniques of hand lettering and how to learn and use different styles or just for some general lettering inspiration or practice, check out my book Modern Lettering (on a crazy sale right now on Amazon for only $10)
5. Practice, practice, practice
As with any art form, practice makes perfect. Don't expect to create a masterpiece on your first try. Take your time, and practice your lettering and designs on paper or a small chalkboard before moving on to a larger project. You can also find plenty of tutorials and inspiration online to help you improve your skills.
Specific tips for lefties!
Ok if you are right handed, feel free to stop here (or keep reading, you may find some of these tips helpful too!) - but these are tips that I have found when trying to do chalkboard lettering as a lefty without just ruining things with your hand as you drag it over everything you have just worked on.
Go from right to left! So I don't mean you have to design your entire piece from right to left, that would be an impressive feat that is beyond my skill level. But after you get your initial design sketeched lightly onto the chalkboard, when you are going over (especially if using chalk pens that are essentially paint that will smear everywhere), I paint the design starting in the top right corner and moving left and down as I go. This prevents my hand from having to drag over everything I'm doing, which would be an absolute mess.
Turn your board, a LOT. Don't think you have to keep your board in the same position like you would if you were writing on paper. I turn my surface constantly to make sure I'm working from the best angle and not precariously trying to hover my hand over the piece (if possible, obviously if you are working on a wall or something that is fixed you can't necessarily do this).
Use paper/cardstock to protect your finished areas from smudging. Careful when you try to do this over pain pen though and make sure it is FULLY dry if you do. But this works well if you do have to rest your hand on your drawing surface over any area you have already drawn on. The more concerned you are about your hand dragging over chalk the less you are able to focus and concentrate on the part you are currently working on. So this is an easy hack to help take some of that worry away.
Don't fret over smears. As I included above, there are tips and tricks for fixing smudges and smears, such as damp Q-tips, baby wipes and damp paper towels. Chalk is forgiving and you can clean up any mistakes later.