012: Using Hand Lettering and Type as a Texture




Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2016


Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins

1. Adding texture to your caricature gives it more visual interest.
2. It’s easy to overdo textures and make your piece look messy. Don’t add textures just for the sake of adding textures; make sure adding them has a purpose.
3. Experiment with typography and hand lettering as a texture and design element.


I own many how-to illustration books. One thing almost every one of them covers is learning how to add texture to your artwork. There are many techniques, like stipple, hatching, crosshatching, scribbling, and many more. One day I will explore them in exclusively in a post, but the one I want to share today is one that I don’t think is ever really written about in any of the how-to illustration books I’ve seen, and one that I think is overlooked: using hand lettering and type as a texture.


I recently recreated a piece a did last year of Avril Lavigne (from the Hello Kitty music video). I transferred the sketch I had made of her onto illustration board. I think it was one of the better sketches that I  had done and one where I was experimenting with my watercolor brush pens, so I wanted to recreate it onto a final piece.


The final art came out nice but I felt like it was missing something. It had a nice likeness, there was a bit of story, and some bright colors used as flourishes, but it still felt a little blank. I knew that adding textures would fill the space a bit, but also give the piece some nice visual weight, but I didn’t want to make textures for the sake of making textures; doing that often results in visual noise.




There are bright, bold colors and lots of design elements. The type is better serving as a background texture.



When I did a piece of Prince recently I used his lyrics as part of the design. The piece itself had some nice textures in the hair and beard, but using the type added a nice design element. I thought the same principle would work here in the Avril piece. However,  in this case it would be more of an intentional texture and background element because the main subject itself didn’t really need texture.




Prince, illustrated on vellum bristol board using deep purple Akashiya watercolor marker (for the broad strokes) and deep purple .05 micron for hair textures and lyrics.


I wrote out the entire lyrics to Avril’s Hello Kitty to take up space and in it’s entirety it filled half the page. I flipped the page and began again writing the lyrics upside down until they met with the other lyrics.


The overall design itself had a lot of busy and bold elements, like the colors, and complimentary elements of the cupcakes, word balloon, and skulls, so it was intentional to make the lyrics a background element so it wasn’t competing for attention. I wanted it to be subtle and still serve the purpose of adding texture.




Final illustration of Avril Lavigne using vellum bristol board, Kuretake brush pen, .05, .03, and .005 black micron, and Akashiya watercolor marker.


In both the Prince and Avril piece hand lettering is used a texture, but in very different and purposeful ways. The Prince piece uses texture as a design element by wrapping around the curvy form of the illustration. The Avril piece uses texture as a background element to not distract from the subject, but to bring the subject to the main focal point by being a subdued element.


There is no doubt that adding texture gives your artwork not only more visual weight, but also more visual interest. By adding texture to your artwork you can give the impression that it has a tactile feeling even if it is on a flat, two-dimensional surface.


In encourage you to experiment using type as a texture to help tell a visual story with your caricatures. Every face has a story to tell and I want to teach you how to tell it.