Gemma O’Brien on Lettering Workshop (Oct 16th 2017, Barcelona)

Gemma O’Brien on Lettering Workshop (Oct 16th 2017, Barcelona)

This class will give an overview of the differences between writing, lettering and typography before moving into a series of short exercises to demonstrate key principles of letter construction, rhythm, contrast, composition, balance and techniques of letter customization (swashes, flourishes, decoration).


Using calligraphic principles as a starting point participants will spend the second part of the day conceptualizing, drawing and refining a custom piece of hand-lettering under Gemma’s instruction.

Class numbers will be limited to 25 to allow enough time for one-on-one feedback and direction.

Course Outline


Introduction, context, theory and short exercises based on calligraphic principles that inform lettering.

  • Welcome, introduction, quick warm up exercises,
  • Explanation of differences and links between writing, lettering and typography. Overview of relevant terminology,
  • Contextualisation of lettering within the broad landscape of letterform-based skills and crafts (type design, sign painting, letter carving, calligraphy) today,
  • Overview of Roman letterforms created using a flat brush to explain principles of stroke contrast, variation and proportions. Double-pencil exercise over model alphabet,
  • Overview of letterforms created with a pointed brush to understand rhythm, and movement. Brush pen exercise. Model alphabets will be provided as reference,
  • Experimentation with cola-pens + balsa wood to explore non-conventional calligraphic approaches,
  • Group discussion and analysis of how to identify these calligraphic principles in examples of typography and lettering,
  • Overview of brief for afternoon, and selection of word for final project.


The afternoon will be dedicated to creating a unique piece of lettering informed by the calligraphic exercises in Session One.

  • Conceptualising your design: approaches to linking content, lettering style and meaning,
  • Composition, spacing, layout: how to achieve a balanced layout. Letter relationships: Analysis of letter combinations and positioning to look for opportunities for customisation,
  • Customisation: How to make your letterforms unique using swash letters, flourishes, quirky letterforms or decorative techniques (shadows, illustrated embellishments, inline strokes),
  • The final two hours will be spent drawing and refining individual projects with one-on-one consultation from Gemma,
  • Group critique and wrap up.

Workshop Schedule

  • 8:30—Doors open, Registration
  • 9:00—Introduction & Kick-off
  • 11:00—Coffee Break
  • 12:30—Lunch
  • 13:30—Afternoon Session
  • 15:00—Coffee Break
  • 17:00—The End, Networking


IED School of Design
C/ Biada, 11,
08012 Barcelona
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