Ornate lettering was something that could be found in a lot of places a hundred or more years ago. Advertisements, and products often used ornate lettering, nowadays ornate lettering isn’t seen anywhere near as much.
At this point if you’re very new to lettering you might be wondering what ornate lettering is. The simplest way to describe ornate lettering is that it’s usually just decorative, and references letter shapes and patterns that were around from the past.
The decoration can appear within the lettering, around the lettering or be used in both of these places. If you’re still a little unsure I recommend taking a look at the work of David Smith. David’s lettering work is very detailed, and much of it definitely falls under ornate.
There are a few of things to keep in mind for mastering ornate lettering.
Selecting the right tools to use is one of the most important things you can do. You won’t need many tools to start off with, but having the right ones will see you make more progress faster. A lot of ornate lettering is very intricate, and sometimes you can need to work pretty small too. So having a pencil with a very sharp tip is going to make drawing details a lot easier for you. I recommend using either a 0.5mm, or 0.3mm mechanical pencil as these will give you a consistent thin line. You’ll also want a rubber too, and a few sheets of paper so you can trace and refine your lettering as you go. You may or may not want to ink over your ornate lettering, if you do go down this route, you’re going to find it most helpful to have a thin ink pen. Sakura make a 0.05mm tipped Micron pen and it’s excellent for creating very thin detailed lines. I use it to outline and tidy up a lot of my lettering work. For quick and easy links to get some of these tools check out ‘Resources’.
The second thing to keep in mind is that like any type of lettering, it all takes practice to see your skills develop. David’s lettering work is amazing, and he has years of practice behind him. Practice regularly and you will see improvements.
One of the most important things you can do is gather reference and research before starting any ornate lettering piece. As there is less ornate lettering around nowadays, it’s very difficult to build up a picture of different styles in your head, like you can with more modern styles of lettering. So researching is very important, as it gives you good go to material when you’re trying to draw out your letters or decorative bits. If you haven’t read two previous articles I wrote, ‘The Importance Of Good Lettering Reference’ and ‘Where And How To Find Great Hand Lettering Reference’, I definitely recommend reading these. As they will give you a good starting point on finding reference.
As mentioned in the article doing a search on Google or Pinterest can provide an excellent supply of reference material, however there is nothing like going out and collecting your own reference.
I’m lucky in that I live very close to a lot of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. So I only had to walk a couple of blocks, to collect a few nice images of old fashioned decorative stone work. These can then be used as reference for some ornate lettering work.
When it comes to ornate lettering, there are some common layout patterns. Nowadays when we see a logo, it will usually very simple, and minimal. You’ll usually see the brand name, and sometimes a brief tagline, but there isn’t always a tagline. Older lettering, particularly ornate lettering would have a brand name then a lengthy tagline, and possibly other info besides. The following are some rough examples of layouts that would have been used when ornate lettering was in its prime. I’ve just used empty blocks to mark where the lettering would go.
Besides the amount of words used, with ornate lettering it was often displayed, sloping up, down, or on a curve.
Again this is where collecting good reference comes in, as it can help you to plan a good layout that’s relevant to ornate lettering.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully this will give you enough information to get started with ornate lettering. If you want to see a couple more images that I collected of Victorian decorative stone work, to use as reference within your own ornate lettering, I’ve added them to a decorative reference board on Pinterest.