The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering: Create and Develop Your Own Style

The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering: Create and Develop Your Own Style

by Valerie McKeehan


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Say it with chalk! Learn the art of hand-drawn chalk lettering from an Etsy superstar in a book complete with chalkboards!

Ubiquitous at boutiques and cafés, on Etsy and Pinterest, in stationery and home decor, the art of chalk lettering is hotter than ever. Valerie McKeehan, an Etsy standout, teaches us everything we need to know to create gorgeous hand-drawn chalk designs.

In over 60 lessons, learn the ABCs of lettering (literally) and basic styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Next, how to lay out a design, combine various styles into one cohesive piece, and add shadows and dimension. Master more advanced letter styles, from faceted to ribbon to “vintage circus.” Use banners, borders, flourishes. And finally, 12 projects to show off your newfound skills, including a Winter Wonderland Snow Globe; a smartphone-themed birthday card to text friends and family; a one-of-a-kind party invitation to create, photograph, and mail; and a bake sale sign guaranteed to put everyone who sees it in the mood for a cupcake!

The book is also a practice space, with three foldout “chalkboards”—the inside cover and foldout back cover are lined with blackboard paper.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780761186113
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/22/2015
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 331,982
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Valerie McKeehan opened her chalkboard boutique, Lily & Val, on Etsy in 2012. She lovingly creates each piece entirely by hand, from sketch to slate, out of her home studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her website is

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The ABCs of Chalk Lettering

Creating your own chalk lettering starts with a basic knowledge of letterforms. This will be the first and the most important layer in your creations. However, before we can jump right in, you’ll need to learn a few things first.

What You Need

Part of the charm of chalk art is that it doesn’t require much in terms of tools. You will find a practice chalkboard panel on the front inside flap of this book with ready-to-go guidelines for practicing anytime, as well as two others in the back. The other necessary items are lightweight, easily transportable, and inexpensive. What’s not to love?

Good Old-Fashioned Chalk

A standard piece of white chalk will work just fine. I wouldn’t recommend using sidewalk chalk as the thickness will be difficult to maneuver on the panels of this book. My personal preference is Crayola Anti-Dust Chalk. Don’t let the name fool you! It certainly creates dust, but I’ve found this chalk to be heavier and denser, which provides a lovely vibrancy when used on your chalkboard.

While we’re on the topic of dust, let me just say, it is a great thing! Most of my days are spent covered in it. As you draw, dust specks will inevitably accumulate on your work. I am constantly lightly blowing on the board to remove these specks. Because of this, you may want to be conscious of where you are working.

A Pencil Sharpener or Eyeliner Sharpener

This tool is one of my biggest trade secrets! People are often shocked when they find out that you can sharpen chalk. It’s something so simple, yet it will make all the difference for your drawings. Any pencil sharpener or eyeliner sharpener will work, as long as it has two holes. This is a critical element. The smaller hole will work for sharpening your pencil when you are sketching ideas in your sketchbook. The larger hole will fit your chalk perfectly (sizes are pretty much standard—about ½ inch wide).

A Felt Eraser and a Cloth Rag

A felt eraser will erase the lettering, but it will not completely take away the dust. Instead, it will disperse a dusty cloud around your board. In contrast, a cloth rag, which at different times can be used damp or dry, will remove any unwanted dust entirely. A specific type of rag is not necessary. A piece of an old T-shirt or a washcloth will do.

Cotton Swabs

Instead of erasing the entire design and starting again, sometimes all you need to do is correct a portion. A cotton swab will give you precise, ninja-like erasing abilities.

A Ruler or Straightedge

The front practice panel of this book conveniently already contains drawn guidelines. However, a ruler will come in handy, especially as you are learning the different layout techniques in Chapter 2. In addition to a 12-inch ruler, I like using a 6-inch plastic one that easily fits in my bag. Bonus: It can double-duty as a bookmark! At times, it may also be helpful to have a small tape measure handy.

Preparing Your Chalkboards

Before you begin drawing, it is necessary to “season” your chalkboard. Chalkboard seasoning sounds fancy, but it simply involves rubbing the side of a piece of chalk over the entire chalkboard and then erasing. A chalkboard that has been seasoned will appear a bit scratched, muted, and gray in color, as opposed to flat, stark, and black.

When you are seasoning a brand-new chalkboard, like the panels at the front and back of this book, you may need to wear off some of the protective coating on the chalk beforehand. Just rub the chalk on any hard surface.

It might take a bit of rubbing to get the chalk to transfer to your board at first, but once it does, keep going until it's completely covered. Wipe the board clean with your cloth rag.

The purpose of seasoning a chalkboard isn’t just to create a rustic look, but to prepare the surface for handling chalk. An unseasoned chalkboard runs the risk of the chalk “burning” into the surface, leaving a permanent mark. The chalk on a seasoned chalkboard will remove cleanly over and over again.

Getting to the Point

Open one of the three chalkboard flaps on this book and draw a line with a blunt piece of unsharpened chalk. Now, sharpen another piece of chalk and draw a second line with the pointy edge. Notice the difference in the texture of the lines’ edges. The blunt chalk will provide a rough, broken edge. The sharp chalk will deliver a tight, more exact line. As you continue to use the sharpened chalk, observe how it wears down to a dull point. Continue drawing lines, but vary your pressure. When you apply heavy pressure, the result is a bright white line as opposed to a lighter, more textured line when soft pressure is applied.

Lowdown on Letters

Now let’s get a bit technical with letters. It’s helpful to know these terms when learning and appreciating hand-lettering since using phrases like “that small line-thing at the top of the thick vertical line” gets a bit confusing.

Crossbars and Cross Strokes

Welcome the letters “f” and “t” with open arms. They’ll give you the ability to draw fun cross strokes varying from short and rigid to long and swirly. The crossbars on the capitals “A” and “H” are equally as versatile.

Ascenders and Descenders

A gorgeously flowing descender is enough to make me weak in the knees! Look for the lowercase letters “g,” “y,” “p,” and “f” as opportunities for descender practice and the lowercase letters “f,” “t,” “h,” “k,” “l,” and “b” for ascender practice.


Serifs play a huge role in completely altering the feel of a word. Play with varying thicknesses and styles. Try a slab serif, or thick letters with a thin serif, or vice versa. Instead of a straight line, draw wave-shaped serifs.


Varying baselines in your design is a great way to achieve new looks. Straight baselines will feel more traditional while wavy or otherwise uneven baselines contribute to a whimsical feel.

Entry and Exit Points

Begin your words with a pronounced entry point or take advantage of an exit point to add interest and style. The points where your letters connect with other letters are also key positions to vary.

The Big Three:

Sans Serif, Serif, and Script Lettering Styles

To get started drawing letters, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the basic shapes and characteristics of three standard lettering styles: sans serif, serif, and script. Each style can be broken into multiple subcategories and classifications, but we will be sticking with the basics for now. After you become comfortable, you can begin taking liberties with your letters and creating your own unique styles.

Don’t worry if your attempts at lettering aren’t exact. We are all unique, original individuals, and our hand-lettering will reflect this. Our letters will be off. They will be imperfect and beautiful. That’s the allure of it! Always remember: The beauty is in the imperfection.

The idea here is to familiarize yourself with the basic shape, concept, and overall style of these three lettering styles. Again, this is just your base. Becoming proficient in standard shapes of letterforms will help you develop your own unique style.

Sans Serif


  • Without serifs. Sans is a French word meaning “without.”
  • Little to zero width variation among strokes.
  • Considered a more modern style.
  • Often used for online text since reading letters without serifs is considered to be easier when displayed on-screen.



  • Includes serifs or small strokes at the ends of the vertical and horizontal strokes of the letters.
  • Considered a more traditional style.
  • Widely used for “body text” (the main portion of a printed piece, words excluding the headline or footnotes) and considered easier to read.



  • Features joined lowercase letters.
  • Designed to resemble handwriting.
  • Can be formal or casual.
  • My personal favorite typeface to manipulate.

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