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Book Review: Secrets of Brush Calligraphy (Kirsten Burke)

January 27, 2019

We at Team Crafthood are big into books; we have built up a substantial collection of lettering books in particular and have profiled some of our favourites in our blog post; The Crafthood top picks of modern calligraphy and lettering books. When we last updated that blog post we included Kirsten Burke's Secrets of Modern Calligraphy


Subsequently Kirsten sent us a copy of her latest title Secrets of Brush Calligraphy.  In the interest of full transparency, we think we should share that whilst this book was gifted, although we have not been paid for this post. This has not influenced our writing of this review and all the words & opinions are our own.


The other thing we feel it is important to note is that we are not beginners to hand lettering; we have a knowledge base in relation to this subject matter though we feel that most lettering books in our collection (including this one) are very accessible for beginners.


We feel very drawn to Kirsten's style of writing and explanation as she, like us, makes many links to hand lettering as a tool to aid mindfulness and a great escape/digital detox.  Hand lettering forces you (in a good way) to focus and concentrate on just that one thing; this is one of the biggest reasons to love lettering.  In December Kirsten published 'Little Book of Calming Calligraphy' and we cannot wait to get our hands on this, little exercises of calligraphy goodness - we're sold! Kirsten highlights that brush lettering is the most creative of the calligraphy arts and we love this about it too, there are very few 'rules' so you can let your creativity run free.


Kirsten's branding and style is immediately identifiable which we are very drawn to in lettering artists as it highlights real creativity. 


Both of Kirsten's books have clever spines that allow you to open the book flat to work directly into it if you so choose.  If you'd rather keep the book looking new then you can also put layout paper over the top and work that way.


The book focuses on three types of tools that can be used in Brush calligraphy/lettteirng:

Brush Pens

Water Brushes

Paint Brushes.



We were taught brush lettering using paint brushes so these have been our 'go to' tool from the beginning.  As stationery obsessives we do have lots of brush pens and water brushes and it was lovely to use a book that encouraged us to experiment with these. Some of the examples of the brush pens we used are highlighted below.



 A massive bonus to Kirsten's books is the use of scannable QR codes.  People learn in lots of different ways and the addition of accessible video tutorials only strengthens your learning; such a good feature!



We would highly recommend the 'Tools Decoded' section of this book as a one stop shop for everything you need to know when buying your brush lettering supplies.  Kirsten has a much sought after dual tip Sailor brush pen in her shop and we now have one on the way!  We are also eagerly awaiting her Secrets of Brush Calligraphy Practice Pad. The book has also converted us to Ecoline brush pens and it contains great advice on how to mix the colours.  We also learned that some brush pens have a tip that can be pulled out and flipped to get double the life from them.  Kirsten is a knowledge sharer and in the tools section she recommends items that she has tried and tested, this will definitely help beginners to spend wisely on their supplies.  We particularly loved the 'on a budget' offering presented in this book.



Once the materials and positioning have been explored the book moves on to 'Getting Started'.  We felt in this section a beginner would perhaps need more practice paper for drills as the space allowed for the basic up and down strokes in the book is limited and it moved onto transitioning and curves quickly.  The material on 'curves' is a brilliant visual tool to help you understand at which point the pressure on your pen should change.  We particularly like the fact that Kirsten provides you with some underpinning knowledge of what you are about to do before you do it. style.


The final section of the book before it becomes project based is 'Alphabets'. The practice opportunities in this section are good and presented in a tracing style.  This is good if you learn by tracing and want a quick result that looks great.  We feel a section to develop your own alphabet could be an added exercise to consider to encourage your own unique style.



From this point in the book onwards the focus is on projects.  There is an initial introduction to each project and within these introductions Kirsten looks at the links and connections to traditional calligraphy and how you can play with this in modern calligraphy and brush lettering. Kirsten's ease of explanation highlights her vast experience.  You know you are in knowledgable and safe hands and for us this was one of the greatest selling points of the book.  


The projects are mostly presented with a tracing template; if this is your preferred learning style this is the book for you.  If you prefer to create your own unique piece then we'd recommend using the projects in this book as inspiration as there are some cracking quotes and compositional advise provided.  


The tone and ethos of the book hugely appeals to us, Kirsten is an advocate of being slow and deliberate and enjoying the process.  This helps you to appraise your thoughts and work as you go which encourages your work to develop.  All materials suggested in the book are accessible and not too expensive e.g. suggestion of using an empty clean crisp packet if you don't have a sheet of acetate for a colour blending project.



The are some intermediate topics explored in the book such as - bounce lettering, composition, flourishes and writing on objects.


In summary we would highly recommend this book for Brush Lettering beginners; it is also a really great reference book for more experienced letterers and this is due to the tone and openness of Kirsten.  She is a sharer of knowledge and we learned tons when reviewing this book; if you'd like to give brush calligraphy a go or develop your skills further we wouldn't hesitate in pointing you in the direction of this gem.


If you'd like to give brush lettering a whirl with Kirsten then all details can be found here.  If you are North East based we'd love to welcome you to a workshop, details can be found here.





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