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How To Easily Add Shadows To Your Bullet Journal Lettering

by Liz Gray 29 Apr 2019 2 Comments
don’t know about y’all, but I struggled with adding shadows to my letters for the longest time. They would never ended up looking right, and it never really ‘clicked’ for me or made sense until recently. I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned with y’all so that you can easily add lots of character and dimension to your journal!

Recommended Supplies:

  • Archer and Olive Journal – We’re going to be using a lot of black for this shadow tutorial, and the A+O paper is ultra thick so there will be no bleeding through or ghosting despite the intense amount of ink. Plus, the super white paper adds extra contrast against the black.
  • Pencil - I prefer a mechanical pencil with 0.5 mm lead so that I can get those little details, but you can use almost any pencil. Just make sure it isn’t a pencil with a super hard lead because that could create dents in the paper.
  • Pens – My go-to pens are black gelly roll gel pens by Sakura, in size 06 (for more details) and the 08 (for covering larger areas), and the white gelly roll pens in size 10 or 08. The ink is juicy, very pigmented, and dries down to a beautiful finish. I just started using the Glaze pens by Sakura as well which dry down to a super glossy finish, but the ink comes out quickly and is a little harder to control, so I like it more for filling in spaces, not as much for  lettering or detail work.

  • More pens - I always letter in black and white, but feel free to use colored Sakura gelly rolls, fine-tip Sharpies, or Crayola super tips (although super tips do will show brush lines).
  • Ruler - For helping with extra easy, quick, and straight lines
  • Art Eraser - I love the eraser by Staedlar Mars, it’s white and doesn’t leave any color residue on your page. Plus, if your gelly roll lines are dry, it won’t smudge them! ;) You’ll also probably want the kind of small white eraser that you’ll find on top of your 0.5 mm mechanical pencil for erasing small portions of the page.
This is where we are going to do most of our work, so that when we are ready to ink in our piece you just have to follow the lines.
1. Decide where your light source is going to come from, and frame your word on the page accordingly. I’m going to be adding a shadow to the southeast, so I’m going to be keeping that in mind. Your shadows will show on the opposite side of the letter from your light source (example photo). My light source is going to be coming from the left, so all my shadows are going to show up on the right side of each letter stroke. Also, to quickly find the center of the page in your A+O journal, just count 13 across by 18 down. ;) 


2. Start by sketching out your chosen word with soft, short strokes. I want all my letter strokes to be all the same weight, so each upstroke and downstroke is 1 square wide. Once you’ve got your lines down, erase any extra guidelines that you don’t need. Create a square around your word, using the dot grid from your A + O journal, that exactly maps the outermost points of your word.


3. So since I’m going to be adding a shadow to the southeast, I’m going to start at uppermost left dot and count down two dots, and to the right two dots. That’s going to be the starting point for our second square.

4. Draw a square, starting at that point, that exactly matches the dimension ratio of your first square. You should end up with something like this. 


5. Now, inside that second square, LIGHTLY sketch your word again - it should be much faster since you can use the dots from the first square to quickly map out where each line should go.


6. Time for the fun part - connect the two words and create your shadow! Connect the corner points of your two words to each other using diagonal lines, creating a deep casting shadow. This style of shadow is technically called "drop shade". If you want to create a drop shadow instead of drop shade, just don't connect the letters with the diagonal lines. 


7. Use a Gelly Roll pen in 06 and ink in the outline everything. Let the ink dry for 5 minutes or until it’s dry to the touch, and then gently erase the pencil lines from your first word. 


8. Now it’s the fun part - you get to fill in the shadow and letters with your choice of color and add style to your piece. Just remember that it makes sense to your eye to have your shadow a dark color or darker shade than your letter’s color. Let your ink dry always, before adding another layer of color and before resting your hand on it. You don’t want to smudge something you use put so much work into! You can add all sort of fun details, from stripes to doodles to florals, both on your letter and in your shadow. 


I hope y'all had so much fun learning a new technique, and if you try this out while you're handlettering or drawing in your bulletjournal, tag me on Instagram @thegraytergood  (or use #thegraytergood) so that I get to see your beautiful art! Also, you're totally welcome to send me a DM if you want to request a particular type of handlettering tutorial, and I'll add it to my list.  
<3 Liz 
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28 Apr 2021 Cynthia Card

Thank you SO much for this excellent tutorial! It is awesome and you are very generous to share your gifts.

14 Jun 2020 Gaby

OmG Liz, this iS toO beautiful! I’m excited that you teach us something so useful & cool. I write you recently by iG as @gabykz 🖤Thanks a lot and God bless your beautiful soul😌🙏🏼

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