My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #427: Lettering as an Art (?)

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 08-10-2011 01:51 PM 32172 reads 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 426: Keeping Up Part 427 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 428: Unexpected Surprises »

I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in computer land today. I only have an hour or so of work left on the final pattern that I am getting ready for the next update. In tallying the new things that will be up on the site, my contribution alone will be five patterns and I will also be offering a kit. Keith has some very nice patterns to add also. Since we only updated the site a couple of weeks ago, I think that is a good accomplishment. I am wondering why I have been feeling like I haven’t done anything lately. Humm . . .

Included in the new patterns, are the three that I have been working on for the past week or so. They are to date, some of the most time-consuming patterns that I have done. They aren’t actually patterns of a project, but they are patterns of alphabets and lettering sets that can be used in conjunction with any project you wish. Now this may sound simple, but believe me, it is not.

When scroll sawing lettering, there is much more to it than just cutting around fonts. Since fonts are produced for type, there are usually several spots in them that wouldn’t tolerate cutting out of wood. Many times I use lettering in some of the plaques I make, which involves either cutting letters individually out of thin stock (usually about 1/8” thick) to overlay on the piece, or by cutting them right into the plaque or ornament. I don’t know if people who don’t do it realize how much is involved with getting the designs to work properly. Often the letter drawing takes longer than drawing up the rest of the pattern.

I have seen some computer programs that are available to do this, but the only ones I am familiar with only offer a limited number of typefaces to work with. They are fairly expensive and the customer needs to know how to work with the computer.

A couple of weeks ago, I had received a request from a customer for a full set of letters from one of the plaques that I had designed. He had liked the typeface that I used in the plaque, and he wanted to make something on his own using the same font. Typically, when I design a plaque like that, I don’t take the time to work the entire alphabet into letters that you could cut – only the ones used. But this request got me thinking. There are many people who want to offer personalized products such as ornaments and plaques for friends and family and to sell. Perhaps since I knew how to do this, I would offer complete alphabets for them to make their own things with.

The light bulb in my head went on. I thought about it and didn’t remember seeing any patterns of this nature before. It is one of those simple things that we just haven’t seen done yet.

I ran the idea by a couple of my friends who design scroll saw patterns and they thought it was a good idea too. With all the ‘word art’ and the popularity of personalized items, it may be a good seller.

My next step was to find fonts that would not only work, but would also not have copyright issues. Even though I was changing them quite a bit, I wanted to be absolutely sure that I would be able to sell the finished pattern without having to worry. I was able to come up with several (actually, quite a few) fonts that are both beautiful and would also work well with cutting. I was well on my way.

I spent most of the couple of weeks working on three patterns that I will be offering on the update. As usual, in the beginning, I had thought that it would take me only a few hours to rework each to be functional for cutting. I suppose that much of the surprise that I had was the reality that it has taken far longer than that – up to a couple of days – to really make each letter workable. I found out the hard way that even if the letters were workable at 1.25”, by the time I made them smaller, they would have pieces so fragile that it would take a miracle for the pieces to not fall off. After taking a couple of days on the first set in the 1.25” size, I reduced the size to .75” to see what it would look like and I was both saddened and discouraged to see that it wouldn’t work on many of the letters.

Back to the drawing board . . . literally!

I decided to offer the sets at the .75” size as a starting point. In making the letters, I first converted them to vector graphics which meant that they were line work and you could pull and push the lines around like rope. Most of the time I needed to work at a 1600x magnification to see what I was doing. I had to clean up the lines and make sure that there were no jagged edges left from the conversion process with meant that I needed to pick through each letter carefully. I then had to re-size everything so that they were consistent with each other. Many of the letters had flourishes which went above and below the base lines so it wasn’t just a matter of typing in a figure and hitting the button. I had to measure each from the body of the letter to make them look good. No wonder my eyes hurt.

But finally they are coming together. As with most things we do, we learn as we go along and figure out the most efficient ways to draw and present things. I am finally getting it down to a system.

Even with these realizations however, I have found that there is no quick and easy way to do this. I can’t see it taking any less than about eight to ten hours per set to get them to look nice and work at multiple sizes. But that is a good thing for me. I am hoping that everyone else sees the value in this and would want to spend a little on the patterns rather than taking the time. I suppose we will have to see.

Each set contains a full alphabet and numeral set, as well as some special characters. I was debating on whether to have multiples of the popular letters such as ‘e’, but the patterns were already six to eight pages and I didn’t want them to be any bulkier than they needed to be. Besides, many of my customers buy PDF patterns to print out themselves, which will give them the opportunity to print out only what they really need. The customers who get hard copies will be able to go to their usual place and do the same, as well as size them to their liking.

I also have a gray grid around each letter for easy placement and alignment. I find that to be very helpful in going around curves and customizing them to ones’ needs. I think that people will find it very useful and easy to work with. Sometimes taking a step back and doing something ‘low tech’ is still the easiest way.

It may seem a bit silly to work so hard on something like this. As a graphic person, I have always thought attractive lettering was important. When I used to sell my mohair teddy bears, I included pretty parchment hang tag with each that had all their particulars hand lettered in calligraphy. It was a nice touch and I believe added to them a lot. I even did all my Christmas cards in calligraphy one year (notice, I said ONE year. It took forever!)

I think that others will also appreciate the beauty of these letters and hopefully they will no longer just settle for the basic balloon letters that are pretty much the only thing available to them now. I hope this will open a whole new avenue for scrollers and help them to also be creative in their work.

I find that there can be beauty everywhere, even in something as simple as lettering. You just have to know where to look.

Have a great Wednesday!

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

12 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4670 days

#1 posted 08-10-2011 02:10 PM

ah – the mind of a business person: taking a statement/thought/request and turning it into a business venture!! Good for you.

As I read your blog I was reminded of something I saw online re: branding, where a journal was purchased online and when it arrived, there were 7 different personalization and/or logos seen before getting to the journal itself.
Every little bit adds to the beauty of the product.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3430 days

#2 posted 08-10-2011 02:17 PM

I love lettering Debbie! It is funny, but when Keith got his lathe and started making pens, I pulled out my small ‘stash’ of fine fountain and calligraphy pens. I thoroughly enjoyed doing calligraphy. I don’t know how good I was at it, but it made even writing the simplest thing look artful. I am going to be cutting some letters on the scroll saw for my friend Bernie this week too. Cutting letters is one of my favorite thing. The fancier the better. Unfortunately, these are for a sign and need to be in a simple font. But they will be fun nonetheless.

I have so many different and beautiful fonts that I can convert this way that it will surely keep me busy a while (in between everything else!) I think it will be good for those times when I am not feeling so creative and still want to accomplish something. This was a very fun set of projects and I can already picture these letters on things such as wedding plaques, ornaments, address signs and all sorts of wonderful things. It will be such a nice change from the plain ole’ balloon font. How fun!


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3625 days

#3 posted 08-10-2011 03:26 PM

huu what a task you accomplished there :-)
the letter is almost as beautyfull /tuff to read and make as the old Gottich letters
the munk´s so carefull copy´d from book to book before Gutenberg envented the printing technic :-)

take care

View littlecope's profile


3073 posts in 4012 days

#4 posted 08-10-2011 04:03 PM

Lettering can be interesting for sure…
I made many, many signs years ago using the Spielman “Gay Nineties” lettering… Was doing fine, having fun…
Then some wise guy asked if it would be possible to make a curved sign for him…
This meant that the letters and ends of the sign would have to be developed to reflect the vanishing point of the curve…
The wise guy ended up canceling his order, but I was intrigued by the idea and worked it up… I can’t find any of the letters this morning, but here was my effort in trying to curve the suggested Spielman sign ends…Spielman's original end design for signsCurved perspective...
When the lettering and sign ends were graphed, it was interesting how many small… discrepancies… there were!! They had to be corrected even before they were “curved”...
I have yet to make a “curved” sign, and I’m sure there are numerous ways to do this using software, but I’m still intrigued with the idea… :)

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3588 days

#5 posted 08-10-2011 04:29 PM

I thought I earned a degree just from reading your Blog this morning, Sheila. I never thought that lettering was so complicated. Goes to show how much we take for granted. In the past I either wrote it out long hand using one of those calligraphy pens, or go on Word and picked one of several hundred fonts available and it was done! I appreciate the work you are doing to make it simpler for all of us who are much less educated on the subject. You enable us to be able to enjoy the fruit of your labor without going through all the “pain” ! ! What would we do without you !

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3430 days

#6 posted 08-10-2011 04:31 PM

I have learned how to do that in Illustrator, but you are right – it still takes time and manipulation of the lines to make everything work and look good. That’s where custom orders come into play. I do some custom orders when asked, but most people don’t want to pay the hourly wage and don’t think that it should take ‘that long’ to make it work.

I like doing custom work. I do it for my friend Bernie because he pays me by the hour and doesn’t bat an eye when I tell him how long it takes. He knows I am honest and doing something he isn’t able to do. Usually the work I do for him is part of a larger project he is working on for other customers. This is built into his price and not disputed so I continue to do it for him.

I think people are shocked when they see what it cost and the time involved. We have to pick carefully. :)

That is a cool drawing. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3430 days

#7 posted 08-10-2011 04:39 PM

Thanks, Little Paw!

I even surprised myself when taking on these first three alphabets. If you look back on the blogs of the last week or so, you can probably see my surprise at how much was involved in this. The first one was fine at 1.25” and when I made it smaller, it looked so fragile I knew it wouldn’t do. After all – I want people to be able to use these for signs and smaller things like ornaments. It was absolutely necessary to make them work at a smaller size, or what is the point.

At the .75” I think it is a good starting point. You can still probably go a bit smaller if you need and it will do OK, and increasing the size will only make the letters stronger. I am still ‘picking’ on the last set today for a bit to make it it is good to go. I could have probably left it but still saw areas that I could make better. Me being me, I couldn’t leave it alone. :)

I hope that others are like you and appreciate the difference between good and not good. I know that there others who take Microsoft fonts and use them, but I also hope that they feel that their time is worth more and the little they will spend on these letters will be worth it to make sure they work properly. It’s kind of like with my regular patterns – there are plenty of ‘free’ patterns out there, but hopefully people will want to pay for the quality that I offer in my own designs. One can hope!

Have a great day! Sheila

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3588 days

#8 posted 08-10-2011 05:09 PM

For ordinary letter writing or setting up title page for a report, Microsoft fonts worked for me. But when it comes unique and beautiful signs, logos, book covers, etc., we need to come to professionals like you for that one of a kind look!

Would you believe, it’s ten a.m. and it hasn’t broken 85 degrees yet ?! We had thunder storm last night and is still drizzling here in northern Oklahoma . . . exactly what we’ve been praying for. Maybe this would put an end to the drought, the state-wide burn ban and all the grass fires! Have a blessed day, everyone!

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View Steven Davis's profile

Steven Davis

118 posts in 3424 days

#9 posted 08-10-2011 06:22 PM

Very nice Sheila. I would think a lot of folks would want such beautiful letters. I hope that it is a big success for you.


-- Steven Davis - see me at

View stevebuk's profile


57 posts in 3194 days

#10 posted 08-10-2011 08:20 PM

after you have created the whole alphabet complete with numbers, take it into one of the font sites and make it into a downloadable font also, you could call it Landry’s Lettering, i bet it would also go down well with aspiring scrollers, have fun.

Steve from a burning England…

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3430 days

#11 posted 08-11-2011 12:14 PM

Hi, Littlepaw – I hope that it cools off for you soon. I don’t know how you all are surviving in that heat this summer. Give me my winter snow any day!

And Steve – I did start out with fonts on these letters. I am using fonts that have a commercial license that I purchased. I do manipulate and change them so that they can be cut, but the basic shapes of the letters are close to the originals. I had explained what I was doing with them before I bought the licenses, and it was OK. I don’t think that putting them back for sale as ‘fonts’ would be though. So that is something that I really shouldn’t get involved in. I like the Landry’s Lettering name though! (When I write my book on these I may need to use that!) :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View huntter2022's profile


275 posts in 3125 days

#12 posted 08-14-2011 03:08 AM

I totally agree with Shelia , On the font letter it can be a pain right were a pill can’t reach . It takes alot time to make the letters look right at different sizes as I found out when I did the Wedding Gifts ( )

-- David ; "BE SAFE BE HAPPY" Brockport , NY

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