It's about what you know

When I first started to delve deeper into the world of lettering, one of my main questions was where to start when tools were concerned. I thought that if I could get my hands on all the things my idols used, then I would somehow be better for it and it would reflect enormously on the work I was producing. The truth is that the further along I got in my lettering journey, the more I began to notice that tools are a very very small part of the final product. Don't get me wrong here, I absolutely have favorite tools that I constantly use (Staedtler lead holders and Sakura Pigma Micron pens are my go to tools) but the truth remains that I love them because I find that they are the most comfortable, best suited tools for the way that I like to work (the way I hold a pencil/pen, amount of pressure I use, the amount of details, etc). 

Along the way, I've learned that the important thing when starting in this field, is to know your stuff. What do I mean? If you want to start developing something like your lettering skills, you first have to understand letters. Know the history, which typefaces are appropriate for which time period? Understand the anatomy. How are they constructed? What's the difference between upstrokes and downstrokes, closed and open counters, etc. There are some wonderful resources for all of this out there and all you have to do is get on google, pinterest, tumblr or hit your local art/book store and investigate. Use your resources. The absolute biggest piece of advice I can give, however, is to practice. Practice so much that you forget what time it was when you began and you only just realized your hand hurts. Only then will this become second nature and you will begin to understand that with the right set of skills you can create great work with the most common tools.

I put together a small example using only a scrap paper, a Sharpie, and a pencil I found sitting by my desk:

First I sketched out an overall rough composition with the pencil and went over it with the sharpie. Then I took a quick snap with my phone.

Once in the computer, I dragged the image into Photoshop, cropped out the pencil and sharpie and played with the levels until I got this black and white contrast.

Next, I dragged the image into Illustrator and used the Live Trace tool to create vector outlines and get rid of the white as well as any other imperfections I saw along the way,

I moved some guides into an approximate cap height and tweaked and moved all the letters to fit adjusting the kerning as I went. I repeated this step for every line as well as for the overall width.

I then created the drop shadows (by clicking and dragging while holding down the option key and then using Command+D to multiply) and picked a simple color palette. 

Lastly, I used photoshop brushes to add the texture and details.

In the end, it's about knowing your stuff and working hard at your craft. Everything else will follow and things will come easier with time and practice. I hope this helps some of you!