The motto on Valerie McKeehan’s website, Lily & Val, says: “Hand-drawn lovelies” and indeed they are. Her gorgeous greeting cards, thank-you notes, posters, wrapping paper and other cheery and graceful designs use a medium familiar to anyone who went to school in the 20th century—chalk on a blackboard. But even my second-grade teacher’s impeccable cursive couldn’t hold a candle to the McKeehan’s lettering designs. Fortunately for us, she’s making it possible to get in on the fun with her new book, The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering: Create and Develop Your Own Style (Workman; September 22, 2015.)
Before you declare your handwriting atrocious, McKeehan makes it easy for a beginner to learn the art of chalk board lettering. BookTrib recently spoke to McKeehan about how she got started and how you can too.
BOOKTRIB: What made you decide to start your Etsy boutique Lily & Val? How did your past experience help you make it a success?
VALERIE McKEEHAN: After my husband and I got married I turned an old picture frame into a chalkboard to decorate our new kitchen. I wanted to create something personalized with our last name and I drew a chalk design in a “coffee shop” style. The design got such a great response from friends and family that I decided to open an Etsy shop for fun. That hobby turned into a full time job about six months later!
My background is in marketing and advertising so even though Lily & Val started as a hobby, I knew the importance of defining a target market and branding. From the beginning, I worked hard to build the Lily & Val brand and I think that was a huge part in the shop’s success.
BT: What’s the best way to learn how to do the kind of beautiful lettering you do so effortlessly?
VMcK: To learn hand lettering the best thing you can do is jump right in and practice. Notice letters and fonts in your daily life, study their shapes, and try to recreate those shapes. Practice as often as you can! In addition to developing technical skills, you will also start to see your own style emerge as an artist. I say in the book, “practice makes personality” and it’s so true. My lettering style has developed because of the many hours I spent and continue to spend drawing.
BT: Where do you get the ideas for your designs? Where would you recommend beginners look for inspiration?
VMcK: My ideas come from many different places and often when I’m not looking for them. The vibe of a restaurant, artwork on the wall of a coffee shop, a floral pattern on a vintage dress — these things have all inspired me at one point. I also look at vintage signs and lettering for new ideas. I love creating a cozy, nostalgic vibe with chalk art so I am naturally drawn to elements that conjure these feelings—coffee, tea, cooking, sweet sentiments, etc.
Inspiration can be found everywhere! Stay aware and notice your surroundings. When you’re first starting out, there’s an urge to solely seek inspiration from a lettering artist you are fond of. Instead of doing this, become familiar with the feel or vibe that you are attracted to. Why do you love this person’s work? Is it the whimsical nature? Once you determine the feel, you can use it as a jump-off point for seeking out inspiration outside the realm of lettering.
BT: You pride yourself in making each illustration by hand. What do you think is the future of handmade art?
VMcK: I think the future of handmade art looks very bright. In a world inundated by smart phones and technology, there is something special about handcrafted items. There is an authenticity and a heart behind them. I believe the more technologically dependent we become, the more people will gravitate toward surrounding themselves with handmade art and experimenting with creating art.