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Ian Barnard: ‘making something beautiful by hand is an awesome feeling’

Lettering artist Ian Barnard is as at home on the iPad as he is with a pen and paper. After putting Affinity Designer for iPad through its paces, he took the time to tell us a little about his work…
How did you get started as a lettering artist?

It’s all thanks to the TV program Downton Abbey. My wife had just given birth to our second child and Downton Abbey was her viewing choice in the evenings while feeding our son. I’m not a period drama fan so I decided I wanted to get off the screen and do something with my hands. I randomly chose calligraphy, purchased a copy of the dummies guide to this craft and got practising. This was my introduction to the world of lettering, and I couldn’t get enough of it, exploring all the different styles and techniques that it has.

A calligraphy and vector text piece created in Affinity Designer for iPad by Ian Barnard.
What or who have been your biggest creative influences?

Mainly other calligraphers and letterers like Seb Lester, Ben Johnson, Gemma O’Brien. But influences can come from browsing through Pinterest or Instagram. Anything that just sparks off those creative brain cells. Hand-lettered book covers have been a massive influence, walking around book shops just absorbing all the great artwork everywhere.

How do you approach creating a new hand-lettering piece?

I always start with small, very rough sketches with a pencil and whatever paper I have to hand. I then take a photo of it and use my iPad Pro to redraw and refine it on there, adding certain effects and colour.

What are your favourite tools of the trade (both analogue and digital)?

The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is my favourite tool to do my digital lettering on. It saves me so much time as 90% off my work ends up on the computer. Analogue tools which are my go-to, are a regular B pencil and a Tombow brush pen.

A calligraphy and vector text piece by Ian Barnard.
Tell us a little about your Creative Market shop and the design assets you create to sell?

The majority of the products I sell have something to do with lettering and typography. Whether that’s an effects pack helping people achieve a certain look with their letters, brushes for using on the iPad or a typeface.

A selection of fonts and lettering tools for sale on Ian’s Creative Market shop.
How do you go about creating a font/typeface?

First, I decide on the style I’m going for. This will either be a rough hand-drawn look or a clean vector-based one. I then draw out all the 26 characters of the alphabet, scan them into the computer and place them in my font app.

I do some quick tweaks before testing it in a variety of design scenarios to make sure it’s going to hold together as a typeface. I would then do all the other characters (numbers, symbols, foreign marks) and finally the part I’m not so keen on, kerning (the spacing between every pair of letters). Once that’s done and I’ve shown it to a few people I would then release it for sale.

I just love seeing others progress with their skills by tips and tricks I’ve given them. It’s an awesome feeling knowing that you’re passing on your knowledge to someone else and seeing them get better and have the confidence to do what I do. I love the interaction I have with people that want to learn from me. It can be a lonely job working for yourself (apart from my wife and kids) but having a community around you to chat to and encourage can make it more interesting!

“It’s an awesome feeling knowing that you’re passing on your knowledge to someone else and seeing them get better”

You also design murals, what are the challenges when working on a large scale compared to small scale work?

The first challenge to overcome is how to transfer onto the wall. One way is using a projector and tracing round the design using a pencil or chalk, but this doesn’t work well outside, especially in bright sunshine. So an alternative method is laying out the design on big sheets of paper and using a method called pouncing. Making little holes around the outside of the letters and then stamping a chalk or charcoal pad over the paper which leaves a fitted version of the design on the wall.

When moving on to painting the design, a challenge, especially for me, is not to drop or splatter paint on the parts of the wall that should be left nice and clean.

What achievement in your career have you been most proud of?

Probably work I do for charitable organisations, knowing that my art can enable people to give more or to be moved into action.

You have some impressive clients under your belt, what has been your favourite client piece to date?

Probably the first one I did which was for the swimwear brand Speedo. One of the designers from the company followed me on Instagram and when a job that needed some custom lettering came up, he got me on board. It was a set of posters where I had to do a variety of lettering styles around the swimmers in the pictures. It was really good fun and I learned a lot through that process.

Ian’s designs for Speedo
Why do you think hand-lettering and calligraphy are seeing such a resurgence in popularity?

I think all crafts are seeing a resurgence in popularity, not just calligraphy and lettering. It’s relaxing, therapeutic and the sense of making something beautiful by hand is an awesome feeling. With many items and products being mass-produced these days, having hand-made art and crafts is something that is really appreciated by people. One of the things I love is the response people give when I calligraphy their name on an envelope.

“the sense of making something beautiful by hand is an awesome feeling”

A calligraphy piece made in Affinity Designer.
We love your ‘Letter Everything’ series on YouTube… what has been the most difficult or unusual object to hand-letter?

Anything that has a rounded surface, like a motorcycle helmet or football. It’s tricky to get everything straight and lined up, plus the fact they roll around on the desk while you do it and you have nothing to lean on!

Check out Ian’s tips for calligraphy on Spotlight and his awesome Blast Powder brushes on our Store.

Visit Ian at, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and check out his Shop for more inspiration!

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

Images all copyright © of Ian Barnard and used with permission.