Learn Brush Lettering | Interview with Kal Barteski

kal barteski interview via besotted blog

I don’t even know where to start with our next interview–the Kal Barteski! I am so very enamored with her and if you are in the lettering world, or perhaps the world in general, you probably already know of her. Kal is a true artist, but also an innovator, motivator and just someone you want to know because her sun shines a little bit brighter than most. She’s one of those people, you know the ones that you just want more of. I remember when I was in my postpartum lowest of lows and feeling bereft and lost and all those crazy hormonal things that happen after baby (and severe sleep deprivation). I was given Kal’s class as a gift and it took me months before I watched it and oh, how I wish I watched it sooner!  It knocked me right back to cloud nine! It was equal parts magic as it was lettering instruction, Kal’s love of life and enthusiasm for her work is so freakin’ contagious that I watched the class like 6 times in a row to just take it all in. Yes, I am a hardcore fan for life and I am so happy that Kal, an in demand artist and mother to 3 had time to effusively agree with a resounding YES!!! in our inbox to be part of this brush lettering week! We are grateful and can’t wait to share…

Where are you located? 

I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That’s Canada. ;)

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Kal. I make messy letters. I use a paint brush to create words that are imperfect and in that imperfect mess – there’s an authentic human aspect. I use my hands. I believe in contributing positively to the Universe. I have three cute kids, a couple of french bulldogs and a husband I really like. I’m trained as a graphic designer and a painter, but really I’m just drawn to projects and people that make a difference. I’m passionate about wildlife and the Arctic. I’ve done a TEDx talk, won some awards, met a pile of people that inspired me to do more to leave the world in a better and more beautiful state than I found it.

Any brush lettering ‘secrets’ you want to divulge?

kal barteski interview a via besottedblog.com


1. It’s not magic. It’s practice. That’s the secret. I do a lot of “live scripting” at events. That’s where someone brings me a phrase/quote/word and I use a brush to create (script) it while they watch. It can be challenging and a little nervewracking, but it’s also really fun and great practice anticipating letterforms and spacing. People are always impressed: “How did you do that?” or “Magic!”. I think it’s neat to see the words form, but what people don’t realize is that I have scripted the letters of the alphabet at least several hundred thousand times and I know (more or less) how to make them fit together and balance the page. It’s not magic. It’s practice. That’s the secret.

What are some of your favorite brush lettering supplies?

I don’t stray too far from the classics and I haven’t for years. My favourite supplies are:

  • Winsor & Newton black gouache. This is (without a doubt) the most beautiful medium to script in. It’s just a little bit smoother than ink and it dries to a velvety finish that is remarkable. It’s magic. It’s also very fragile and super expensive compared to ink so if I know the job will be traveling or for digital use I’ll reach for the ink.
  • a handful of sumi and round brushes. I’m pretty fussy about the brushes. I have about three dozen Japanese sumi brushes in varying sizes, but my favourites (and the ones I use 90 % of the time) are a medium sized brush I picked up at rural art store by accident. I bought 35 on a whim in 2010 and I have 6 left. I’ve been coveting them like jewels because I have NO idea where I’d find more – but they work just right for me. (They have Japanese characters only.)
  • yogurt lids for palettes
  • Windex (india ink is waterproof, but no match for windex/ammonia! I use Windex to clean my tables, brushes, hand, clothes – whatever I mess up!)
  • stacks of different kinds of paper (depending on the end use of the letters I will flip between luxurious watercolour papers and economical cartridge paper for digital end use)

Can you go a little into your process of how you work on a piece?

My general style when attacking a new piece is to hit it straight on. I don’t over think it. There’s magic in what happens on your first go. Sometimes – it sucks so badly. But, within that first version your hand learns the rhythm of the words and your eyes see the pattern in the spaces. I don’t over think it – let the letters be the art. That’s really the way I operate. (I should also point out that I’m a little obsessive. If I’m not feeling the fit or the balance – I will do things over and over and over and over until I’m happy.)

If you want to be very specific I used to sit on the floor to script, but I had a pretty serious spinal surgery last July so now I stand at a raised table in my studio. It took some getting used to, but now I can’t remember what it felt like to sit. I do a series of warmup pages EVERY DAY to find my groove and grip. I prefer a perpendicular hold on the brush but depending on the feel I’m going for – will do anything from a side hold to a fisted hold.

Any tips for newbies on how to develop their own style?

Developing a unique style is a tough thing. I think Instagram has made it even more difficult because you’re on overload and comparison is such a crappy internal fight. Get offline. Pick a phrase/word and kill it. Do it 500 times and make them all different. Then pick another word and do that one. Repeat.

Any recommendations of books or classes for lettering enthusiasts to further their studies?

Just get out there and do things. Try things.

Do you have some favorite projects you would like me to mention?

Over the years, I have done so many fun projects with clients all over the world. I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for every one of them.  I’ve been doing this style of script since early 2008.

Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?

Don’t over think it.  Be yourself. YOU ARE YOU AND THAT IS YOUR POWER. Be your best you – not a crappy imitation of your favourite letterer.

If you want to mention any upcoming workshops, projects, kits, etc, let us know here!  We are happy to help you spread the word!

I’ll be opening up my online shop on July 10th to take CUSTOM #kbscript online orders/requests. Watch my Instagram feed for details.

What programs do you use to clean + digitize your artwork? 

Oh my gosh, I’m a dinosaur. I like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator the best. I’ve been using these two for 23 years so they are like old friends I can’t live without.

Name one random talent you have that people may not know?

Most people in the lettering world don’t know that my true passion is polar bears. I’ve been painting wildlife for five times as many years as I’ve been making messy letters. This past year I started the Polar Bear Fund to raise money for innovative, non-invasive polar bear research. www.polarbearfund.ca

To enter to win a CUSTOM 8 x 10 from Kal!?!  Either answer the question below or share your lettering practice with the hashtag #bblettering (we are definitely choosing one winner from the hashtag!) We are extending announcing winners until Friday, July 8, 2016, there will be THREE winners!!! AND because we are awesome and so is Studio Calico ONE lucky winner will win access to Kal’s script class (which is no longer available to the public!) AND these supplies (paper, paint, gouache, brush).

What word, name or phrase would you like Kal to letter if you win?

Good luck to you all!

P.S. This is day 3 of Brush Lettering Week, you can see day I + II, III here!

Miss Tristan B. is the co-creator of the world’s best + easiest product photography editing tool-Foto Rx | Shopkeeper’s Helper and the fastest way to clean + digitize your lettering and line art –Lettering Rx | Paper to pixel and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.


10 thoughts on “Learn Brush Lettering | Interview with Kal Barteski

  1. I would love the hand-lettered phrase, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”
    Love the interview series!

  2. I am quite enamored with Kal ‘s lettering style and join her in wanting to save the Polar Bears that are on their way to becoming extinct because they are losing their summer ice shelf .
    I would like to have her write:
    love is all you need

  3. I’ve followed Kat for years and even bought some of her artwork. She is so talented and I just love her creations. What a wonderful peek into her process–thanks!! :)

  4. Thank you for all the wonderful interviews! I’d like Kal to letter “Remember life does not have to be complicated.”

  5. My choice would be “love love you” – it would go up in my baby’s room. :) Thank you for sharing your talents and inspiration!

  6. Thank you for sharing your secrets Kal! Your lettering has such a beautiful imperfectly yet damn perfect feel to it. I would love to see Kal letter; “Every cloud has a silver lining “.

  7. This was such an inspring interview! I loved Kal’s advice to artist’s ” Don’t over think it. Be yourself. YOU ARE YOU AND THAT IS YOUR POWER. Be your best you…” I would love her to letter a part of this quote, maybe “Be your best you.” It’s a message I am always trying to give to my kids!

  8. What a great interview! I am so sad I missed out on Kal’s online course – it was on my list to sign up for but I waited too long :( It’s awesome to learn about her love of wildlife. I’ve had some words bouncing around in my head that I’d like to letter and I think they’d look great in Kal’s script: “May your adventures be wild and your summers endless.”

  9. I would be so happy if she would letter, the best is yet to be. After going through cancer and chemo this is my mantra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *