Learn brush lettering | Lettering artist Jessica Keala interview


Jessica Keala of Coco and Mingo is a favorite around here! Jessica is not only bubbling over with talent (she makes brush lettering look effortless, doesn’t she?), she’s also one of the nicest people we’ve met on the inter webs! Jess is going to share her resources and ‘secrets’ to learn brush lettering, we are so looking forward to this interview!

Where are you located?

Majority of the year, I’m located in Brooklyn, New York. Every now and then, I’m working from Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was born and raised.

Any brush lettering ‘secrets’ you want to divulge? 

I do quite a bit of practice before any major lettering project! I’ll do a quick sketch in pencil before going over with ink, but I mostly use the pencil lines as guides for the overall picture. I don’t have much when it comes to “secrets”, except how much paper I end up wasting! Time to get an iPad Pro!


What are some of your favorite brush lettering supplies? 

Just a few of my favorites:

Pentel touch pens, Zebra brush pens, Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen – both hard and soft tips, Tombow Dual Brush Pens, Pentel brush pen – medium tipRound watercolor brushes, sizes 3/0 and 0 – there are many brands that you can try out, but lately I have been using the Princeton Art & Brush Co. brushes since they are my favorite at my local small craft store (all resources are linked below!), Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink, Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours (White and Black)

Can you name some of your inspirations? (books, music, artists, etc.)

I am very into Metaphysics and the universe. I love books and reading. Some of my favorite authors/books in my home library consist of Henry David Thoreau, Marcus Aurelius, Lao Tzu, Richard Bach, and Paulo Coelho. I love nature and having adventures outdoors, it is probably what inspires me the most. I’m inspired by the places I live and love: the quaint Northeast and tropical Hawaii. I love any music that lifts my spirits and makes me want to dance!

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

When working on a new piece, I try to get a feel of it: the words, the people or company behind those words. Because I have a couple of different brush lettering styles, I’ll choose the one that works the best, and it usually involves having to do a few rough sketches. It really helps to have a non-cluttered desk that gets proper natural sunlight (especially if you’re working with watercolor lettering). It’s important for me to have lots of space – I sit at an angle (~45 degree angle), so that both my paper and body are aligned together at the same angle, both feet on the floor, and wrists straight. The grip on your pen should be light and relaxed. I hold my pen a bit “weird”, so it always takes a little while for me to get the grip on the pen just right (hey, nobody’s perfect!).

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

There are so many different styles out there, it can get overwhelming! For me, I just go with what feels the most natural. Try this: put pen to paper and write in your natural script. That is the groundwork for your own style. Then, look at YouTube or Instagram videos/photos of other styles you love, and go ahead and apply it to your basic groundwork (i.e. loops, flourishes, line thickness, letter height/width/dips, etc.). You can always try to make your writing look like someone else’s, but at the end of the day, it may look forced. If you want it to look natural, then go what feels comfortable and with practice, your natural writing will only advance! With practice, practice, practice, you’ll naturally develop your own style. The best thing about brush lettering is that it’s more relaxed than pointed pen calligraphy. Embrace the mistakes, ink inconsistencies, and imperfect line thickness!

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

Skillshare is such a great resource! Here are some classes I can recommend:

Brush Lettering Made Simple 

Brush Lettering Essentials: Starting Out 

Create Engaging Hand Lettering Designs Using Shape Nesting

Design Beautiful Greeting Cards: Using Brushpen Lettering Techniques 

Brushpen Logo Design: Develop Your Signature Style

Waterbrush Lettering Essentials

Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?

Don’t force it. Sometimes I create so many versions of a project and I get really frustrated, and none of them end up satisfying me. Sometimes all it requires is for you to step away. Once I come back I realize that the version I really like is one of the very first ones I created!

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

Foto Rx Lettering Rx, all the way! I can’t tell you how much these actions have helped with cleaning up my scanned lettering work (thanks, Besotted!). If I want to keep it with more of the “raw” look, then this is as far as I’ll go. If I want more of a digitized look, especially for high-resolution or printed jobs, I’ll bring my cleaned up image (using Lettering Rx first) into Illustrator and then vectorize it from there.

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

I’m actually a pretty good cook! I grew up cooking with my mom and continue to cook with her to this day. Growing up in Hawaii, we’re exposed to so many different types of cultural foods, so we cook a lot of fusion dishes. Whenever I’m in Hawaii, we enjoy making vegetarian dishes with fresh vegetables from our garden. Lately I’ve been experimenting baking gluten-free desserts!



Pentel touch pens

Zebra brush pen fine

Zebra brush pen double sided

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen -hard tip

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen – soft tip

Tombow Dual Brush Pens

Pentel brush pen – medium tip

Princeton Art & Brush Co. watercolor brushes

Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink

Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours (White and Black)








24 thoughts on “Learn brush lettering | Lettering artist Jessica Keala interview

  1. What an honor to be featured on Besotted today! Thank you Tristan and Michelle :) Excited to read other interviews and uncover new resources this week on your blog! <3

  2. This was so fun to read! Jessica’s work is amazing, and she is a wonderful person! It was great getting to know a little more about her.
    Hi Jessica! (if you see this hehe)

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