I like to start with a theme for each project, whether that's provided by the client or something I come up with on my own based on the goals and audience of the project. I enjoy thoroughly researching and immersing myself in that topic to better familiarize myself with it. Then I print all of my favorite inspiration pieces together on a single sheet of paper. Drawing the details from each piece helps my mind focus on the little things that attracted me to those particular images in the first place.

Then, I go to sleep.

Seriously. I put away the inspiration and let those ideas marinate in my brain. This step doesn't take long because I'm usually too excited to start working on the project. Although, I make myself wait at least a day to ensure I've really had time to process what I discovered in my inspiration phase.

Next, I draw a variety of thumbnail sketches of what I'd like to create for the project I'm working on. I do not look back at my inspiration page until I've exhausted all possible ideas for thumbnails. That way I know my ideas aren't deliberately copying someone else. That is the main concept behind design inspiration after all: you should only draw from other people's ideas, not steal them!

When I find a thumbnail that I'm happy with, I snap a quick photo on my phone to bring it onto the computer. Once on the screen, I adjust the contrast so my pencil lines are nice and dark and the background is white. I print the edited version at a larger size (or the actual size, depending on the size of project).

Then, I sleep again.

Sometimes I think of other things I'd like to change in my thumbnails before I move on to a bigger sketch. I use tracing paper to transition my thumbnail into a refined sketch. This could take numerous versions to get the details correct. I trace over the newest version of each sketch until I get to a desired result.

Then, you know the drill (zzzzz).

Looking at my polished sketch with a fresh pair of eyes, I make any last adjustments before moving on to the final. This is where my process can go any number of directions. I might take it back onto the computer and vectorize it. I might transfer it onto another medium and ink or paint over it. The possibilities are endless! At the end of the day, the result is the same: a beautiful piece of original hand lettering created by Sarah Barton.


Selected case studies:


Drink and Be Merry