It’s practically impossible to scroll through Facebook without watching a video of hand lettering. The art form has exploded in popularity over the past few years, and Cincinnati native Gracia Goldberg has jumped on board. In 2018, the self-taught artist launched Unfettered Letters, an online hand lettering brand that sells letter-based art and offers tutorials for those interested in learning the craft. “I see lettering as a gateway art form because everyone already knows the alphabet—you’re halfway there already,” Goldberg says. “I think it’s a little less intimidating than painting or sculpture or something where those skills are totally new and unknown.”
Hand lettering straddles the line between writing and drawing, Goldberg says. Rather than simply writing to communicate a message, lettering uses consistent shapes and spacing to illustrate letters and create decorative words. It’s also different from calligraphy, which relies on using specific pens and a certain amount of pressure to create lines.
With a professional background in education and instructional design, Goldberg picked up lettering as a hobby before selling her products on Etsy and at local craft markets. Launching Unfettered Letters allowed her to expand her reach through downloadable workbooks and online video tutorials, which cover basic techniques like faux calligraphy to themed skills like holiday script.
Despite common misconceptions, Goldberg says anyone can learn how to letter; it’s just a matter of learning the different rules and styles. In fact, the first thing she tells customers taking her faux calligraphy workshop is to forget the alphabet. “When you’re doing hand lettering, you want to forget that muscle memory [of writing letters] because you’re trying to draw the letters. You’re trying to create them very purposefully,” she says.
Hand lettering can also be useful in the corporate world, Goldberg says. Digital fonts can be replicated, but hand lettering is completely unique. “If you’re really trying to create a particular feeling or emotion or message for your brand…[you’re] looking for a unique way to represent that,” she says. “I think a lot of companies are turning to hand lettering and [designs] that look more authentic and unique.”
In addition to selling greeting cards, mugs, and prints featuring her lettering and illustrations online and at local markets, Goldberg’s work can be found at local shops, including Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Fairfield Market, Coda Co., and Handzy Shop + Studio. (Her illustrations of Music Hall and the Cincinnati skyline are best-sellers.) Moving forward, she plans to launch more online tutorials. “I really hope to empower people to have an outlet for their creativity,” she says. “[I hope to] provide an opportunity for people to learn something and drive more creativity into the community.”