Jessica Keala • Coco & Mingo

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:

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 ThoreauMarcus AureliusLao TzuRichard 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:

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!


Jessica's Shopping List

 iPad Pro
Pentel touch pens
Zebra brush pens

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen – both hard and soft tips
Tombow Dual Brush Pens
Pentel brush pen – medium tip
Round watercolor brushes, sizes 3/0 and 0
Kaimei Lettering Pen Ink
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours (White and Black)
Skillshare membership
Lettering Rx | Paper to Pixel


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