Summer 2017
Meet Marisa

Name: Marisa Darabi
Location: Oakland, California
Art/Craft/Discipline: Hand-lettering, Calligraphy, & Design

From favorite quotes in books to tattoos, Marisa captures the essence of a feeling with pen and paper.

Intro by Jennifer Arzt
Meet Marisa
Oakland, California

The first thought you have when walking into Marisa's studio is that she doesn't just hand letter, but that she is a hand letterer, though hand lettering does not define her. Instead, the story behind the text is where her heart beats and proves that words have the power to connect people across time, space, and distance.

Marisa has a calm ease in which she let you stand right next to the case that holds her emotions. It’s not there for you to dig through without permission, but she doesn’t hide it away. You know the case I mean; we all have one though it seems more and more that people tuck it away and pretend it doesn’t exit, trading authenticity for polished happiness in the light of casual conversation and Instagram feeds. 

Marisa finds connection in books, song lyrics, and the world at large. Life, it seems, speaks directly to her. And she listens and replies with beautiful interpretations of what was said.

By capturing these words she copies them from one place and to another, giving them a new home in her story. 

Hand lettering has never looked more human to me than after meeting Marisa. 

Read on
TRY This! Customize your experience >

· How did you get started working in this area? ·

I’ve always loved reading and I believe it was around high school that I started keeping a journal full of quotes which I found beautiful from books and poems I would read. One day it struck me that it would be lovely to have these quotes up on my wall, but at the same time I wanted to make them look aesthetically pleasing. Thus, I started researching and getting my feet wet in the world of calligraphy and eventually I tumbled into hand-lettering which allows for so much more expression.

Most recently I’ve been trying my hand at accompanying my lettering with more elaborate illustrations which is very exciting. The versatility of hand-lettering is what has kept me loving this art for over five years now as it can be used as a central design element for almost anything, from postcards and letters to logos and tattoos.

· Where do you find inspiration for your work? ·

My inspiration for actually creating a piece of work has definitely expanded from literature, and not just because (I am embarrassed to say) I don’t read as much as I used to! My primary motivation comes from song lyrics. I love music and definitely pay attention to lyrics over anything else, so when a particular line strikes me, I write it down and then create a piece out of it. 


More recently, I have also been working on an ongoing project called Tattoos for Sad Lovers where I mix hand-lettering with tattoo-imagery. It was a bit nerve-wracking as for the first time the words I am drawing are my own, but also because it is an exploration of the darkest and most intrusive bits of being in a relationship which I can feel a bit guilty or vulnerable sharing. But then other times I just feel driven to draw some beautiful letters, which is where projects like wedding-invitation calligraphy become very enjoyable. Logos are also super fun to work on since they require you to think in a way that’s both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing.

Insofar as other works which inspire me, I find my Instagram feed to be excellent. There are so many incredible lettering artists and tattoo artists whose work inspires me to keep working harder and more creatively. It would be difficult to name names as there’s just too many artists and I’d surely forego several who do not deserve to be forgone, but those I’m drawn to are the artists that are incredibly versatile and can draw letters and illustrations in a range of styles and moods.

I know “modern calligraphy” and brush lettering are very popular at the moment, but I find it immensely boring when I see an artist who only does that as it leads to a portfolio where every piece looks the same. Lettering is still an artform, and therefore it is most inspiring when it makes you feel a range of emotions.

· What tools do you use? Have a favorite? ·

Going into hand-lettering or calligraphy is definitely one of the more affordable artistic endeavors, which makes it extra fantastic and accessible. If you want to get started with calligraphy, I recommend the following basics:

  • A Speedball Oblique holder - these are around $2. There are holders that will go up into the double digits, bragging ergonomics and aesthetics, but I’ve been happy with this simple introductory holder for all these years.
  • Dip Pen nibs - This is probably the hardest thing to suggest because choosing which nib to go with is a personal decision and just requires a lot of experimentation. The great thing here again is that nibs are fairly cheap, ranging from a few cents to a couple of dollars each. There are definitely sampler packs and introductory kits available which could be a great starting point, or you could do what I did and just grab a bunch and make your own variety pack. I order my nibs from (no affiliation). My go-to nibs are the Esterbrook 354 and 355 because I love how a gentle touch is all you need and it gives incredibly thin lines with no pressure. But also I work very small-scale and an average piece is only a couple of inches long and wide. So if you work larger, you may want to use a bigger nib like the Gillott 303 or the Leonardt Principal nib.
  • Ink - I primarily use black ink and prefer acrylic ink to India ink as India ink clogs smaller nibs like the Esterbrooks I use. Speedball’s black ink is great and I currently am in love with Ziller.
  • Paper - I recommend smooth vellum Bristol board. Strathmore is really great quality and well-priced. Their 300 series is definitely sufficient but if you’re going to spoil yourself or use the final piece for a special occasion, I’d go for the 400 series. I mainly use the 300 series.

If you want to go into hand-lettering, you just need a writing utensil, a ruler, and paper! My personal toolkit includes a pencil for sketching and a fineliner for going over the sketch in ink. Some fineliner recommendations are Sakura Microns, Faber-Castell, and Prismacolor. Art stores usually let you try these out to see which one works for you. I use rOtring Isograph pens because I love being able to refill them, but the upfront cost is heftier.

A bit of an expensive purchase to consider further down the line for any paper-pencil art is a lightpad. I like to sketch out my work on graph paper first and then copy them over on a clean sheet using a lightpad. I use a small Artograph lightpad I purchased a few years ago, but I believe there are newer and cheaper options out there right now. I’m terrible at making straight lines, so it’s been a lifesaver!

Eventually, you may want to reach out into working digital if you plan on doing prints or logos. Most lettering artists, myself included, use Adobe Illustrator for this but depending on your needs you will probably be able to have a decent digital copy with a scanner or camera and Adobe Photoshop or any freeware equivalent.

· Favorite local spot? ·

One of my favorite places to stroll around is Elmwood - such a pretty place with so many little things to do - get some ice cream from Icis, fresh bread and pastries from La Farine, or a Belgian beer from Mikkeller Tasting Room

· What music do you work to? ·

I always work to music and my favorite genres are indie-folk, indie-rock, jazz, and so much more. You can get a really good idea of my favorites from the lyrics I letter!

· What have you always wanted to try? ·

I have always wanted to try sign painting or some other unexpected large-scale hand-lettering project, such as painting onto a vehicle. I think it would be a super fun challenge for someone who is used to working on such a small scale.

· Anything else? ·

You can follow me on Instagram @inky.letters or view my portfolio at - Don’t hesitate to get in touch!

· What kind of projects can people try with you? ·
Marisa's Studio
Get to know us
Meet more TRY Studio teachers
Nominate a TRY teacher for a story
TRY Studio at Maker Faire
TRY Studio //
The blog.
TRY Studio is a new project that hopes to change the world with a simple idea: Personalized lessons taught by someone local.

This isn't really a new idea though. It's mentor / mentee. It's master / apprentice. It's tutor / student. It's real time creative learning.

Learn things. Teach things. Value process and people and we all win create a better world.
Make time for creativity.