When dry-erase whiteboards came into classrooms in the ‘90s, it seemed like the end of days for dusty blackboards. But chalk is still a much-loved medium amongst hand-drawers like Valerie McKeehan of Lily & Val. At her shop, Valerie draws chalk messages and designs to create greeting cards, gifts and decor. Now, she’s written The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering: Create and Develop Your Own Style ($20), offering 60 lessons on mastering that squeaky, dusty stick and creating your own pro-level designs. We asked Valerie to offer up some tips on working chalk lettering into your wedding decor, because who doesn’t want to save big bucks on personalized wedding details?

What You Need to Get Started

One of the best things about chalk lettering is that you don’t need much to do it. Keep it classic with Valerie’s favorite writing implement, the Crayola Anti-Dust White Chalk ($1/12-pack), or go colorful with Alphacolor Assorted Chalk Sticks ($7/12-pack). Then you just need basic items like a felt eraser, cloth rag and pencil sharpener.

When it comes to liquid chalk pens, Valerie says they’re a great option if you want to make sure your wedding signage doesn’t budge. BUT it also limits how much you can do: “Keep in mind, it will provide a flat look. To achieve shading and texture you’ll need the real dusty thing!”

Decorating Outside the Box

So what are you going to DIY for your wedding? You can’t go wrong with a customized chalkboard welcome sign, says Valerie. “They really set a beautiful first impression for your guests, and then you can use the sign in your home as a keepsake!” She suggests decorating the finished piece with flowers, to soften the harshness of the chalkboard. “For an unexpected chalkboard detail, try using chalk art placemats or chalkboard paper drawn with chalk pens as a table runner.” Psst — make sure to check out the B+C Shop for even more options, like place cards, labels, pennants and even balloons!

Finding Your Font Muse

You definitely want your font choice to match your overall wedding style, so before you start trying to master big, swooping calligraphy, evaluate what message you want to convey. “If you are trying to achieve an elegant, formal vibe, then a sophisticated, calligraphic script would pair nicely,” says Valerie. “If your wedding is more casual, however, then a playful, whimsical style might work well.” Refer back to your invitations or save the dates and look for common font thread that you can stick with. Valerie also recommends studying computer-generated fonts, as consistency in your letter shapes will lead to much better readability.

Aside from the font and message, think about what flair you want to add, like scrolls or flowers. Everything from coffee shop signage to a floral pattern on a vintage dress has inspired Valerie, so keep your eyes peeled for detailing and flourishes that you want to add to your chalk lettering. The Internet is also your friend here, including two of Valerie’s fave lettering Instagrams, @amandaarneill and @designroots.

8 Tips for Perfecting Your Chalk Lettering

Okay, so you’ve decided on your surface, your message, your font and your detailing. Are you ready to chalk? Here are Valerie’s pro tips for getting down and dusty.

1. Season your chalkboard. “Chalkboard ‘seasoning’ sounds fancy, but it’s really very simple. It involves rubbing the side of a piece of chalk over the entire surface of a brand new chalkboard before using it. This helps break in the chalkboard, preventing the chalk from leaving a permanent mark the first time you use it. It also provides a more rustic, muted look as opposed to the flat, black surface of a brand new chalkboard. After the chalk covers the surface, just erase and wipe down with a damp cloth.”

2. Start with a pencil sketch. Remember that practice makes perfect. “It’s tempting to jump right in, but you’ll want to have a plan before chalking.”

3. Sharpen your chalk. If you want to get intricate with your details, you need a finer point. “Use a pencil sharpener with two holes — the larger hole will fit the chalk perfectly. You will be able to create much more detailed letters with a sharp point.”

4. Add guide marks to your chalkboard. Chalking outside the lines can be fun, but when you’re trying to write a welcome sign, it’s best to have some guides. “This ensures the proper placement of all the letters. The worst feeling is designing a board only to realize you have no room left at the bottom! Adding guide marks will make drawing much easier. Simply erase the marks with a cotton swab once you’re done and no one will even know you used them at all.”

5. Use a top-down approach. No more smudging! “When you work from the top of the chalkboard down, it allows you to rest the side of your hand against the chalkboard without bumping or smudging your work. This anchoring will help you draw with more precision.”

6. Take a step back. Instead of trying to get it done in one fell swoop, Valerie suggests taking breaks. “As you’re drawing, it will be helpful to take a step back from your work and view it from a distance. You will immediately be able to see if the design feels unbalanced or if there are any areas that need tweaking.”

7. Practice, practice, practice. “The more you practice, the more you will be able to create a style that is all your own, which will make your wedding chalkboards even more special.” And who knows, maybe you’ll be making chalkboard signs for your friends for years to come.

8. Relax. Valerie says that the most important thing is to enjoy the process. “Chalk art is so forgiving and fun. One of the best things about it is that it erases, and gray smudges give the board some character. Let go of the need for perfection. If you don’t like something you’ve drawn, simply erase and try again.”

Ready to develop your own chalk stylings? Get into the nitty gritty in The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering (it even comes with chalk paper for you to practice on!), and in the meantime, shop Valerie’s own creations in the Lily & Val shop!

Have you used chalk as an art form before (you know, aside from in elementary school)? Share your designs with us in the comments!

(Photos via Valerie McKeehan)