What I've Learned: 100 Days of Lettering
Last year when I first began my lettering journey, I realised that if I didn’t dedicate time to learning regularly and consistently, then my journey was going to fall flat on its face before it had even begun. In came the idea of a 100-day project, and I cannot comprehend how valuable the experience was to my progress!
As I’m in the middle of planning a new 30-day project, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my 100 days experience.
Never build a (lettering) house on sand
Learning the foundations of lettering first made all of the difference. As someone that had relied on using typefaces (fonts) for pretty much all of my designer career so far, drawing letters by hand was like a whole new world (a new fantastic point of view. #Sorrynotsorry 😅)
Working on the basics of how to build letters from the ground up is the best way to begin so you can understand how to create words and phrases properly from there. You wouldn't want to try running a 25k marathon without at least attempting a 5k first, right? Same goes with this.
The majority of my daily practices started with obligatory warm-up exercises, focusing on the main basic strokes that make up each letter in the alphabet, repeating them again and again until I felt ready to move onto actual letters. I used Amanda Arneil’s Let’s Start Lettering course as my main resource to learn these strokes, but there are lots of different resources available online to choose from, including my own which I’ll be releasing soon!
Practice Makes Progress, Not Perfection
Repeat after me: you are not going to be amazing overnight, so embrace being a beginner.
No one starts off being incredible with lettering, so let go of the idea of perfection. Now. Forget about all the “perfect” pieces you see on Instagram and just have fun with YOUR progress. I struggled with this a lot in the beginning as I just wanted my letters to look good yesterday, but it takes a lot of dedication and consistency to get better, and you won’t get there without regularly practicing. Initially I drew for about 10 minutes a day, which quickly grew to 30 minutes, then to an hour as I was enjoying seeing my progress so much. Don’t be afraid to start and just start, you’ll thank yourself pretty quickly once you see your growth.
Fight Through Shiny Object Syndrome
New pens! New notebooks! Oh my god, what about an iPad?! DO I NEED AN IPAD?!
Shiny Object Syndrome is a difficult thing to ignore and this caught me out big time (self confessed stationery addict over here). But really, all you need to start with is a good notepad (like a Rhodia which has amazing smooth paper), some tracing paper and a pencil. Start small and work your way up. I wrote a blog post recently about my favourite lettering tools that I use now that I’ve spent time building up my skills, and over time you’ll grow to love a particular set of tools too. Don't feel obligated to buy all of the fancy pens or an iPad straight off the bat just because everyone else has them. Save the fancy stuff for when you’re feeling more confident, or as a treat for getting through the first 30 days - which is what I did when I bought my iPad.
Instagram shouldn’t be your only source for finding inspiration
Instagram is cool and all, but if it's your only source of inspiration then you'll find your work starting to look a lot like everything else that's already on there, and lettering is all about finding your own style. During my project, I really tried my best to use other sources like books, movie posters, shop signs, magazines etc to find inspiration, picking out elements I loved and incorporating them into whatever I was drawing. I’ll be writing a blog post about my favourite lettering books, so keep an eye out for that.
Self-discipline and a goal go hand-in-hand
Hand lettering is an absolute mind-field, and there can be a lot to take in when you’re first starting out. Having a simple process, a goal in mind and the self-discipline to keep pushing through any mental blocks from the get go can help you get to the 100 days. At first, my project was only going to last for July (31 days), but as I was enjoying it so much I extended it to see how far I could go and ended up at 100 days.
My strategy looked something like:
Use a pencil or pen and keep the colours to a minimum (black and white).
Draw and post something every day to Instagram, even if you think it looks rubbish. Yes, you’ll be annoyed about posting something that you don’t think looks good, but remember progress over perfection and it’s great to look back a few weeks later to see how much your style has evolved.
Don’t overthink what you’re drawing. Letter whatever comes to mind whether it’s a single letter, a word or a phrase that resonates.
As time went on I did start to use more colour and upgraded to using an iPad, which made it easier to start incorporating different colours and brush styles, but I think having these goals from the start helped me to stay consistent.
Joining a community is a powerful thing
Finally, I cannot recommend enough just reaching out to other people within the lettering community when you’re a beginner. Everyone will be so supportive and be willing to help out with any tips (including myself), so don’t be afraid to say hello and ask questions!
As I started sharing more of my work on Instagram, taking part in community lettering challenges like HomWork by Lauren Hom and GoodType Tuesday, I got to speak to some incredible artists from all over the place, and it’s a great mental boost to get encouragement and constructive feedback from those that have walked in your shoes previously during their own journeys.
Overall I can’t even describe how accomplished I felt when I finished my 100-day project. It was the first time I had dedicated so much time to learning one thing, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the new knowledge I gained. Granted, 100-days does not a master make, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.
Perseverance is key but it was easy to let a day or two slip by, especially during the moments when I just did not want to pick up a pen due to tiredness or creative block. However, giving myself permission to take a break and casually doodle random nonsense instead of letters slowly helped me get back into the swing of things.
100 days is hard work, but I’m so glad I stuck with it as the amount of passion and love I have for my craft now is insane. Here’s to my next daily project!
Soon I’ll be launching some practice lettering sheets aimed at beginners. If you would be interested in getting your hands on them, just pop your email below!
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