Making Time for Intentional Lettering Practice
Do you know the story of the three frogs?
It’s a beautiful summer morning by the side of the lake, the birds are chirping, and a gentle breeze is swaying through the tall grass. Three frogs are sitting on a log, by the water’s edge. A lone duck diving and washing itself sends ripples across the surface. The frogs sit and watch. Then suddenly, one frog decides to jump.
How many frogs are left sitting on the log?
Exactly: all three. Because deciding to do something and actually doing it are two different things.
Now, let me tell you a story of the three lettering enthusiasts sitting on a couch…
Ok, seriously though, there’s no guilt tripping here, I know exactly what it feels like. You want to do it, but you just can’t make it work what with life and things. You're tired in the mornings, you're busy during the day, and then evening comes around, when you *should* be going to the gym, and you’re already feeling bad enough about putting that off, so the added mental weight of not practicing lettering either gets so heavy, you need a break from it all, order take-out, and put on the telly. Wouldn’t be able to concentrate anyway.
Just me? No? Well then, here are some strategies that helped get me out of my funk, maybe they work for you, too:
Assess the calendar situation - and be flexible
I’m the queen of scheduling - and then going with the flow. Making a plan - and then doing what feels right. I have certain habits in my calendar as a daily reminder, and even if I may not do them at the prescribed time, I do them that day. Writing them out on a Sunday night into my Passion Planner for the week ahead is setting the intention, and then checking them off is giving me that sense of accomplishment that releases sweet endorphins in my brain.
I love those endorphins and that feeling of "yes! I got it done." I schedule 30 minutes of lettering or calligraphy practice in the morning, and have been taking the iPad on my knees in the evening with the TV on in the background as well. The evening practice time isn’t on my planner, so I don't feel bad if I don't do it, it's like a bonus to myself. But I like it, and the stuff I post to my Insta stories actually has gotten some nice feedback, too.
Now, what if you’re a big believer in being creative when it feels right, and that a schedule can’t dictate creativity? For the most part, I agree - creativity isn’t something I can switch on and off. But here’s the thing: routine helps. Habits help. To paraphrase Steven Pressfield (or was it Stephen King?): the muse has an easier time to kiss you when she finds you working.
For example, every Wednesday morning from 8 to 9 am I go to a coffee shop to write with others. There’s accountability, an almond milk chai tea latte, and friends typing away at their own keyboards. Most of the time, I have no clue what I’m going to write about, but at this point it’s a Pavlovian response - it’s Wednesday, so I write.
What is a day and time you absolutely block off for lettering practice, no other distractions allowed?
Participate in a daily challenge
I’m having a #letteringaffirmations challenge going until the end of March. Elle Luna’s 100 Day project is starting April 3rd. You can set your own challenge for a daily practice of your choosing for a certain amount of days. How many days? A challenge, by definition, is meant for us to go beyond our comfort zone, perhaps to compete with others, to achieve those stretch goals that aren’t within easy reach. So make it something you think you can't do, e.g. start with one whole month. There'll be birthdays in there, work commitments, maybe you'll get sick - but your challenge is to be creative every day anyway.
For me, participating in a daily lettering challenge is about a) the accountability of making something every day, and posting it for everyone to see, and b) posting something even though it may not be that great, because it was rushed or for whatever other reason.
Sharing even if it's bad helps with overcoming stage fright, because really - what's the worst that could happen? Yes, we're all trying to curate our feeds, but given all the algorithm changes, I'm practicing to focus on the creation process for myself and not worry about how it will be received. Having said that, I'm still trying to keep an overall look on my feed, so if the sketch doesn’t fit in optics-wise, I make something that does fit and tack the other one on as a second image. #fierceandindependentbutnotreally
The point is to do something every day, and to show that you’re doing it every day, no matter the skill level. I think I read this in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (definitely paraphrasing, possibly misremembering) that the more quantity of art you produce, the higher the probability you’ll find a gem or two in there. Go through the shitty first drafts, work through the downs of doubt and self-loathing, and you’ll get to the ups of “hey, this isn’t actually that bad”.
Pro-tip: don't scroll mindlessly for hours, set a timer, and see what you see. Don't compare yourself to others, compare your progress. That's why you should always date your practice pages, so you know what your Copperplate W looked like in October, January, and June.
What’s the smallest possible thing you can commit to making and publishing EVERY DAY for at least 30 days?
Have a vision
Much like changing eating habits for a sustainable diet, learning lettering and calligraphy takes years. If you’re expecting to be a pro within a month, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Besides, there’s always something more to learn; the learning never stops. Your work may never feel perfect, and if you don’t practice, it certainly doesn't have a chance to get even close.
To help me keep going with something that takes consistent conscious effort, I need a "why". What's in it for me if I keep going, and what's at stake if I give up? My goal is to make a living from lettering and calligraphy. To work with awesome people, have excited clients, and teach what I know to a bunch of happy students.
This one is still a work in progress for me. I think I’m in the process of developing “my style”, and I’m also begging my bank account to give me a budget to take more classes and buy more books. But I know that I want to get better whatever shape that’s going to take. There’s no resting on any laurels here - improve or die.
What's your why?
Six months from now, where do you want to be (in terms of skill level or Insta following or whatever vision of your future self is attractive to you)?
Where do you NOT want to be? Because honey, time is going to pass regardless.
Something I want to start doing:
Specific: Practicing lettering layouts & color schemes
I love my predominantly black and white Insta feed, I think it looks clean and elegant, especially since I've been heavily focusing on Copperplate calligraphy and modern script styles. But to make a living off of lettering and calligraphy, I need to show a range, so I'll work on interspersing some colorful lettering pieces come April.
General: Letter anywhere
For me, having a special place helps me get in the mindset, and that usually involves a table or some sort. Friend and Studiomanager Liz Ryan draws with a pen and notebook in hand while standing up in a crowded subway. I like to have a basic notebook and pen on me at all times in case there’s a lull, and I’ll make an effort to take it out and use it some more next time I’m in transit. #nomoreginrummyonmyphone