You're reading an interview with an alumni from the Better Lettering Course. I'm sharing several of these stories on the blog to encourage and inspire anyone who has a desire to learn hand-lettering but who might be intimidated or fearful of diving in. Click here to read them all or, if you're a BLC alumn, submit your story here to be featured!
What made you want to start learning hand-lettering?
I had always dabbled in lettering and calligraphy. But the resurgence of it in the last few years kind of made me feel intimidated. There was a certain style and skill I quite did not get yet. I came across Caroline’s Best Lettering Course in 2014. It was $20.00 and I could not believe it. So simple and so affordable. I thought, why not? Bought it and in one night went through all the videos. But still felt like something was not right.
As a design professor, my time is tight but after taking the course, I heard of Caroline’s monthly challenges on Instagram and I was hooked. I started posting things that yes, now I look at them and I am less than impressed. But someone always liked it. And those little likes gave me encouragement to keep going. And Caroline is very supportive. As I kept practicing and observing, I kept improving.
In the midst of this I had to prepare for a solo show. I thought I will use lettering for them. I wrote several poems and created pieces that were 2 feet wide by 5 feet long. And I had a blast. One of those pieces sold, another one won a runner up in an international competition, and another one was in display at the Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL. Little by little I have made improvements. I have not made it into a full blown business because I guess I have been more interested in lettering for its aesthetic and conceptual value so far. But I am making plans to be more business like? :-)
What were some of your thoughts as you started out?
Patience. Patience. Patience. Practice. Practice. Practice. Drills. Drills. Drills. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. And do it all over again. That was all in my mind. I would look at the work of people I admire and I was like, I want to do that or learn that. Then I would observe their videos and/or pieces and pay attention at how a letter curved, folded, or slanted. And I would do it. Again and again. I would take a sketchbook with me and letter everything: the restaurant’s name, the names of everybody, or I would do drills, or words, over and over. I have this little box that I take with me everywhere and I practice. Anything I had to do that required waiting, I would practice.
I downloaded and/or purchased a bunch of practice sheets from many, many people. But barely used them. I wanted to create my own voice. I think that practice sheets are great but I feel I gained more by observing letters and how they would move their arm and hand and trying to replicate it. And doing the drills. Those practice strokes are to me, the real foundation of letter formation. Once you get those down, you can really fly. I do drills still and I am obsessed with achieving a very delicate transition or creating letterforms that communicate their intended purposes.
How did the Better Lettering Course help you grow in your hand-lettering skills?
It gave me diving board. She, Caroline, made it so easy, simple, and attainable. I got hooked and then I had to do it. Every. Day. Every. Moment.
I would take more courses from her but well, time. I have many projects I am working on that need my attention.
I would say this, Caroline has a way of connecting with you even though it is online, that it is not often seen in other instructors. She is transparent. And she gives her heart. I still remember the email newsletter about how she handled the situation of someone stealing her branding. It left an impression on me.
Her course, as inexpensive as it is or was, gave me the steps I needed to get started and to keep going. It was like, I can do that! I want to do that! I will do that! And of course, the sense of community she builds. That summer of 2015 was deep for me. Many things emotionally collided and the show, making each large piece, the lettering, the practice and the monthly challenges she posted gave me encouragement but it also gave me accountability. Every so often, my work was highlighted and it encouraged me. Or when I won the monthly prize! WOW! I was so excited! I never win anything and I loved my markers!
What surprised you most as you learned and practiced hand-lettering skills?
The meditative power of it. When I do it, I go to a state of deep work. Time goes by and I can’t tell. On the summers mostly, I go to my studio and I am there for hours until my husband or kids call me for dinner. My response: “already?” Case in point, I recently had a solo show of lettered pieces done in a mix of watercolor and ink titled Visual Prayer. I used verses from the Bible in English and Spanish and lettered them. I could do this all day. I have to stop myself actually because well, things like carpal tunnel, get in the way. ;-)
Alma Hoffmann is a bilingual designer, design educator, and writer who believes the power of visuals to persuade and create change is an enormous privilege and responsibility. She is married and has two teenaged children. Her husband is a physicist and college educator who loves to spoil her by building tables and spaces for her art practice. For more information about her see: almahoffmann.net | almahoffmann.com
You can also check out her two part article for Smashing Magazine about brush lettering, which is what she focuses mostly on. part one |