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’ve always loved that fine line between perfection and handmade. Those subtle differences in handmade things that make something real and personal and honest. Hand lettering lives at that intersection. I love that it embraces quirks and individuality, while being still being useful and repeatable.
I had design courses in college, so I was already comfortable with a variety of art supplies, but after I graduated, that “mandated creativity” ended, and there wasn’t something that stuck around to fill that creative void for me. After college, I was working retail jobs, definitely not the most creative thing, and staying creative was really important to me, so hand lettering seemed like a perfect fit. I could carry a little notebook around and when it was slow, I could letter.
What were some of your thoughts as you started out?
Starting out, it feels like you are relearning how to write. It’s amazing how much you assume you know, but you really have no idea. Connecting letters for example! My normal handwriting is mostly caps, so I don’t connect most of my letters, but then my lettering style was very fluid, so there I was, relearning all this basic stuff.
Another thing that I still get stuck on is just thinking of things to letter! Here we are, communicating all day long, but as soon as I sit down to hand letter, none of the words feel right, or worthy, for the page. The daily prompts are a huge help when you really need to practice, but don’t have the brainpower left to think for yourself.
Having Caroline guide you through the first baby steps, just to make sure you are facing the right direction, was hugely beneficial. It’s easy to get distracted with all the options out there! Pens, brushes, markers, papers, notebooks, oh its just too difficult to choose. It’s like I needed someone to give me permission to start with “whatever you have on hand”, and that made a huge difference in how I quickly I progressed. Starting right now is 300x better than waiting for your fancy new notebook to be delivered.
How did the Better Lettering Course help you grow in your hand-lettering skills?
The community Caroline built around Made Vibrant, and the Better Lettering Course, became the “testing grounds” for what I was trying to do. I would scroll through all these other students trying their best at the daily prompts, and I guess I got competitive. I’m not competitive with anything, but here I was turning “being creative” into a competition. I was always like, “Oh, I can do that. I can do better than that. Let’s try this instead!” I guess it was really my training coming through, from back when I was competing with classmates in college over the best design or layout. Creativity is subjective, but having people you can push against helps you grow!
I can confidently say, the single biggest thing the Course did for me, was to push me out of my comfort zone and try new things. After about a month of prompts, I was feeling pretty bored. I had fallen into a style I was comfortable with. But then here comes New Medium May, and I “got permission” to try something new. I picked up a brush, a bottle of black ink, and never looked back. It’s like brush lettering was what I was always meant to do! It’s expressive and fluid, but not as strict and confined as calligraphy. It’s easy to start, and endlessly variable. I just adore the way ink plays on the page!
What surprised you most as you learned and practiced hand-lettering skills?
Getting variety in your work is A LOT harder then you think it is! I always though of myself as this creative chameleon. Sure I had my favorite styles, but I thought I could do everything! I was very wrong. There’s this invisible wall between the stuff you are comfortable with, and literally everything else. It takes a lot of work, and I haven’t broken down all those walls, but I’m definitely more confident with a sledgehammer/brush now.
At the same time, you have to give yourself permission to experiment, to grow, and to fail. Especially to fail! There is this fine line between being confident and being comfortable. The more you can toe that line, the better you'll get.