We all know what it feels like to look back on the way we used to do things and think to ourselves “if I only knew then what I know now, life would have been so much easier.” Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and save our past selves from making bad decisions (I’m looking at you, bob cut with heavy bangs). What we can do instead is learn from other’s mistakes so we avoid making the same ones and don’t waste our time
This post is the first in a new series I’m launching called “Lettering Artists Weigh In.” Each post will focus on a specific lettering topic and will feature successful lettering artists who have generously agreed to share their own wisdom and advice on the topic.
These letterers have proven track records of success, and if you’re looking to improve your lettering technique fast, there’s nobody better to help you along than someone who’s already “been there, done that.”
This week, I asked calligraphers and lettering artists what they wish they had known way back when. If you’re just starting out with lettering or calligraphy and still have lots of questions about what the best practices are then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to hear Lettering Artists Weigh In on “What do you know now that you wish you had known starting out?”
Crystal Petersen – Crystal Petersen Design & Lettering
It’s only fair that I kick off the Lettering Artists Weigh In series with my thoughts on the first topic. Honestly, there are a million things I wish I could go back in time and tell myself when I first started lettering. Looking back, there are three main things that (had I known them) would have accelerated my progress and saved me a ton of time and money.
1. Use good paper. If you read my last blog post, then you already know how important it is to letter on good quality paper. It’s just insanely important, but holy crap you guys, it took me way too long to learn this. Moment of silence for all the Tombow dual tip brush pens lost to copy paper in my early lettering days.
2. Learn the basics first. I’ve been lettering for a long time, but it took me a while to see any improvement in my lettering because I basically had no idea what I was doing. I was just winging every piece and hoping for the best. It wasn’t until I went back and actually learned the basic strokes and how important drills are that I began to see real improvement. I would have saved so much time and frustration had I just started with the basics to begin with.
3. Seek community. If you’ve ever browsed lettering on Instagram, you’ve probably seen first hand how awesome the lettering community is. Everyone is so willing to help you out when you need it, then turn around and cheer for you when you create something awesome. There’s always something to participate in whether it’s with a lettering challenge account like @handletteredabcs, a joint Facebook group/Insta account like the Lettering League (shameless plug, I’m an admin and the League is awesome!), or a movement like Becca from @thehappilyevercrafter ‘s #showmeyourdrills challenge. I could go on and on about the benefits of becoming part of the lettering community, so if you haven’t been taking advantage of all the opportunities to get to know other letterers, you’re really missing out on something amazing.
Kit Cronk – Ruby & Pearl Press
“I wish I’d known that everyone starts where I did – totally inexperienced, with no idea what I was doing. The difference between where I was and the people I was stalking on social media was that they actually DID it. They spent time practicing, experimenting, and studying the work of others. There is no shame in not being instantly amazing! I haven’t spent a dime on lettering courses either (not that there aren’t some great ones out there!) … My style is 100% made-up-as-I-went.”
Michelle Flange – MollyKate Design
“I eventually learned that paper makes a BIG difference. I was so frustrated that my lines weren’t as clean as everyone else’s until I learned how important it is to letter on smooth paper. This is my favorite paper to letter on.
The best way to create original work is not even look at other people’s work. When I know I’m going to letter something, I don’t look at how other people have lettered it. Instead I try to surround myself with the things that inspire my lettering–people who inspire me, photos of trees, the beach, whatever it is that conveys the feeling that I want to convey in my lettering piece. That helps me create from my heart and interpret the quote in a way that is 100% my own.
The final thing that has been a tremendous help for me is FB groups! The Rising Tide Society and Think Creative Collective have been fantastic resources for me and a way to connect with a really supportive creative community.”
Rani Chavez – Instagram
“Oh man, so much! Lol when I first started out, I wish I would have had a better understanding of the tools when it came to different “types” of lettering – brush, pointed/pen, watercolor, etc. I went through a lot of trial and error determining what worked best for me as well as a lot of research to see what was highly recommended in the industry and lettering community.
And I wish I would’ve known how much practice was involved in “perfecting” the art of lettering. Like any skill someone wants to nurture and have grow, practicing and drills are a BIG part of lettering. Whenever anyone asks me what my “secret” is, I always tell them it’s simple – PRACTICE! 😊”
Jessica Chung – Pretty Prints & Paper
“I have a tough time answering questions about what I wish I knew – because through the hurdles I learned a lot about myself and lettering. I’ve learned that I needed to commit to doing drills and the basics if I wanted to build my foundations – which meant setting time aside daily at best, or weekly in other cases. I’ve learned that I didn’t need to spend money on fancy tools to get started – just the commitment to practice. I’ve learned that everyone started from somewhere – those flourishes didn’t get there by magic! It’s through deliberate practice that those skills, styles, and “effortlessness” developed. Most of all, I learned that my lettering is just that – mine. And that it will never be someone else’s. Eventually I learned to trust my own body and skills to letter how I wanted to letter, and not worry about it being as ____ as someone else’s! So take the pressure off and do this for you, and for no one else.”
Amy Gaston – Gaston LetterWorks
“When I started lettering, I knew so little. I was just a doodler who felt inspired to take that to some quotes I loved. After lots of trial and error, my biggest takeaway became, “quality materials matter.” I’m not an advocate of super expensive brands, but I do feel that great pieces start with good paper, fine pens, and high-quality ink. If you can’t afford the great stuff right away, save up. Practice with pencils until you can. You won’t regret it.”
Jill Marie – Jill Marie Design
“I wish I would have just put my art out there sooner. For years, friends have been telling me to start my own business, but I really didn’t believe I had anything worth selling. I loved the art of hand-lettering and I loved the practice of it, but I truly didn’t believe I had anything that someone else would want to buy. I volunteer at a place that has an art program for men and women in a rehabilitation program and all of our sales of items made go towards the program. It wasn’t until I saw all these very talented artists stressing about who would write on all of the chalkboards that I realized that this is something that is so easy for me. At that event we ended up almost selling out of every chalkboard and I thought, “maybe my friends have been right for years.” I then started making custom signs, and while I am still very new, I almost always have orders to work on! For too long, I let the idea of not having anything to really offer, or not understanding how to digitize a print, or what even is a vector, or do I need a website stop me from just starting and offering what I am good at. I think people starting out sometimes try to do too much too soon and I have realized if I just focus on what I love the rest will fall into place. I do not need to try to do things like someone else or offer products that someone else has. One day my writing might appear on a mug or smartphone case, but for today I will be doing what I know and love and take the rest one day at a time!”
Georgie Bertheau – Hello Georgie
“Hi everyone! I’m so grateful to be joining Crystal in this awesome initiative. My main problem when I was starting out was that for some reason, I expected my lettering to be fantastic from the very beginning! I know I’m not all alone here, I know there’s lots of us who look at all the lettering and designs from artists who have been doing this for a really long time and get jealous and upset that our lettering is not as good. We need to get rid of that negativity! First of all, there will always be people that are better than us, at everything. And that’s not a bad thing! That means that there will always be someone to learn from. If you are just starting out with lettering and you are upset that your lettering is not where you want it to be, I urge you to just be patient and take your time. Everyone is different, our hands are capable of different things, our brains learn differently and we have different tools! So make sure that you follow a path that works for you and stop focusing so much on what others are doing! So in short, I wish I had known that my lettering was never going to look exactly like the lettering I see everywhere because it is my very own unique style and all it took to get it was a little patience, some dedication, and a lot of love.”