After starting my challenge to do hand-lettering every day for a year, I still feel like nothing beats a fresh clean piece of white paper. I was out to eat with my now fiancee’ Bea, and I became distracted by the back of a menu.. “There’s nothing on it,” she said. “I know but isn’t it beautiful?” The edges of the front of the menu made a frame for the blank space and seemed to give it importance. Maybe only artists, designers and creative people can understand why I get a bit emotional about that blank space. It’s inspiring. Just like I look at the typeface Gotham and get a little bit emotional and have almost a romantic feeling. It’s the clean-ness, the openness, the possibility.
Hand-lettering every day for a year
I started seeing people using hashtags for #365series and others like it, became curious and asked around. The idea being that you create something every day for a year, and I chose hand-lettering because I had been starting to get into it. The first piece of the 365 days I wondered what I was getting into. It took me a couple hours, and I thought I’d probably freak out if it took me a couple hours every day for a year since I work very hard every day otherwise doing web development in Minneapolis. My fiancee’ Bea was becoming a little annoyed with the time I’d spend, sitting there after work in addition to the freelance design work I was doing. But I chugged through, and started to be able to get a decent looking lettering piece in 10 minutes sometimes. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it still takes me an hour or two, and I generally relish those times because the end piece likely reflects the time I spent.
Creating 50 Pounds of Pots will help you learn more than creating one masterpiece
There is a story that explains why I think that iterating over and over again from start to finish is often more helpful in developing process that just creating a couple masterpieces.
“A ceramics teacher announced on the opening day of his class that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the right side of the studio, he said, would be graded based solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the left would be graded based solely on its quality.
He told the class that on the final day of class he was going to bring in his bathroom scale and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds of pots would be a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot ”albeit a perfect one” to get an “A”; a masterpiece.
It came time at the end of the semester to grade the work and a strangely enough: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded on producing 50 lbs of pots. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out large amounts of work and learning from their mistakes the group being graded on quality had sat theorizing about perfection and considering how they would make their final pot, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. Or one piece that was somewhat well done, but didn’t have the benefit of all the previous mistakes to inform it’s beauty. ”
I’ve loved this story for so long, my friend Alex Oskie and I will be in a discussion about putting out more work and instead of one perfect piece of work and just say ’50 pounds of pots, dude,’ and the other person knows exactly what the person who said it means. There’s just something that can’t be learned unless you try and fail a hundred times. Or in the case of this hand-lettering challenge, 365 times. I’m now officially a third of the way through and I’m not sure I can always see the direct influence of the previous 122 tries, but I notice myself looking for inspiration at the moment my pen hits the paper and using some of the store of knowledge that I have saved up. I’m starting to get a confidence that I can come up with bad-ass letterforms on my own without looking at some of those that I consider the greats.
Specific Challenges and How I rose to them
Every design job I've ever had has had a particular challenge to it. A complexity issue that needed to be simplified or a key component that needed to be highlighted and exposed, that required significant creative exertion. Many people turn back when they are challenged like this. The key for successful designers is that they get over those speed-bumps. The bigger the roadblocks you overcome the thinner your company and the more rewarding the experience of knowing you've persisted even though it was difficult. #minnetype 91/365 This marks aproximately 25% through my #365series, Thanks for joining me in the process!
A couple things come to mind as far as speed-bumps in the process, and I think that I can try to answer some questions about them, if you’re curious about trying a 365 series or challenge of your own, whether it’s hand-lettering or otherwise.
I don’t have enough time for a creative venture (or another creative venture.)
A very relevant concern, I had to address this by just jumping in with two feet and going for it. I need creativity in my life, like I need air. So I let this fact drive me to take the first step. The hardest part is putting that first piece out on social media and attaching a 1 of 365 caption to it. It’s a matter of taking it one day at a time. and allowing yourself a bit of lee-way if you’re late on a piece or, creating space for yourself by doing a couple extra ahead of time when you have a less congested day and are having fun with it.
My partner is getting annoyed by the time I’m spending.
Well… I have one life. If I’m unfulfilled and becoming ornery or passive aggressive with my partner because I hold myself back from the creative things I need to feel like life is good, that’s not her fault. It’s my fault for not being clear about why I’m doing what I’m doing, and taking the initiative to get out and do it. Grab life by the horns, your partner can’t do it for you and their feelings might need a bit of massaging if they feel the time is taking away from your quality time with them. Maybe you exchange time that you were blogging for the 365 Series. If you can start to get the quickness of your creation process down to a half hour on average it shouldn’t be to hard to exchange something un-important (like Friends re-runs on Netflix,) to allow space for this.
I have trouble coming up with ideas for this on my own.
Well, go ahead… I give you permission to scan my instagram feed for hand-lettering, and to start to juxtapose styles of letters I’ve used with ideas of your own. Check out my favorite hand-letterer @nick_fred on instagram, and you can see how my style at times might have been deeply inspired by his. It’s great to be inspired by people.. The ideal is getting good at filling your life with these things, and soaking them up when you’re not at the pen and paper, so that it’s less like copying. I’m not going to lie though… when I was just starting I spent a lot of time looking at how the people I like and respect’s letters appeared and came together. I still have to take a look at various masters, and beautiful typefaces to jumpstart the process on occasion. Just make sure you allow your creative piece to evolve from there.
As far as coming up with words to letter, I generally find myself in some kind of vein. At the moment it has been mostly inspirational words that allow me to include an encouraging and longer quote in the caption. I also asked my instagram followers to give me ideas.
I’m scared I might not complete my 365 Day Challenge.
Well you may not complete the challenge, but the point is to start. I do find that it helps to get 1 under your belt at the beginning. From that point on, all you have to do is one. The next one. Social media acts as a way to keep me accountable, but if you aren’t posting them every day, definitely have some type of accountability.
There are so many better hand-letterers than me.
Oh hell yeah there are. But here’s the situation; you have an audience that includes people that have never seen there work. Everyone has to start somewhere, and your unique touch helps turn on people to new avenues of creativity. If you’re like me, and the process of being creative has enhanced your life, think of a #365series as your good deed every day for a year. Because you’re inspiring others to do the same.
If the process of being creative has enhanced your life, think of a #365series as your good deed every day for a year.
Coming up with new styles and having the right equipment.
I’ve had to do some intensive research, purchase a fairly intensive hand-lettering course, and follow alot of people on Instagram to keep my inspiration leveled up. I also spent time putting together this “Crash Course to Hand-lettering,” as a resource for tools and tips and to help people jump in with both feet. With a couple courses to try out, and a resolve to get better I think this kind of creative venture is well worth it and obtainable.
Steady and consistent wins the race. What race? How does all this help me?
I could mention monetary considerations and some recent branding clients I’ve signed. Perhaps I gained these partly because I can speak confidently about principles I feel have been deeply enhanced by the principals I’ve absorbed and now exemplify because of this practice. But this isn’t my main reason for doing this. It’s the commitment to creativity with pen and paper… the push for the handmade in my life that connects me life in a more tangible ways, that drives me to keep going and hopefully inspire a couple people along the way. Thanks for sharing in the journey. I do write these insights and stories down to clarify my thoughts, provide value, and to get the word out about my work doing branding in Minneapolis, and WordPress web design in Minneapolis. If you found this article useful, please tweet it to your followers so they can get value out of it as well!