Learning anything new is a journey of discovery and growth, and calligraphy is no different. No matter where you are in learning the craft, chances are you’d like to challenge yourself, improve, or even learn a new way of doing things.
We’re the same way. While we teach others the art of calligraphy and hand lettering, we love to explore new strokes and tools ourselves. We always strive to get better!
Why Improve Your Craft?
Some calligraphers love what they do because it’s a way of relaxing at the end of the day or using their creative side. Others want to use their talents to create artwork for friends and loved ones or even grow a business and sell their art.
If you’re one of the former, improving your calligraphy or hand lettering might just be your next step so you can feel better about what you’re doing and be more proud of your work.
But if you’re one of the latter, learning how to do things better or differently can make you a more efficient and skilled artist. It also allows you to command higher prices because the quality of your work is better.
Our students who improve their craft also enjoy trying out new styles and tools, making the art of calligraphy and hand lettering more interesting and fun for them.
Getting Over the Fixed Mindset
In May 2018, we hosted a “Mindset May” event in our free online community. It was a series of videos to help our members get past having a fixed, negative mindset about their progress and adopt a growth mindset. (Watch the Facebook video here or the condensed version on YouTube).
We face similar challenges and fixed-mindset thoughts too. Below are some of the negative things we, artists in general, tell ourselves that are holding us back from excelling—and not just in calligraphy and hand lettering. If you think about it, you might be telling yourself these things in other aspects of life too!
- I’m not good at it.
No one is great at something the first, second or even the tenth time doing it. It takes practice and repetition to get it right. And if you take a look back at your work from day one compared to day 100, you’re sure to see improvement.
- It’s too overwhelming.
Learning something new can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get every step right, every time. Instead, focus on ONE thing you want to improve on at a time. Maybe it’s that one capital letter you want to look smoother, maybe it’s one type of line that’s been bugging you. Once you feel better about that one thing, then move on to focus on the next thing.
- It’s not perfect.
Guess what? Done is better than perfect, every single day. Be proud of doing the thing and getting better every time you practice. You’ll already be ahead of the people who don’t pick up the pen in the first place.
- Someone criticized my work.
Often we don’t see something that’s really clear to others—you know, like that piece of lettuce in your teeth from lunch. We need others’ perspectives if we’re going to get better because they see things we don’t. Our free Facebook group is an incredibly supportive community where we lift one another up and work hard at giving feedback in a way that helps you improve.
- I’ll never be as good as THAT person.
Social media has made it common practice to compare ourselves—our lives—to others. Here’s the truth: You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. That person may have started lettering 10 years ago. If you just started last month, think about how much more practice she has than you. Also consider the style of lettering, the tools you and others are using. There’s so much that goes into your ability to grow as an artist.
- I’m not improving fast enough.
Do you have a full-time job? Kids? Pets? Dishes to wash? Friends, family and obligations that take priority over your practice time? Give yourself some grace because you’re doing just fine where you are right now. Take your time and work on your lettering when you have a few spare minutes, and keep your old work so you can truly see your transformation.
Feel a little better about the direction you’re going? We want you to feel good about the work you’re doing and we always encourage our students to improve. So let’s dive into some easy things you can do to move forward.
Easy Ways to Improve Your Hand Lettering
- Use guide sheets.
Finished work is usually presented on blank paper, but we recommend using guide sheets to practice. These will help you ensure that you’re writing in a straight line instead of uphill, and your letters all have a uniform slant, no matter what style you’re writing in.
- Slow down.
Most lettering videos you see online are posted at double speed, or more, so it can be hard to remember that professional letterers work at a very slow pace. When you slow down, you can focus on the lines, curves and shapes and you’ll quickly see improvement in your work. Whenever we feel like something looks a little “off,” we remind ourselves to slow down and focus.
- Think about lines and shapes, not letters.
Lettering and calligraphy is about lines and shapes—not letters. Throughout our courses and in all our free trainings, we talk through what strokes you need to make the lines and shapes. Put these together and you have the word or phrase you intended. Train yourself to think about the basic strokes as you write, rather than the letters.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
When you’re trying to improve something, no matter what it is, it’s important to focus in on just one thing at a time. Practice that upstroke over and over until it’s more comfortable for you. With each stroke, look at the one before it and try to make it just a little bit better. Then try a new letter. Focus on one thing before trying to improve on something else.
- Invest in new tools.
Like a good pair of shoes, quality matters. There are so many good tools out there that you can invest in, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Find some new pens, get some quality paper. Start investing a little at a time. Using proper tools will remove some of the frustration that might be holding you back.
Improving Your Craft Based on Ability
Of course, it’s easy to talk about different ways to get better at your calligraphy or hand lettering, but it’s difficult to put those tips into action. Everyone is different and everyone’s experience is different. No matter where you are in your journey with calligraphy and hand lettering, there’s an opportunity to grow. Here’s how!
If you’re just getting started…
Start small. Use a normal pen and focus on creating the basic letter forms with faux calligraphy by combining the seven basic shapes. We recommend practicing the alphabet in isolation as much as (or more often than) you practice full words. You should also date your work so you can go back to it and see your progress! A supportive community, like our free Facebook group, can give you the feedback and guidance you need to improve.
If you’re a calligraphy and lettering beginner…
You probably have the basics down and you’re looking to find your style. Look for inspiration in others’ work (being careful not to copy it) and follow them on Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. One of the most common challenges we see struggling beginners have is not having the right tools. For brush letterers, you’ll need smooth, high-quality paper and brush pens. You’ll also want to practice warm-up drills and use guidelines to help with your slant. Legibility should be the focus, not perfection.
If you’re good but want to be better…
You need to learn how to analyze and critique your own work–honestly. It’s easy to get critical without identifying specific areas for improvement, so focus on consistent spacing, slant, legibility and overall balance. One exercise you can try is using tracing paper to trace one ascending loop and seeing if the others match. Then flip the paper over and see if the descenders match each other. These may seem like small changes, but put together they make a big difference.
Are you a budding calligrapher who wants to learn more? Or have you seen a beautiful sign you’d love to emulate–but don’t know where to start? We’ve created this quiz to help you determine which type of lettering to learn!