Practice: Choose Fun, Not Tedium

I’m so glad I went to Journal Fest this year. Teesha Moore announced it would be the last one, and I’m glad I had the chance to take classes from people I admire.

One of the classes I took was from Lisa Engelbrecht, a talented, warm, and funny calligrapher. Any teacher just starts you up in class. Doing the real work–the steady practice–is up to each person.

Different letter styles that are fun to practice with.

Practice is generally considered boring, tedious, and annoying. I’ve thought all those things. I’d like to know everything I learn right away and perfectly right from the beginning. I’d also like to weigh 125 pounds, be able to wear 5-inch heels and dance the Samba. With Sean Penn. None of these are likely.

So I have to figure out how to practice. Making myself do something is possible, but it works better on laundry than on hand-lettering. Forcing doesn’t work well.

Here’s what worked: instead of starting with Gothic or Italic, I started with something I found appealing. (See Sean Penn, above). The practice process works the same way–look at the letter, see where the connections are, how tall the letters are in relationship to their width. I can do that for a fun style as well as for a tedious one.

Alchemy symbols are great for practice.

After several alphabets, I began to tire. So I switched to alchemy symbols. They are shapes, like letters, just a bit more complicated. More interesting. They added a lot to the page.

By working with fun styles and alchemy symbols, I’m getting the practice without the tedium.

Next, I used Spanish words. Any language will do, as long as you don’t speak it. When you look at your hand lettering, you not only criticize your ability, but the content, and how each word looks. That’s a lot to practice. Using another language helps you give up the content and practice on the lettering–which is the whole point.

Colored backgrounds help with size and scale practice.

Finally, I used fun backgrounds that I made first. It helps keep the interest going more than plain or lined white paper. Feels less like practice and more like fun.

A lot goes into practice–left brain repetition, steadiness, learning as you go. All important. But to keep your interest going, you also have to add right brain creativity, fun and judgment. (Yep, judgment is on the emotional right side of the brain).

Once you are having fun, you automatically begin to improve, because you relax and enjoy what you are doing. Try it, you’ll like it!

Quinn McDonald is slowly learning hand-lettering, she is becoming the pen, being the pen, being the ink. You’ll recognize Quinn anywhere–her fingers are smeared with inks.