Monday, January 26, 2015

Learning Calligraphy & My 365 Project

I've always loved making pretty letters. As a kid I would frequently change the way I wrote my name and, in particular, the way I wrote my lowercase "As" (with a "hat" or without, with a straight "tail" or a curvy one). I also always bemoaned the fact that my name wasn't very fun to write. No loops. No "Ls" or "Ys" to swing and curl around. Nope, my maiden name did not grant my hand a lot of ascenders or descenders to play with (though, of course, I didn't know the proper terminology at the time). Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing other people's names, and as I got older I became known for the embellished cards and envelopes that were attached whenever I presented someone with a gift. (I even served as the sunshine chair for my sorority in college, because the entire job description was to brighten my sisters' days with notes, cards, and gifts.) But these were simple, untrained doodles. It was all very unserious, just for fun, and honestly, part of me didn't think I was capable of doing much more.

But that changed last fall. In September, I decided to get a little more serious. I decided to learn calligraphy.

I'm not exactly sure how I came upon this decision. I think it was just the inundation of pretty lettering I saw on Instagram, Pinterest, and even Facebook. I saw so many people writing beautiful scripts, lettering inspiring quotes, creating pretty personalized details for wedding and events, and I thought that maybe I could learn the skill, too, after all, if I put my mind to it.

With the help of Google, I researched all I could about learning calligraphy, the tools I would need and what online resources were available to me. And I happily discovered that learning calligraphy doesn't require a huge investment up front. Sure, you can spend a pretty penny buying beautiful pen holders and inks and fancy papers but you definitely don't need that to start. A pen holder, a nib, a pad of practice paper and a pot of black ink will set you back 20 bucks, tops, and you're on your way.

My extensive research also led me to two highly-rated online calligraphy classes: Molly Jacques' Skillshare class, Introduction to the Art of Modern Calligraphy, and Melissa Esplin's I Still Love Calligraphy workshop. While I wanted to join Melissa's course due to the personal coaching and feedback element, at $95 (or $130 with the supplies) the cost was a bit too much for my unemployed self to justify, especially if I didn't stick with it. Instead, I opted for Molly's Skillshare class since it was just $20 (if I remember correctly) or free if I signed up for a Skillshare membership ($10/month, but I got the first month free as a trial run and I've recently upgraded to a premium membership).

[ Snapshots from my early days. Watching videos, taking notes, and practicing letterforms over and over.]

I thoroughly enjoyed Molly's videos and found them extremely helpful. But once you learn the basicshow to hold and use the pen and nib, creating downstrokes and upstrokes—the most important step is practicing. That is the only way you will get better. And in our instant gratification society that step is tough, because we want to be as good as all those images that inspired us to start learning calligraphy in the first place. I know I did and still do. But it just takes time. It takes time and mistakes, splatters and spills and inky fingers, and some frustrating practice sessions where it feels like you can't make anything look good. Been there, done that. But there are days when you love and are proud of what you create, and that makes the not-so-good days worth it.

[ Mini calligraphy signs I made over the holidays to brighten up our apartment. ]

While I was practicing fairly regularly last fall, there were weeks when I didn't pick up my calligraphy pen. Partly because of the busyness of the holidays, but mostly because we had no dedicated space for me to lay out all my supplies, and keep them laid out, for practice. (My wonderful husband subsequently let me take over the dining room table as my creative space, so that problem has been solved!)

To encourage daily practicing, and to keep myself accountable, I made it a goal for 2015 to launch and complete a 365 project—a year of calligraphy. There are not many things I do every single day. I don't even blog every day. But this project requires me to put nib to paper daily. I began my project January 12 and sometimes I think, "What did I get myself into?" But in just 14 days I've already seen some improvement. And I'm having fun trying new nibs and inks and papers. I'm relishing the process of creating.

[ Some of my 365 project work thus far. ]

To document my project, I started another Instagram account, separate from my personal profile. If you'd like to follow me on my calligraphy journey, my year of lettering, you can find me posting my daily practices and creations at @wispandwhim. My plan is to have a new theme each month to inspire my work. January is all about fresh starts and bold steps, in honor of my New Years resolutions and word for 2015. February, which is fast approaching, will appropriately be all about love.

[ A quote that is true of life and true of learning calligraphy. ]

If you've been thinking about learning calligraphy as well, I would encourage you to check out Skillshare (which has tons of other classes in design, photography, DIY and more). Use my referral link to get a free month of Skillshare membership with unlimited access to hundreds of classes. (When you use my link, I get a free month too! Win win.)

With that, I propose a toast (grab your cup of coffee or tea!): Here's to pursuing new, exciting and challenging creative endeavors, and following wherever they may lead.

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