5 Tips for Maintaining and Improving Your Lettering Practice
Hello! This is Lisa (aka nolalettering), here today to talk about how to keep your daily lettering practice going when you don’t feel motivated or have much time. Maintaining any type of practice is one of the hardest parts of learning a new skill. You always feel the most motivated to practice when you’re first starting out, but once the novelty wears off, routine practice turns into a real chore and oftentimes, the motivation is not there.
One of the best things I’ve learned is the idea that motivation is a myth. It’s a great tool for procrastination, but if you wait for motivation to come before you start doing something, you will never begin. Instead, discipline is more important when it comes to learning and practicing a new skill. The word sounds so daunting - discipline - but it really is not. In today’s blog, I’m going to share with you five tips and tricks that I use to practice a little lettering everyday, even when the motivation isn’t there.
The materials you need are pretty simple - you, a little time, and your attention. There’s not too much practice to follow along with in today’s tutorial. I’ll be throwing out some ideas to get your brain ruminating on what you can incorporate into your everyday life.
However, when it comes to the lettering practice you’ll see throughout the blog, I used Archer & Olive Dot Grid Notebook, Calliographs in assorted colors, a pencil, an eraser, and fineliners of various sizes.
Don’t forget to use my affiliate code nolalettering to get 10% off Archer and Olive products!
One. Set yourself a challenge
I still remember when I finally decided to take my lettering practice seriously. It was January 1st, 2019 and up to that point, I had tried pointed pen calligraphy, brush calligraphy, gothic calligraphy, but nothing really stuck. I was loving all the lettering compositions I was seeing on Instagram and really wanted to give it a go. So, I challenged myself to letter something everyday for one year. It could be short, long, one word, in brush calligraphy, monoline style, whatever. There were no limitations, except I had to post one piece a day on my Instagram account as a way to hold myself accountable (I had 10 followers at that point and did not expect to gain anymore).
So now, set a challenge for yourself for 2023; it doesn’t have to be daily, for a whole year, or even lettering-focused. If there’s a new skill you want to pick up, set that as your challenge. Try to aim for a time frame that would be somewhat challenging for you - once a week for a month would not have been the most challenging for me as I had a lot of free time while procrastinating on my dissertation and living out in the middle of nowhere. And while you want it to be challenging, you also want it to be attainable because you don’t want to set yourself up for failure right out the gate.
Two. Make your practice into a habit.
The reason why I set myself a daily challenge is because I wanted to make my lettering practice into a habit where I feel weird if I don’t letter that day. Even though it’s been three years since I did my daily lettering challenge, I still feel like something is missing if I don’t pick up my pencil and letter something that day. I bring a small sketchbook and lettering tools whenever I travel, so I can still get in some practice. It has truly become a habit like brushing my teeth everyday.
Whatever time interval and time frame you choose for your challenge, try to stick to it, especially in the first few months. The more you do it, the more it becomes a part of your life, and it will take away the “motivation” you think you need to practice. You want it to become so routine that you'll go straight into practicing without having to think about it.
The other perk to practicing lettering so consistently is that it helps with your muscle memory. Those who have taken my lettering course know I like to say “muscle memory” a lot. The more times you draw a letter, the more it becomes a natural part of how your hand moves. This not only makes your lettering look consistent, but also speeds it up, so you’re creating compositions left and right and in no time. It’s like how we learned to write cursive in school (I hope that’s still being taught today) - repeated tracing of cursive letters until it becomes so ingrained that we don’t even need to think about how to form those letters.
Three. Set up a pre-practice ritual.
When it comes time for my practice, I have a few steps I take in preparation. I clear a little area on my desk. I grab my journal and pen holder with my favorite pens and set it up in the cleared little area. I turn on my drawing lamp, pop in my earphones and turn on a TV show, audiobook or podcast. Then I begin lettering.
The idea behind having a little pre-practice ritual is to get your mind into practice mode. When you start going through these steps, your body and brain know what to expect. This allows other distractions to seem less important and hopefully get you a little excited to be lettering.
Another thing you can include in your ritual is setting a specific time for your practice. For example, after you’ve finished eating dinner and doing the dishes, it’s time to start your practice. Or maybe after you’ve put your kids to bed, it’s time to practice. It doesn’t have to be a specific time of the day, but rather, after you’ve completed a specific task, preferably one that you have to do almost daily. In addition, choose a specific space to practice in. I always letter at my desk, sitting straight up with my feet planted on the ground - not only is it good lettering posture, it also acts as another cue for my mind to know it’s time for practice.
Four. Make it as easy as possible.
One of the most frequent obstacles people tell me about when it comes to practicing lettering is. "I don’t know what to letter!" This is what I struggled with in the beginning as well. I even started off by lettering about the weather - “please stop raining” was a frequent phrase I did. So you want to make it easy for your practice where you don’t have to think about what to letter and can dive straight into it.
This is where lettering challenges can come in handy. Every month, so many folks on Instagram put out word-based or quote-based challenges, and there are accounts that collate these challenges for easy access, like letteringchallengehq. Choose one challenge that speaks to you and stick with it. There are some that have daily prompts, others that are bi-weekly, so choose one that you like the best and work through it every month. Then you don’t have to worry about what to letter because it’s already been decided for you.
Shameless plug - I run a Sarcastic Lettering Challenge every month, so if you’re a fan of irreverent, sarcastic quotes, this could be for you. However, the quotes are quite long, so if you’re new in the lettering journey, I suggest looking for challenges that are single or a couple of words. Then move on to quote-based challenges if you’re looking to practice composition skills.
If challenges don't interest you, another thing I like to do is letter what I hear on the show I’m watching or podcast I’m listening to. Part of my ritual, as I discussed earlier, is turning on something to listen to while I’m lettering, and, especially when I’m practicing brush calligraphy, I will letter the words I hear. I love true crime shows, so you can imagine pages filled with words of murder and mayhem.
You can also practice lettering things in your daily life. For example, you could letter some of the items on your grocery list. If you’re a journaler, letter the heading for that day. If you’re a student, letter the headings and subheadings of your notes. Words are a part of our daily life, so think outside the box and see how you can incorporate lettering into your everyday life!
In the video below, I talk through how I set up my lettering practice while getting my practice in for the day by lettering the headers for today’s blog.
And finally, use whatever resources you can find out in the great interwebs to assist in making your practice easier. There are free traceable worksheets, YouTube videos you can watch to further your learning, and so many more. Below you can find a printable of basic lettering compositions you can use for simple quotes so you can practice your lettering without having to worry about composition.
Five. Give it 5 minutes.
There are definitely some days where I do not feel like practicing my lettering. On those days, I set the timer for 5 minutes and do some type of simple lettering in those 5 minutes - maybe I focus on a single word, or I do a quote but use simple monoline style only. There are some days after those 5 minutes are up, I feel like continuing, so I do. On the days I don’t, I at least got 5 minutes of practice in!
On the days I’m swamped with day job work or other life obligations, I’ll try to find a small break, whether it’s while I’m waiting for my SAS program to run or waiting for a video conference to begin, to get a little lettering in. Not only do I get to do a little practice, lettering is also my stress relief, so win-win!
When you’re not feeling it or when you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to letter for 5 minutes. Sometimes we just need to start in order to keep going, so setting that timer can be a great “motivator.” And if you’re like me, you can use those 5 minutes as a little escape from the hectic world we live in.
Bonus: Be kind to yourself
There are definitely days where even setting those 5 minutes aside is difficult. So, my last tip to you is to be kind and forgiving of yourself. If you don’t get the practice in that day, it’s okay! It truly is not the end of the world, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, get back to your next scheduled practice, and don’t let one setback stop your lettering journey. You got this!
I hope these tips were helpful in inspiring you to maintain your lettering journey. Picking up a new skill is never easy, but with practice and patience, there is growth. So don’t give up if you’re not the greatest hand letterer within one week of picking up your pen. Be kind to yourself and trust the process (and consistent practice is a huge part of the process)!