This is something I’m really excited to finally be posting here. As a creative person, I don’t want to let a day go by without making something. It can be anything. A finished photograph, a cute graphic, an e-book layout, a kick-butt pizza, anything! For the past several years, I’ve been able to call myself a graphic designer and a photographer…and I really love both of those things, a lot. However, I started getting what I’ll call the “analog itch.” The digital world is definitely my domain, but I wanted to start creating things with my hands as well.
As a designer, I have a thing for nice typography, and I would spend hours looking at fonts and accumulating more than I’d like to admit to. I’ve also always admired illustrators… people who can pick up a pencil and draw something (something recognizable, that is). About a year ago, I was introduced to Skillshare, a website that offered short, digestible, project-based classes on all kinds of creative skills. There, I found a class called “The First Steps of Hand-Lettering: Concept to Sketch,” taught by Mary Kate McDevitt. What an amazing way to mix my love of letters with illustration/drawing! I realized that I had been admiring the work of many skilled hand-letterers without even knowing it.
The problem (or challenge, I should say) is that I had never drawn anything by hand… ever. Because we use keyboards for everything, I barely even had any handwriting skills left. After enrolling in the class and creating some initial sketches, I realized that, man, I sucked! This was something that was truly important to me, though, so I kept at it. I kept sucking… for a while. And then one day, I drew something that didn’t suck. Whoa! What a great feeling! It may not have been great, but it didn’t suck, and that made me happy.
After completing that first class on Skillshare, I started signing up for every hand-lettering class they offered. Because the classes are project-based, they force you to go through the process, step by step, and eventually end up with a finished piece. Having these “assignments” was very motivating to me, and helped me to finish what I started (this is harder for me when I’m new and kind of sucky at something). I think of these class projects as my “training wheels” into the world of hand-lettering. Now, I’ve started to create things on my own and it’s really exciting to see the progress.
This whole learning process has made me also reflect on my photography and my design work. I’m going through many of the stages that I went through back when I was new to photography, and having many of the same feelings: “I’ll never get great at this,” “My photos will never be as good as [insert awesome photographer here],” “Wow, these images are looking good!,” “No, never mind, they actually suck. What was I thinking?”
The awesome thing about this educational deja vu is that the now-seasoned photographer in me is able to coach the novice hand-letterer in me. I know how many photos I had to take before I started considering myself decent. And I understand that the work I create now may look awful to my future self. And that’s actually good. It means that my future self will make better stuff than my current self. And isn’t that the point? I was going to say, “That’s how you master a craft,” but then again, I think the best “masters” are the ones who always consider themselves students. Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a master at anything, but I sure as hell know that it’s fun to be a student.
Just so you know, I have no intention of shooting any less, or doing any fewer graphic design projects. I just wanted to add a new craft to my skill set, something that would make me and my work feel a little more well-rounded. This analog art balances out the digital art quite nicely. Actually, there is also a very digital element to hand-lettering. I’m going to write a separate post on the general process, but while the initial work is done in pencil and ink, the work eventually becomes digitized and colored on the computer. This is great, because it doesn’t make me feel wrong about putting my hand-lettering under the Pixel Diaries umbrella. In fact, it’s getting its own category here, called “Pencils to Pixels.” (There will eventually be an Etsy shop of the same name.)
I’ve included a new area here at The Pixel Diaries that’s dedicated to my hand-lettering projects. You can view all my “Pencils to Pixels” work here.
Whew! That was fun to write. This is a new (in the last year) and exciting thing to me, and I hope you enjoy seeing the work, and my progress.