5 Tips for Finding Your Own Style as a Lettering Artist
As we develop skills in lettering or calligraphy, most of us are hoping to uncover a distinctive style and a recognisable look to our pieces. But how do you find your unique approach as a lettering artist? Can you create original work that’s true to you and also stands out from the crowd? Here are a few tips to help uncover your individual artistic style.
1. Notice what doesn’t excite you
One of the most helpful questions for me when I started to go freelance was ‘What don’t I like doing?’
For some people, asking ‘What do you love to do?’ is a great question to guide your creative focus, but that can be hard to answer when you love a lot of different things. It’s like having to pick what you want to eat from a vast menu in a restaurant… I always end up in decision paralysis. I like everything on the menu, so it feels overwhelming to make a choice.
With hand lettering, I’ve got a vast menu of type, and I like all of it! That might sound awesome, but potentially it’s a frustrating place to be. When you have a toolbox full of kit, finding the right tool for the job can be tricky. And if you use any and every kind of lettering in your work, developing an individual look can seem almost impossible. Sometimes it’s useful to edit a few tools out.
Keep an eye out for the kind of work that you don’t enjoy creating as much, even if there’s only a very slight difference. When I tried going down the vintage-type route, I noticed that my interest wavered a little and it took a bit more effort to create those pieces. That’s a feeling I don’t generally get when I’m working in a brush script or sans serif letter style.
2. Set limits and creative constraints
On the other hand: if it’s fun all the time, that doesn’t necessarily result in great stuff.
Sometimes I take on a project because I need the structure. Some bits can even be a chore, but it’s still beneficial to have the contrast – like sweet and sour for the brain. Even though it sounds counter intuitive, putting in clear constraints can spark fresh creativity (especially if you relate to having that big lettering toolbox to choose from).
Try setting some limits, even if it’s just for a month or two, or for the next couple of projects. You could choose a smaller colour palette, or a particular topic, or stick to a limited variety of type styles. It doesn’t have to be forever. Lean in and see what happens.
3. Allow for (lots of) failure
There’s that kind of failure that lives in your memory bank forever (that embarrassing event from your teenage years) and any time it comes to mind, you still cringe and wish the room would swallow you up.
But most creative failure isn’t like that, and it doesn’t have to be frightening. I tried watercolour, and it didn’t work out. I can live with that.
In fact, I’ve tried out a lot of artistic things, and about 1% of them stick around once the initial interest fizzles out. Fortunately, lettering is one of the ones that’s stuck, but even now I have to allow for lots of little failures on an ongoing basis.
None of it’s really wasted in the long run… a string of little failures can lead to big breakthroughs in your creative practice.
4. Embrace your weirdness
All of us have loads of things that interest us, tangents and quirky hobbies, and passion projects. Maybe there’s a main focus: let’s say calligraphy. But branching out onto a unique side road – say, doing calligraphy with vegetables – means you can stand out more in your space.
There may be hundreds or thousands of lettering artists that are more technically skilled, but no one else can bring exactly the same creative combination to the table as you. So what could you focus on that’s different from what everyone else is doing?
That doesn’t mean being completely opposite for the sake of it (it still needs to be true to you and something that you enjoy creating) but proactively lookout for the gaps and lean into the ones that interest you.
5. Processes to practice versus problems to solve
We know that structure is important for creativity, so this could be an obvious point to finish up with some advice about consistency, like picking a technique and methodically pursuing and refining it.
But some of us just don’t work like that.
After countless hours of calligraphy, hand lettering, and font design, I still don’t really feel that I have a recognisable style or process.
Most of my projects start from experimental problem-solving mode. I see a problem – it could be something that’s been bugging me for a while or a common issue I’ve noticed for other lettering artists and creatives – and then spend a lot of time playing with ideas. After investing weeks and months into research and development, I might not have anything to show for it at the end. Or it can lead to a product I’m really proud of, like Grid Builder, but there’s no way of knowing from the outset.
Some artists naturally work consistently, and some work in sporadic ‘bursts of genius', but there’s not one ‘right’ way to create. Which one do you gravitate to?
Looking for your signature lettering style?
- Pay attention to what you love and what doesn’t excite you, whether that’s an aspect of design or a problem you’d like to solve.
- Explore side-roads: what can your other interests add to your lettering so that it’s different from the norm?
- Sometimes we need firm limits and strict boundaries, and sometimes we need to play – both can be valuable. Decide how much time to allow for each in your own creative practice.
Do you relate? What tips would you add for discovering your original style?
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