This week I joined forces with A Joyful Noise Paper Co in Monroe, CT, to teach my first full hand lettering workshop of 2017 and it was just as amazing as I remembered. We laughed, we lettered, and we got real about what actually constitutes “hand lettering.”
As both a calligraphy and hand lettering pro, I hear common misconceptions about both of them All Of The Time. At first glance, they’re pretty easy to mix up – after all, isn’t pretty writing just pretty writing? If that were the case, I think a lot of us would be out of a job. (Fact: my lowest grade was in handwriting in 5th grade.)
While I don’t believe that you need to get all up in technical terminology to learn lettering of any kind, knowing your way around some of the common misconceptions can be a huge help. So, without further adieu, 10 misconceptions of calligraphy and hand lettering I hear all of the time.
(1) MISCONCEPTION: I can never learn calligraphy/hand lettering because I have bad handwriting.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: While calligraphy is based on technique and writing skill, most people are able to figure out a good style that works for them even if they have poor handwriting. Hand lettering is really the drawing of letters, so a totally different beast. If you can draw a line and a curve, you’re already on the right path (and since you’re reading this, I assume you passed grade school and they usually cover this kind of thing, so no excuses!).
(2) MISCONCEPTION: Lettering, calligraphy, handwriting, and typography are all the same.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: Easy peasy version: lettering is more aligned with illustration and drawing, calligraphy is applying pressure in a specific way while writing with specific tools, handwriting is, well, how you write, and typography is arranging fonts and type. Even though many people use them interchangeably, it’s a pretty big pet peeve among most pros, and more importantly, being good or bad at one does not necessarily mean you’ll be good or bad at another.
(3) MISCONCEPTION: They make it look so easy but I’ll never be good at hand lettering or calligraphy.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: Social media is a field day for calligraphers and hand letterers alike, but can make it difficult for people just starting out. Videos and tutorials are fascinating to watch, but don’t show the months or years of practice that went into getting that person where they are now. Will your work look Instagram worthy when you first start out? Probably not. Does that mean it never will? Hell no.
(4) MISCONCEPTION: I don’t have all the fancy pens and markers I hear about so I can’t do it.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: I’m all for a good Tombow haul, but if you can write with it, you can letter with it, and even get creative with sharp #2 pencils or Crayola markers for calligraphy.
(5) MISCONCEPTION: It takes years to master lettering or calligraphy.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: Ok, this one really depends on your idea of “master,” but for the most part, how quickly people pick up lettering or calligraphy depends on how much time they have to practice. Practice really DOES make perfect, or at least pretty damn good looking. Some people go from scratch to pro in a couple of months, sometimes it takes years until you really feel like you’ve got it down (that last one includes me if you were wondering!).
(6) MISCONCEPTION: I’ll never be able to learn calligraphy or lettering without taking a class.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: While classes can be great, they’re not even remotely necessary for learning lettering or calligraphy. There are tons (and I mean TONS) of free and paid resources and books out there that do a fantastic job!
(7) MISCONCEPTION: I’m not patient enough.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: While lettering and calligraphy do require some patience, neither of them are as drawn out and tedious as people seem to think. In fact, once you’ve done all that practicing I talked about in #5, you might find that they’re even easy and relaxing (Gasp! I know!). Hand lettering and brush calligraphy (meaning calligraphy with a paint brush or brush marker) are especially good for the impatient type, because you can stop and start as often as you want.
(8) MISCONCEPTION: I’ll never be able to stand out from all the other people doing lettering or calligraphy.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: This one can be a bit tricky, and honestly something I struggled with when I first started on this crazy lettering adventure. While there are definitely similar styles out in the world, over time it becomes easier to adapt things you like and create a style that is uniquely, 100% you. If you get discouraged and don’t even start or give up, you’ll never grow into your own. Practice, learn, practice some more, and eventually you’ll be a style all your own.
(9) MISCONCEPTION: I can’t make a living off of lettering or calligraphy.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: For starters, me! I pinky promise I have no art background or formal training, but still pay the bills with pretty letters, and many other calligraphers or letterers are in the same boat. While at times it can feel like an oversaturated market, it all ties back into what I said in #8 – no one can bring exactly what you can to the table. Sure, there are a ton of people who sell mugs with hand lettered designs or wedding signs or calligraphy envelopes, but their success does not mean your failure. There are billions of people this world, and plenty of opportunity and space to add some fancy lettering into the mix.
(10) MISCONCEPTION: Lettering is just for logos, calligraphy is just for envelopes, and I don’t really care about either.
WHY THAT’S NOT TRUE: Well, that last part might be true, but that’s ok, because the first two are definitely FALSE. The history of lettering and calligraphy aside, in modern times you’ll see the two used for anything from décor and gifts to commercials and tattoos. Weddings not your jam? That’s ok. Products not it either? Totally cool too. Book covers, editorial spreads, handmade fonts, chalkboard signs in restaurants – the sky is the limit!
Do any of these sound like something you’ve said before? If they do, I hope this helps!