What If I Can’t Draw Well?
This is a natural question to be asking yourself if you’re considering doing lettering. You often see other letterers creating amazing works and think there’s no way that you can do that. They must be naturally talented at drawing, and you know you’re not.
I was faced with a similar dilemma when I first started lettering. I wanted to do lettering, but hadn’t drawn regularly before. Besides the art projects I did in school, I had never really drawn on my own before, let alone had done lettering. I was average at best at drawing, and I wanted to create lettering.
I was paralyzed by the thought that I could never really be great, because all the other lettering artists were so far ahead. I kept telling myself, “If I want to do this, it needs to look like their work.” If my work wasn’t going to be amazing, why bother?
You Get Better By Practice
When you’re just coming into lettering, it’s easy to see the great lettering artists and think that they’re talented or have always been that good. In reality, you’re seeing the culmination of years of practice that you weren’t there to experience. Even talented people have to practice to become good. Talent is not a replacement for practice, it only serves as a multiplier of the practice you put in.
After a while of being paralyzed from the fear that I wasn’t good enough, I just decided to go for it. I realized it didn’t matter about how good everyone else was, I just knew that if I just started practicing I would get better. Of course, since I wasn’t that good at drawing, this meant I had to create bad work for a while, before I would be able to create good work. That’s exactly what I did; I created this as one of my first lettering pieces in late 2013:
Some people may look at this and see how bad it is, while others might look at it and see how much better it is from their work. This is because we are all at different levels, which is why comparing yourself to anyone else isn’t helpful. The fact was, this is the level I was at and it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
I kept creating a lettering piece every week to keep improving, but I wasn’t improving as fast as I’d like. Three months after that first piece, I decided to create a lettering piece every single day for 365 days. I wanted to get better much faster, and that meant a lot more regular practice. After 9 months into my daily practice—and exactly a year after that first piece—I decided to recreate it to mark my progress:
Over those nine months of daily practice, I learned so many things about lettering—including how to digitize lettering, obviously. I owe my improvement to daily practice because it put me in the mindset of learning and improving. Observing and comparing my skills to others’ work wasn’t as helpful. Looking back to before I did lettering, I realize that the biggest barrier was actually a mental barrier.
Greatness Requires Patience
The biggest factor that helped me improve was changing my short-term mindset to one of patience. Sounds simple, but it’s true. The reason I was paralyzed was because I was putting too much pressure on creating something great, right now. Instead, I decided to play a long-term game. I knew that I wasn’t going to change overnight. So, I became okay with the fact that I would have to create bad work for a while before I got better.
I’ve now spent thousands of hours practicing since I first picked up lettering. Today, I’m much better at lettering, it’s much more enjoyable, and a lot easier for me. If I hadn’t decided to just create imperfect work for a while, I would not have gotten to this point.
However, don’t get me wrong, that decision was scary. It’s fun to do something we’re good at or something with a low level of challenge. However, it’s frustrating to try things we’re not good at and also have a high level of challenge. It’s not fun to fall flat on our face, and that”s why starting is the hardest part. The way you overcome that fear is by removing the pressure to create something perfect and having patience.
Remove the High Stakes & Pressures
Thinking about lettering often gets in the way of creating lettering. We create these perfect ideas in our mind, and we protect them by not acting on them. We keep them in our mind because they can’t fail there, but they also can’t succeed there either. Removing the expectation that everything we do needs to be perfect allows us the freedom to have fun with those ideas, even if it includes complete failure.
No one cares about how bad my first pieces are, because all that matters now is that I’m much better. Starting something seems like a big deal when you’re in the moment. However, if you’re in it for the long run, then people will only notice your progression and forget your bad work. Remember, you’re only as good as your last at-bat, and you’ll improve with every piece you do.
You should be seeking mistakes because they are how you get better. I was able to improve by creating hundreds of mediocre lettering pieces. As I progressed, I was able to analyze my failures and mistakes in order to discover what I did wrong. Each mistake is an opportunity to get it right the next time.
It all starts with creating a lot of imperfect things. Try simply putting out your work at 90% perfect work. Don’t let your high standards hold you back. Focus on creating lots of lettering pieces, because the more you get under your belt, the more mistakes you’ll make, which will result in faster improvement.
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