If you’re like me, it can be easy to get caught up in a particular lettering style for a while. At first, you find a new style interesting and try it out. Then, you want to do it more often to get better at that style. And it isn’t long before you’ve gotten so comfortable with that style that you’re using it all the time.
It is beneficial to be able to stick with a style for a while to really understand it. However, we sometimes spend far too long on one style. It can be really difficult to break this habit, and can be even more difficult to avoid getting to this point without the proper structure in place.
Personally, I know this feeling all too well. I’ve battled through numerous lettering style ruts throughout my year-long Project 365. I continue to struggle with them to this day. However, these experiences have helped me understand how we get stuck in a lettering style, how to get out of it, and how to avoid getting stuck in the first place.
It’s okay to practice a single style for a while, but make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons. Most often, the reason why I get stuck on a style is because it becomes easy – It’s sometimes the hardest thing to admit, but it’s true.
Make sure you’re headed in the right direction. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you’re deliberately trying to improve a certain style, or trying to learn a new one. If you feel like it’s becoming an easy go-to style, then it’s probably time to switch things up.
Prepare to Take a New Direction
You can try to take on a new style right away, but it might be difficult. It’s fairly easy to recognize when you’re stuck in a style, but it’s a little harder to understand what to do next. It’s tempting to rush for inspiration when you are trying to get out of a rut, especially while you’re in the middle of a project. This subjects you to the risk of copying others work, because you’re desperate for a quick change.
Changing up your lettering style doesn’t start while you’re in the middle of your piece; it starts way before you even sit down to work. This process is broken up into small steps, which begins with choosing the new direction stylistically.
Changing up your lettering style doesn’t start while you’re in the middle of your piece; it starts way before you even sit down to work.
— Dane Gonzalez (@HeyImDane) May 31, 2015
Choose a Style That You Like
Starting on a new style is basically building a new habit, which can be challenging. What makes new habits easier to form is if there’s there’s an enjoyable aspect to it. This is why it’s helpful to choose a style you like seeing yourself, and one you would enjoy trying out. Start general by choosing the style type. Would you like to try out sans serifs, serifs, blackletter, script, cursive, calligraphy, brush lettering, etc.?
The next time you are scrolling through feeds and searching for lettering inspiration, stop yourself when a lettering piece of that style catches your eye. Spend some extra time breaking down and dissecting the letters in that piece. Make physical or mental notes on what makes that piece and the letters unique.
Next time you go to create a lettering piece, create your piece in that style from mental reference. This is a way to prevent copying directly. It’s okay to create from reference when you’re beginning a new style, just make sure it’s your own reference and not a direct copy.
We often find ourselves stuck using similar styles because we haven’t branched out enough. If you feel limited when it comes to trying new styles, you may not be challenging yourself enough with a new or foreign style. When you’re choosing a new style type, choose something from the opposite camp of the style that you’re currently in – Try something completely new.
If you’re doing serifs & sans serifs, try script and cursive styles. If you’re doing pencil-drawn lettering, you might try free-hand lettering, such as calligraphy and brush lettering. You’ll be surprised by how much the world of lettering will open up to you when you try something completely different from what you’re used to.
Create a Style Schedule
Once you get out of that lettering style, a great way to avoid another rut is to schedule what your next change will be. We often end up in these ruts because we have poorly defined our goals for improving our lettering. Take a moment to intentionally schedule a time frame for practicing your new style.
The first six months of my Project 365 felt like an extended stylistic rut of sans serif and serif styles. This happened because I didn’t plan for my growth with lettering. Once I had fought myself out of that rut, I intentionally decided to spend the next six months working on my script and cursive styles.
Even though this was the same time frame as the previous rut, it didn’t detract from my growth. This goal actually pushed me forward with my growth, because I had clearly defined it. It also allowed me to implement sub-goals, like setting a four-week goal to practice letter interactions, within my practice of the new script styles.
Your timeline doesn’t have to be months long, and I wouldn’t recommend it to be that long either. Assign a few days, or a few weeks to a style, then move on once you get to that point. You can also be proactive and schedule the next style to try once you’re finished.
Create a schedule, or even create a rotation to mix things up. The most important thing to do is to define when to move on to the next style. You can always revisit that style later, but it’s important to keep things fresh.
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