“If there was a book about your life, what would the title be?”
This was the prompt for this week’s #goodtypetuesday, a 24-hour lettering and typography challenge hosted by @goodtype. Although this week’s a bit busy for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine lettering and books, as well as the opportunity to imagine the realization of my dream: writing a book!
If I wrote a memoir, I would begin with my first-generation experience: the challenges of straddling two cultures, constantly trying to please parents while still trying to fit in. My biggest challenge as a first gen kid was telling my traditional parents about my white boyfriend (now husband). I wrote about this on OneFifty years ago; it was one of my favorite pieces on that blog. Since I have gotten to know a whole new circle of creatives after starting my lettering/Instagram journey, I used today’s Goodtype challenge to introduce my new community to my story.
The design I created is a simple one; I didn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to doctor an image to make it look like an actual book cover. I just wanted to doodle for the night. I tried to channel some of my favorite simple book covers: Americanah and Eleanor & Park.
I love their distinctive type, but more than that, I love that something about their design lends themselves to a soft book cover. I love books with soft covers and thick, jagged pages. If I ever got myself to complete writing anything beyond a blog post, it would be bound with a soft, cuddly cover and roughly-cut pages.
What about you? What would the cover of your life story look like?
If you follow me on OneFifty, you know I’ve got a bit of a branding problem. Namely, it’s hard for me to commit to just one idea because I want to do it all! Any rational human being would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Oh, wait. That was Ron Swanson.
But branding can also be difficult when you’re still in the process of discovering yourself as an artist, or “a creative,” which may be a better term for me. I’ve always had a penchant for writing and for words—it was my first passion. Lettering, art, and crafting are things I do to unwind, and things I happen to do pretty well, too. But while I’m an experienced teacher in the world of words, I’m a kindergartener in the world of visual arts. And like a child, I want to do it all, learn it all, and be all of the things.
After nearly a year of being engaged in the Instagram lettering community and studying the crafts of lettering, calligraphy, and typography, I feel like I’m starting to get a focus. I had grand ideas of wedding signage and birthday chalkboards (I’ve actually gotten the chance to do the latter over the past year!), but I think my passion lies somewhere smaller.
I had to remind myself of why I started. I had to remember that I started a public lettering journey not just to reduce stress, but because the source of that stress angered me so much that I wanted to create a voice for myself.
I’m an English teacher in an education system that is shifting to becoming entirely career-centric. I was told that the books I wanted to teach were antiquated and had no more value in our modern world. I was nudged in the direction of more practical reading and writing that would be better suited for the workplace. And maybe that’s where education is now. Practical work-related tasks. But that’s not what drew me to being an English teacher. I believe in the power of reading, the value of beautiful words, the magic of those rare moments of connection that we find in the words of others. I believe that the arts and humanities do have a place in the modern workplace–especially now, when we are suffering from a lack of empathy and connection. It was that belief that brought me to lettering; it was that rage that drove me to find a creative outlet.
As I continue learning and practicing the craft of drawing stylized letters, I want to focus on my true passion: literature. Books are where I started, and books are what I want to highlight. I dropped off on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project around February because school got hectic, but I’ll be moving forward along the same lines: handlettering lines from books and sharing their stories. These books will range from “the classics” to modern capital-L Literature to popular YA series. My goal is to encourage people to see the magic within stories and their ability to show the power of the human spirit. To me, this is far more valuable than any practical, work-related texts or writing that I would be told to teach at school.
My blog will finally have a focus: books and lettering. It will go hand-in-hand with my Instagram (@nerdladydraws), where I post my daily adventures in art and lettering. I already started a new series after refocusing: #alphalitbooks is a passion project in which I highlight different works by the alphabet. Currently, I’m working with the names of women writers. I’m also hoping to continue with #literarywhiteboardlettering once school calms down a bit (after our state test ends in two weeks). I hope that pairing my Instagram and blog–the former for all my artistic exploits, and the latter for my Lettering Literature project–will give me both the versatility and sense of purpose I need.
As always, thank you for following me on this journey. Creativity can light a burning desire in you, and it can be really scary to share it all and announce a purpose. It helps to have a supportive group of people when you’re trying out new things. I’m looking forward to exploring new books and styles as I delve into literary lettering! Leave a comment with any book recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for a new book.
January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!
Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye
What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.
What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.
Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You
What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.
Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!
Day 58: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.
Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.
One of my favorite things about handlettering is that you can take it anywhere, and practice with any writing instrument! But when you start going through YouTube or Instagram for tutorials, it can seem like you have to buy a lot of tools. It looks like everyone’s got Tombow dual-tip markers, Ecoline watercolor markers, oblique dip pens with fancy holders, and the iPad Pro… and you don’t have the cash for all that.
Beginners, don’t be fooled.
Yes, there’s value in having good tools. But you don’t need the expensive stuff to practice! Here are the basic supplies that I think beginners need, and you can find all of them under $20 (and a good number of them for free if you’re… uh… resourceful like me).
Pencil + a good eraser:Drafting is a must. I wasted so much paper and ink as a beginner because I was watching Instagram videos that were sped up and doctored. I also suggest wooden pencils over mechanical ones. The trusty yellow school pencil is a lot less harsh on paper. Art people can probably tell you why, but I’m not an art person. I think it’s because the lead doesn’t stay deadly sharp the whole time you’re drawing. You want something that’s softer because it doesn’t make ridges in the paper as you draw. These ridges could divert water when you’re watercoloring, or show through when you’re coloring with crayons or colored pencils.
Ruler: Duh, it keeps straight lines. You can use this to draw out really specific guidelines for the tops, bottoms, and crossbars of letters if you’re a perfectionist. I just draw out lines like ruled paper so I don’t draw all over the place.
Black pen: You pick the kind of black pen. Pictured is a gel pen that I stole from work. It writes fairly smoothly, and best of all, it was free! I also suggest the Papermate Flair pen… it’s just lovely.
Sketchbook: Cardstock or printer paper are fine for practicing or sketching, but they’re not really absorbent. If you want to try color blending or brush lettering, get a sketchbook with thicker paper. Pictured is my favorite cheap Target sketchbook with 75lb paper. My favorite one is the U-Create Sketch Book!
Washable markers: I cannot stress how amazing washable markers are. They allow you to blend colors like the pros, and they’re great, affordable tools with which to practice calligraphy! I recommend this pack of fat Crayola markers because 1) 40 colors!, and 2) they’re a lot more durable than the Super Tip markers that so many people recommend. My toddler has stolen quite a few of the thin markers and ruined them… but the fat markers have lasted!
I’ll be featuring these tools all week this week on my Instagram account. Follow the hashtags #letteringonabudget or #cheapaflettering, or just find me @nerdladydraws to see some awesome things that you can do with these basic tools!
We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!
Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.
Day 41: The Odyssey
What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.
Day 42: The Hobbit
What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.
Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh
What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.
Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk
What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.
Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata
What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.
Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights
What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!
Day 47: A Christmas Carol
What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.
Day 48: King Lear
What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.
Day 49: Oedipus Rex
What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.
Day 50: Antigone
What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.
Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.
Day 52: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!
Day 53: Romeo and Juliet
What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!