So you’ve been practicing your basic strokes and you’re ready to move on to actual lettering! Let’s do baby steps: this week, it’s time to focus on lowercase letters.Continue reading “Calligraphy 101: Lowercase Letters”
This one’s dedicated to my girl Lindsay. You may be like this magnificent woman yourself: tired AF because life kicks your butt every day, and you need a creative outlet. You’re interested in calligraphy and handlettering, you’ve pinned a few things and followed a few Instagram lettering artists… but it’s all overwhelming and you don’t know where to start.Continue reading “Calligraphy 101: The Basic Strokes”
I see you.
I see you working your ass off, doing your research, doing all the things, staying up late and waking up early. I see that you’re still waiting. I am, too.
And I’m telling you, persist. Because the struggle is where all the fun is.
You got this.
And even if you don’t, have as much fun as you can fighting for it.
I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.
I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.
Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):
- Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
- 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
- Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
- Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.
I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.
I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:
- Whiteboard Lettering: Week 1
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 2
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 3
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 4
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 5-6
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 7-8
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 9-10 (HALLOWEEN EDITION!)
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 11
- Thirteen Books to Close the Year: Books 40-53 of Literary Whiteboard Lettering
- January’s Literary Whiteboard Lettering: New Year, Old Plays, Fantastic Discussions
And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!
Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)
Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)
Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell
Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)
Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)
Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)
Day 72: Medea (Euripides)
Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.
You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.
I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.
I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.
I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.
This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.
I realize I sound a little snooty when I say I’m a “self-taught artist.” But the truth is, I’m cheap. I’ve seen plenty of lettering workshops in my area and online, and I’ve heard plenty of artists saying, “Invest in yourself! Take a class!” But. I don’t have the time or money for that. What I do have time for, however, is mining through Instagram during my spare time. It’s where I learned the basics of handlettering and calligraphy, and where I continue to learn and hone my style. Here are my favorite accounts to learn from:
#1: Andrea Fowler (@calligraphynerd)
On Tuesdays, Andrea hosts “Tuesday Tip Time.” She shares short Instagram videos that address common beginner mistakes, like writing too fast or not taking breaks. Her video on the “wedge of space” between strokes completely changed my style of lettering! In addition to great tips, she’s a diehard Potterhead and caffeine addict, so her posts are always relatable and entertaining. Search #tuesdaytiptime or #calligraphynerdttt to go straight to her tips.
#2: Lise (@inkandlise)
Lise is the definition of versatility in handlettering. She has so many different styles, and she records herself writing. I am a visual-kinesthetic learner, and I have learned so much from just watching videos, then trying it myself. @inkandlise is the perfect place to start. She’s strong, she’s empowering, AND she even started an alphabet series tagged #inkandlisealphabets. It’s so easy to get stuck in the basic modern calligraphy style — Lise shows all the potential that handlettering has!
#3: Letter Archive (@letterarchive)
What an amazing resource for lettering artists! This isn’t merely an account; it’s the collective work of hundreds of artists. If you search #letterarchive_[insert desired letter], you will find hundreds of different styles of writing that letter. I have gone here when my style doesn’t fit the composition that I’m doing, and I need ideas. The account itself features the best of the best, but I like looking through the hashtags for each letter to find what I’m looking for.
#4: Stefan Kunz (@stefankunz)… and a few others
I’m attracted to typography and composition. When I started handlettering, I didn’t understand how artists like Stefan Kunz, Alyssa Robinson (@arobinsonart), Stephanie Baxter (@stephsayshello), and Dan Lee (@dandrawnwords) figured out how to make different sizes and fonts of letters fit together into one cohesive piece. But Stefan Kunz is gracious enough to show the secret behind the magic: grids. He has a few composition grids that he’s shared for free through his own account and through @goodtype, and you can buy sets of composition grids through his website. When I want to play with composition, I like to scroll through his, Alyssa’s, Stephanie’s, and Dan’s feeds to get in the zone.
#5: Lauren Hom (@homsweethom)
Lauren is my inspiration for finding my own style as a lettering artist and social media content creator. Her account is a must for artists who are hoping to start their own business. In January, she launched #homwork, a weekly handlettering challenge designed to foster originality and freshness in the lettering community. She offers real advice on how to find your own voice and style instead of being just another picture of the same ol’ inspirational quotes on Instagram. I’ve only gone through her free coaching tools—her email newsletter, her Instagram stories, and her features on other lettering accounts like @goodtype—but she does also offer workshops. Hers is the only one I would consider paying for… and if I still feel like I’m serious in a year or so, I may actually cough up the money for her “Passion to Paid” online workshop.
I dream of the day when I’ll have enough expendable income to spend on an art class. But until then, I’ll keep digging through Instagram videos and accounts to figure out the magic.
If you’re into handlettering, art, or small business, comment and share the social media handles that inspire you!