Practice Makes Perfect, Almost

11 June 2014

I am the Queen of To-Do Lists. Scribbled all around the house are notes with great intent. Majority are mundane, like buy more Cetaphil or a Father’s Day card. Others, I have little to no recollection of their importance — like a recently revisited moleskin that had “street light” penned twice. Unclear. (Anyone?) I did however, come across a note that said “calligraphy lessons.”

Nothing feels better than striking a solid line through a task, goal or simple to-do. No matter if it’s big or small, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with completing the “to-do.” When I saw the “calligraphy lesson” goal, I took my inky nib and crossed it off.  I have always wanted to learn calligraphy properly, not my loopy-loo mash-up style I like to think is calligraphy, but truly understand the basic minuscule strokes and the difference between and ascender and decender.

I looked high and low in Syracuse for an actual course or workshop, but unfortunately Skillshare and Brooklyn Brainery have not yet moved north. So, I did what any blogger would do — learn from another blogger. I found, I Still Love Calligraphy, an online calligraphy course founded by Melissa Esplin. It’s totally for beginners, breaking down the entire process beginning with an overview of the supplies you need to how to hold the pointed pen. There are custom printouts with tracing paper to perfect your craft. And just like with any good course — there’s a professor critique, or a “feedback gallery,” so as you complete assignments, you upload snapshots of your work to get personal feedback from Melissa with suggestions to improve.

When I finally learned the actual foundation of the lettering, I went back and forth between the actual ink well and then toyed with pointed pens and markers. Once you’ve got it down, you can really create beautiful lettering.

Here are a few online courses I found, including I Still Love Calligraphy, which I highly recommend! I’ve also included a few stellar hand lettering guides to peruse for inspiration while you doodle!

  • I Still Love Calligraphy: 30 days for the basics and critiques. How cool would this be for a gift too? A calligraphy lesson + kit!
  • Obsessed with LadyFingers LetterPress for more reasons than I can list here, but I came across a Hand-Lettering tutorial where owner, Arley-Rose, breaks down sans serif, serif and the best pens to use for hand-lettering. You’ll want to run straight to Michael’s to get your hands on a few gelly-rolls.
  • Traveling workshop from Molly Jacques: looks like they sell out with a quickness, so if she’s coming to a town near you, sign up!
  • Did you catch this article on handwriting the NYTimes Science section, perhaps more handwriting = more memory? What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades? “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important, it helps you think better.”


Lastly, to get your creative process a jolt of motivation,  I’d like to share a “share” that was sent to me by my brain trust, my good friend and mentor, Carol Cofone.  It’s an excerpt from Delancy Place (a literary website that sends eclectic typically non-fiction snippets every day to your email.) This excerpt was from David Shenk’s book, The Genius in All of Us.  Shenk says, rather than being the result of genetics or inherent genius, truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved with less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time. Very Malcom Gladwell.

“For those on their way to greatness [in intellectual or physical endeavors], several themes regarding practice consistently come to light:

1. Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes (occurring in direct response to practice) in the muscles, nerves, hearts, lungs, and brains of those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.

2. Skills are specific. Individuals becoming great at one particular skill do not serendipitously become great at other skills. Chess champions can remember hundreds of intricate chess positions in sequence but can have a perfectly ordinary memory for everything else. Physical and intellectual changes are ultraspecific responses to particular skill requirements.

3. The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain are arguably the most profound, with a vast increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking (saving time and energy), and elaborate self-monitoring mechanisms that allow for constant adjustments in real time.

4. Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, where your current skill level is simply being reinforced, is not enough to get better. It takes a special kind of practice to force your mind and body into the kind of change necessary to improve.

5. Short-term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment. Many crucial changes take place over long periods of time. Physiologically, it’s impossible to become great overnight.

Looks like I might need about 900 more hours to truly become an expert in my calligraphy endeavor, but I’m on my way.  Here’s a little motivation for you:  Girl Learns How to Dance in a Year, take 2 minutes and 30 seconds and then go write down what’s on your to-do list and share with me in the comments!


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Jessica Arb Danial Art Advisory