Without a doubt the most common question I get asked on Instagram (aside from “what pen is that?” and “can you write my name?”) is:
How long have you been hand lettering for?
Well, perhaps to your surprise – not all that long!
Here’s my overly-detailed hand lettering story to date:
When I was in high school, back in the year <undisclosed, because reasons>, I took calligraphy. It was very old-school style, not fun and cool and modern like it is now, and was basically just blackletter with a fancy fountain type pen with a cartridge. But nevertheless I did like it, and I was pretty good at it (I thought, anyway).
I made my mum buy me a calligraphy set while I took the class and I spent quite a lot of time on it.
Until I stopped doing calligraphy. Forever.
I did visual communications during school as well and was always pretty good at drawing. But because I could never just magically imagine some Picasso-worthy piece of art in my mind and project that onto paper with my hands, and had to be looking at something to draw it, I told myself I wasn’t creative and I shouldn’t waste time trying to be.
How I wish I could slap my teenage self in the face!
For more reasons than one.
So basically that was all the artistic and creative background I had, until last year.
In November 2015, I had somehow got sucked into an Instagram wormhole and decided – I SHOULD MAKE GREETING CARDS! Because that’s clearly never been done before. And I don’t already have enough to do between full time work and part time University.
My housemate came home one night and I excitedly told him about my new business idea, and he was all, “that’s dumb” and I proceeded to tell him to stop sh*tting on my dreams etc., and I went back to the drawing board.
I came back to him in a couple of days time with my revised idea: I want to make funny, BRUTALLY MEAN, greeting cards. And he was all, I’m in.
I had a free night’s stay at the Hilton in Melbourne so we went along and had a nice dinner and some rosé while we discussed this new joint venture (he thinks he’s the funnier one so naturally he needed to be providing the comedic material). We went back to the room, and spent the night cackling away in our hotel robes while we scribbled down hilarious Valentine’s Day card ideas (most of which would probably put us in jail and/or get us a lawsuit if we actually printed them).
It wasn’t long after this I fell into another Instagram wormhole, and realised I could actually probably maybe design the fronts of these cards with my own artistic amazingness that I left on the shelf a million years ago in high school, but must surely still possess (over-confidence at it’s finest).
I watched video after video of amazing hand lettering. I read blogs, and tutorials and everything under the internet sun.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I frantically searched the internet for some kind of IRL class I could take to see if I actually had any skill. What’s the point of this magical greeting card dream if I can’t even make my brutally mean words, pretty? I don’t know how to do Photoshop and Illustrator and all that stuff! I would HAVE to be able to hand letter to make this real.
So I found a class in Melbourne in the second week of December 2015. It was a 3 hour Intro to Brush Script on a weeknight and I’d get a free “Tombow” (I had no idea what that was back then) and figured this was it. DO OR DIE. LETTER OR GET A NEW DREAM.
So I went. I lettered. The dream was real.
I immediately went out and bought a bunch of brush pens and got to work. I did all the drills I was supposed to do, found more I should be doing, and started posting my work to Instagram.
That was probably the scariest part of Black Chalk Co to date, putting my work out there. Right away I started doubting and questioning myself, and basically my whole existence, because my work wasn’t as good as the people I followed and looked up to on Insta. Maybe the lady at the workshop was just being nice that night, and maybe my work IS actually sh*tty and now the whole world will know? Maybe I should just stick to my day job? What is the meaning of life?
But, even if my work WAS sh*tty, the Instagram lettering community was far too supportive and encouraging to tell me that! (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and I’ve received criticism over the months I’ve been posting. And yes I’m looking specifically at you random people on the GoodType page who said my b’s look like h’s. #peopledontforget)
My aim back when I started was to create a following on Instagram so that I had an audience to launch my Valentine’s Day cards to. Not much point creating a product if no one knows it exists, right?
Turned out people didn’t care too much about my cards or my watercolour paintings or whatever other stuff I was posting back then. They cared about my lettering and they wanted to see me do it. That’s when my account really started to grow.
When I showed the world what I could do, and that they could do it too, that’s when things took off.
Now, that’s definitely not to say the Valentine’s Day cards were a huge success. Truthfully I still have heaps of them left over that I’ll probably sell again next year even though I look back at that hand lettering and DO think it’s totally sh*tty. But the experience helped me discover my REAL passion, what I REALLY enjoy, and that is hand lettering, and sharing what I know with other humans. By the time I realised that, I didn’t really care about the whole greeting card thing.
It’s quite amusing to think that it was Valentine’s Day only 3 months ago, and that I haven’t even being doing this for 6 months. Wild.
To some, especially those starting out, this could be quite encouraging. To others, perhaps it’s discouraging. Don’t let it be though. There’s this great quote I always see floating around Instagram in the creative space:
Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.
I have no idea where that quote came from, but it has stuck with me since the moment I read it.
There will always, ALWAYS be people in the world with ‘more’ than you in some way or another. Don’t ever let that get in the way of achieving what you want to achieve.
We all feel the same uncertain way when we first start something new, but if you’re passionate about it and you put in the time and effort, I guarantee you, you will see results.
I’d love to hear your hand lettering story. Feel free to comment below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org