Most of us already keep sources of inspiration in a number of places—I know we all have Pinterest boards dedicated to calligraphy and lettering, and Instagram saves and screen shots galore. This first step in the Letter Better series (don’t forget to read the introduction), is to start a central collection for all lettering inspiration. First, I’ll give you two reasons why you should consider doing this, and then we’ll talk about how.
Why? Avoid the Comparison Game.
Starting an inspiration collection helps creators channel comparison and envy in a healthy direction. Rather than wallowing, or feeling overwhelmed, the “action item” when browsing social media is to capture this inspiration for later. When you have something to do as the result of seeing a piece of art that you really like and admire, you’re less likely to engage in comparison or envy—and less likely to get discouraged!
Try it the next time you’re on Instagram or Pinterest. Instead of negative self-talk like, “I’ll never get there,” tell yourself, “This is a great artist. I can learn from this piece, even if it’s just a small detail! I’ll collect this for intentional observation and practice later.”
Why? Avoid the Pinterest Rabbit Hole.
It helps us collect one single “go-to” source for inspiration from a variety of venues—so that when we want to engage in some intentional practice, we don't get sucked down a Pinterest rabbit hole. (We’ve all been there. And are perhaps there right now. Like 24/7).
While the ideal is to have a central place, I’m definitely not “hard line” about it. It really is beneficial to at least condense your sources down to a handful of places to go. So, if you can narrow it down to two or three places, you’re headed in the right direction.
Why? Avoid the Pigeon Hole.
We’re avoiding a lot of holes with this inspiration collection, all animal-related, too.
In later posts of the Letter Better series, you’re going to learn some methods for observing and critiquing lettering pieces, and then mimicking and learning from them.
The benefit of keeping a central source is so that you don’t get pigeon-holed into learning from just one style or one source. If the only thing you do is browse Instagram or Pinterest, you may find yourself unconsciously emulating only other modern artists, and only other modern artists in certain circles! If you do this, your lettering might change, and it might even get better, but it now has a threshold—you’ll be dependent upon how well those other people draw from outside sources.
The idea is to collect inspiration from a variety of sources, even signage when you travel, or menus from restaurants that you like!
Okay, enough with the introspection; let’s move on to the really practical.
How? Here Are Some Solid Steps.
For me, keeping an inspiration collection is literally an Apple Notes folder of screen shots and pictures I snapped out in the wild. Each item or picture usually has its own note, unless I snap multiple pictures of the same item. I set up two main categories: Calligraphy & Script Lettering, and Hand Lettering (block lettering, or hand-drawn typography).
There are times I wish I categorized these more granularly, but I want as little as possible to stand between me and getting these pictures into my collection, so I keep it simple and low maintenance, and recommend you do the same! Most of the time, I don’t even add titles or hashtags to help me navigate later!
Items I collect include both positive and negative examples. Here are some of the things I collect:
Screenshots from Instagram (I always include the author’s handle, for attribution and so that if I want to go find their work again, I can)
I do occasionally “save” stuff on Instagram using the bookmark button, but I leave a note for myself in my Notes folder to go look there—that way they don’t just sit there, forgotten
Screenshots from the web
Screenshots or links from Pinterest
Screenshots or links from Reddit
Links to entire Pinterest boards, either built by me or others
Pictures of lettered products I see in stores, like in Joann’s or Hobby Lobby
Pictures of menus from restaurants I visit, whether hand-lettered on chalkboards or print design
Pictures of book covers, hand lettered or just excellent typography
Pictures of magazine covers or interiors; spreads that inspire me, even if it’s just the color scheme or general aesthetic
Pictures of signs out in the wild—building signs, business signs, old painted signs on vintage brick buildings, whether they contain normal typography or lettering, it doesn’t matter
Pictures of buildings—typically old buildings, with architecture I’d like to mimic or study more. Architecture can be hugely inspiring for lettering!
Pictures of tile! Yes, tile, and beautiful tile patterns
Pictures of mosaics
Pictures of random items I see while thrifting, or at the flea market or antique shopping
Keep collecting. Your collection will grow faster than you think! The next step is to actually do something with what you've collected—which is observing, critiquing, and learning something applicable from your findings. We'll discuss this in the next post in this series!