Deliberate Practice — The Fast Way to get Better
I’ve doing lettering for about two years now, which isn’t that long. When I first started I would pick a word and draw it, trying out things I had seen on Instagram and wondered why I wasn’t improving.
Turns out I was making things hard for myself by practicing the slow way.
Then I stumbled onto an interview with Michael Jordan, where he talked about the importance of practicing with purpose and how a lot of the young players just muck about at practice and then get killed in the games by experienced veterans.
This resonated with me, so I followed the rabbit trail of purple Google links into the world of practicing methods, until I found one that made the most sense to me and adapted to my situation and life.
I’ve mentioned deliberate practice a couple of times in previous blog posts and have gone into some detail about what it means in regard to hand lettering. In this post I’ll be going more in depth on what deliberate practice is, the benefits of doing it and how to go about it so you can become a better letter faster.
What is it
If you are truly passionate about something and are working hard at getting better at it, in this case lettering, it will take time.That is the most important takeaway from this post. Yes, by practicing with focus and intent you will get better faster, but it is still going to take time.
Unless you can dedicate every waking hour to practicing your improvement will be quicker, but formost of us it will only be an hour or 2 a day. And that’s okay. We just need to remember that our best work is ahead of us, especially when we first start out.
Deliberate practice is defined as repetitive performance of a select group of skills. Once it’s written out like that it makes it sound so easy.
It is different from work, play and the simple repetition of a task. It has no financial return and on the outside is not the greatest activity.
Let me make one thing clear, deliberate practice is hard, one of the hardest and most mentally taxing thing you will most likely do.
Unlike other practice methods, deliberate practice is a highly structured activity, with the very specific goal of improving.
Which I guess, is still the aim of other practicing methods, this one is just much more focused about it.
There are a lot of skills that go into hand lettering and when they’re all combined they can create something amazing, which can be very impressive and extremely daunting for people on the outside. Once we pull apart and analysis each skill and find ways to purposefully get better at those individual tasks we can also get better faster.
Practice at those smaller skills so that when they are combined you see drastic improvement. To everyone else, it may seem like it was overnight that you suddenly became amazing at this thing, but in reality it has been hundreds, if not thousands of hours.
When you approach your time to practice there are four things you need to consider:
The key is to be objective about your work so you can spot the areas that need improvement. If you struggle doing this find someone that can offer you uncensored feedback — no compliments allowed.
The most important step to deliberate practice comes from a quote by Sean McCabe of Seanwes where he says
“You can read tutorials all day, but you’ll only improve by doing.”
You need to make a conscious decision to want to get better each and everyday and once you make the decision and get started the rest is the easy part.
With all this being said, how do you go about deliberate practice in regards to hand lettering?
Lets say you’ve just decided that you would like to give lettering a try and are just sitting down with a pencil and blank sheet of paper for the first time. If this is you, congrats! Getting started is so often the hardest part.
Now comes the next step of figuring out where to start. There are a few steps to this part. A good step to start with is to learn the basics of letters. You can learn some of the terminology here.
There are five steps to deliberate practice when it comes to lettering and they are:
Two things will happen here. The first being that each time your create the letter from memory it will become slightly different from the original. This is a good thing, as it means you are slowly taking the first steps into finding your own unique style. Secondly you are getting better on purpose.
But what about those people who are already lettering and have gone through this stage before. Can I/ we still practice with intent and focus?
Absolutely! And you must!
If I can’t get a certain letter to sit right or the balance isn’t there in the word I’ll practice that one little bit over and over again until I can nail it every time without having to think about it.
That’s the point of this style of deliberate practice. To create a massive data bank in your mind of different styles and letters that you can pull from at anytime so you can practice and create without interruption or delay.
Deliberate practice is not the key to overnight success and it is not the fastest way to get better. It is however the best way. It is faster then just sitting down and not practicing with the intention of improvement.
It is hard, really mentally draining and takes a long time to see results. But if you stick with it, you will be a better letterer in the long term.