Linda Ellmore is a 26-year-old modern calligraphist and digital artist from the Dallas area of Texas. While she’s been an artist her whole life, hand-lettering is a relatively new craft for Linda, and one that I’ve enjoyed watching her grow in from the very beginning almost two years ago. A quick glance over her Instagram shows the marks of a creator who takes learning seriously, but clearly loves the process — she plays with styles, themes, complexity, simplicity, and everything in between as she grows into her own niche. I’ve always been a fan of hand-lettered art and prints, but I’ve never given it a shot myself and definitely learned a lot from Linda about the basics and the high degree of accessibility this craft has compared to others, especially for anyone in the early seasons of parenthood when time is a luxury. If you’ve ever been interested in trying your hand, definitely read on for her fantastic tips!
How did you fall in love with calligraphy, and what’s your process?
I really wanted to get back into art after I finished with my job and stayed at home to be with my newborn daughter, Rory. It was just one of many different things I’d tried. I’d seen hand-lettering in different products that I liked and thought it was really neat, so I just started practicing it. I really enjoy it because it’s like an intersection of the things that I love the most, which are art and words. So it’s words as art.
When I started, my work wasn’t shaped so much by “my style” as much as it was just what I could afford. [laughs] We didn’t have the money to invest in a whole lot of tools, so I just used a regular ink pen and a sketchbook. Then I would take photos of what I did in my sketchbook and just adjust them in Pixelmator.
I like my work to look very clean, very exact, and you don’t get that very well by hand and scanning it in, so recently I finally got a Surface Pro. That’s been amazing — I use the stylus to draw directly in Photoshop and it’s as exact as I want it to be. It’s not quite the same feel as a sketchbook, and I probably like the feel of a sketchbook better, but it’s a lot cleaner.
Is calligraphy something you’re pursuing in-depth, or is it kind of your gateway drug into other types of art and graphic design as well?
I guess I’d say a little bit of both. I really, really enjoy it but I get bored easily with different types of art. I fall in love with one thing and obsess over it for several months or a year or two and then I fall in love with something else. I’ve had my shop open for a little over a year now — I still love my shop with the cutesy quote printables, but now I’m developing interests in other things already, like more serious digital art or writing (again). So I hop around from thing to thing and I’ll come back to something after a few years of not really focusing on it.
What other creative outlets or passions do you have?
I was an art major at Abilene Christian University for a year, and I still ended up getting my art minor after I switched to English. I’ve been an acrylic painter for a long time and I’ve always really loved that—I don’t have so much time for that anymore because to do acrylic or any kind of actual painting, you need a block of at least four hours to really sink your teeth in, and four hours at a time does not happen in mom world. [laughs] So I haven’t done that in a while but still love it. I’ve always loved writing and poetry. I’ve also done a little bit of graphic design and digital art.
Right now I’m doing a lot of digital watercolors because I just bought a big pack of watercolor brushes for Photoshop. They’re from Kyle’s Brushes and they’re 100 watercolor brushes that are out of this world for only $11!
You’re a 24/7 stay-at-home mom to a toddler, so how do you keep creative time a regular part of your life?
Well, I keep trying to look for solid time that I can set aside every day, but it just doesn’t happen, so what ends up happening is that I use spare moments here and there. That means some days the house is going to be the priority and other days I let some of the house things go so that I have time to work on art. But that’s actually a reason I’ve really gotten into digital painting and Photoshop, and doing the hand-lettering on the computer: it’s something you can easily pick up for 10 minutes and put back down again, as opposed to painting and stuff like that. It’s something that’s flexible, which means I can still do it as a mom.
What helps you recharge your creative batteries?
I’m super wishy-washy about inspiration. I just feel like when I try to force myself to create something, saying “Just create something! What’s wrong with you?” it ends up being really bad. But what I find helps me the most is looking at other people’s work, and often that’s people I know — going to their Facebook pages and seeing what they’ve been posting lately, the art they’re doing or the writing they’re doing. Or, on my shop’s Instagram I follow a TON of people, especially hand-letterers. So I go on there for inspiration.
What always gets you excited about your craft?
This sounds a bit strange, but thinking about the season I’m in gets me excited to create. A lot of my inspiration comes from seasons, natural seasons like spring and summer, but also just the feelings they represent, and inspiration for those times. So I think that’s kind of where it begins for me, because I want to express and embody what I’m going through that season of life or the feelings associated with whatever season we’re in.
What is a daily (or regular) discipline you’re following right now, related or unrelated to your art?
That’s really hard. One thing I’m trying to do right now (though sometimes road blocks come up) is trying to make space in my day for myself. And not really so much for myself, but just time to ground me, to spend time with the Lord or to read or to work on art. I’m trying to get up like an hour before the baby, but sometimes when I set my alarm to do that, the baby decides to wake up an hour earlier on her own and it doesn’t work! [chuckles] I’ve also kept schedules before just to keep myself inspired and keep myself working on things. Like, I’m going to make something new to put on my shop or put on Instagram every Monday/Wednesday/Friday or something.
In what ways have you improved over the past few years? What do you still struggle with?
I think anyone who has started hand-lettering knows that you improve really fast, and you look back at what you did a few months ago and feel like you’re light-years ahead of where you were. [chuckles] Starting a year and a half ago, having never hand-lettered before, to now, it’s like night and day.
I guess something I’m still working on is—well, I keep honing my style. When I started my shop I was very much trying to fit a mold of what I saw other people out there doing. It was ultra-cutesy, and just not really me. So I’m getting better at defining my style and where I fit in on Etsy, and just where I fit in, where my art fits in. It’s this odd middle ground between things that are really cute and things that are deeply serious and meaningful. If you look back at my feed on Instagram, the stuff I started with is just so different in its tone than the stuff I do now.
What are your creative goals right now?
I’m actually in the process of starting some new things. I’m working on launching a second shop that I think is going to have a different tone than the first one. I’m going to do art prints still, but they’re going to be physical prints. HappyThoughtsPrints is kind of a collection of inexpensive, quick downloads, the kind of thing anybody can afford that looks cute on your wall for a season — and that’s great. But what I’m working on is going to be a more permanent thing, specifically art focused on nature. And I’m actually in the process of starting a blog right now, too. Never been a blogger before, so we’ll see how that works out.
Seek Beauty in Everything - Linda Ellmore
Part of living a creative life is seeking to see the beauty in everything. About a year and half ago, I had left my job…
Are there any tools, books, or other resources you would recommend to others starting out with hand-lettering?
Tombow pens! I’ve never actually used one but I envy people who have them. They seem like the go-to pen for hand-lettering. I should define things here: those pens are really good for actual, modern calligraphy. What I did before I switched to digital stuff was faux lettering. In real calligraphy, you press harder or turn your tool to make thick downstrokes. Faux lettering is where you kind of fake it by outlining and filling it in later. So Tombow pens are great for the real thing, or just using a paintbrush and watercolors makes really cute watercolor hand-lettering. Surprisingly, Crayola washable markers are great, too.
I learned everything mostly through Etsy and Instagram. If you get on Instagram it’s like a whole sub-culture. There are so many videos of people doing hand-lettering… they’re really fun to watch, they’re mesmerizing, and you really learn a lot from them.
What advice or words of encouragement would you give to other creators in your field?
I’ve been an artsy-fartsy person my whole life, but I know tons of people who did not think that calligraphy was something they could do because that’s not their bent. But some just decided they liked it, practiced, and have gotten really good at it, so don’t think that you can’t do it if art is just not your thing otherwise. Basic practice really, really helps and you can end up being able to create some really cool stuff!