My lettering journey

Why I decided to draw letters full-time.


As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. As a kid I would spend most of my afternoons drawing. Yet I was told in school that one could not draw for a living. That drawing was just a fun hobby, but that I would have to get a “real job” as well.

I now realize that, from the beginning, it was the drawing element that attracted me to graphic and web design 10 years ago. Web design made me fall in love with typography, because I was convinced that type was a major element of a good design. So I studied and used type a lot. I read a ton of books about typography in general, web type, type history or type design.

The first letters

Funnily so, I never thought I would start to draw type or letters at some point.

Yet this is precisely what happened 3 years ago. At the beginning of 2012, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I took a pen and an old Moleskine and, to my own surprise, started to draw letters. Here is one of the first things I drew:

NYC on Dribbble

I posted this on Dribbble «just for fun». I was happy with the result so I wanted to share it. I had no ambitions to make this into something professional. Like always, I had drawn this simply for the pleasure of drawing.

The feedback I received was crazy. People liked it very much. I was really surprised. Getting back to drawing was an amazing sensation. It felt so good. It is hard to explain but for me drawing is like a kind of meditation, a moment out of time, a complete experience of flow. It felt also really good to stay away from the computer for a while.

Since I loved the experience so much and the feedback was so positive (I received a lot of encouragements to continue in that direction) that I decided to spend more time drawing. I really think everyone should spend some time drawing or coloring. We are so much focused and connected to our computers that spending some time only with a pencil and a piece of paper can feel amazing. Scary for some and relieving for others. Drawing can be a form of therapy.

The first real lettering project

One year later, in 2013, a good friend of mine contacted me to do the logo for his company. I had done many identity projects before, using typography, but this was the first time I was doing a real lettering logo project.

So I was really excited and stressed at the same time.

It took me several weeks to complete the logo. I loved spending time doing several sketches and refining the logo many times on paper or in Illustrator. I think on this first one, I must have made more than 10 different vector versions before finding one that was nicely balanced!! Surely I could not have done this for a client I did not know personally!! I stayed up late at night to refine curves and handles looking for perfection. Man, I loved it so much. I had not been excited like that about working on a project ever!

Here is the final logo. You can also find sketches on my actual website.

Wisibility logo

After such a great experience with this project, I found it difficult to go back to web design. So I decided to promote a bit more my lettering work in order to try to get more projects. I posted stuff on Instagram, Dribbble and Twitter. It worked pretty well as I started to get a few projects thanks to social media and networking. I really believe that online communication can make a big difference in establishing and maintaining a creative business. Tools like the ones mentioned above can be really useful.

Time for a change

Then arrived 2015. By now I was very frustrated. I wanted to improve my drawing skills. I wanted to practice more. Even though, I was working on a mix of a few small lettering projects, alongside many big web projects. I never felt I had sufficient time to practice and improve. Yet, I know, if I wanted to get better at lettering, I needed to practice, practice and practice again. A bit like that guy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUx3s8F5X2Q

At the same time, I saw my motivation for web design going down. I was not convinced of the direction taken by the industry on the design side, and after having done this for 10 years, it was a bit hard sometimes for me to find projects that I was totally excited about. I really wanted to do more lettering and less web. But how, knowing that I have a family to support and that my web projects are where I make most of my money? On the one side, if I wanted to make lettering my job, I had to give it more time. On the other side, it would be difficult to walk away from the webdesign business that took me several years to build and that was successful even though not alway exciting.

There were basically 2 different solutions: 1. I could take one or two days per week and dedicate them to lettering or 2. Quit web design for a while and see if I can make a living out of lettering.

I knew the first solution would fail. It was not the first time, I tried to build something “on the side”. In 2010, I decided together with some friends to create a WordPress themes online shop, Peaxl. We decided to each invest a minimum 1 or 2 days per week for the project. We tried. And we failed. We failed, because clients projects were always taking that time reserved for the themes. When you are late on a project or the project is with a short deadline, you have no choice. You take the time allocated to your other activity, because you don’t make money with it yet. That is why I knew that it was not possible for me to dedicate one or two days to lettering. I would end up doing it by lack of time.

As some of you know, I do read a lot. And among the books I read, I like the ones which try to take you out of your comfort zone, which try to kick your ass. I particularly love the ones from Austin Kleon or from 99u. One thing I learned from these books is that success come only to people who take risks.

So, with the support of my wife, I decided to go for solution number 2. I stopped taking on any new web projects since April. It was not easy to say no to prospects, let me tell you! I am convinced I am doing the right thing though. I really want to move on, take some time off from the web industry.

A trip to New York City

Something else helped me to make my decision: In order to push further in the lettering direction, I decided to go to NYC in June to do a 4-day workshop with the Master of lettering Ken Barber.

The workshop was fantastic and gave me a lot of tips and insights on how to improve my skills. Through this trip, I also realized, how much I really wanted to make a living out of drawing letters. That was an evidence for me.

I came back so energized, full of new ideas and reassured: Yes, taking risks is scary, but it is worth it. And I say that without even knowing, if it will be a success, if I will really be able to make a living out of lettering. But the fact that I took that risk, that opportunity, is already a success.

Since I got back from New York, I have practiced lettering a lot. I shared a few things, but I am thinking of new perspectives. I want to try chalk lettering and mural paintings for example. I am really excited about it. Painting large lettering pieces on walls with chalk or paint could be a lot of fun. Before going to the US, I was also working on a block printing project, cutting lettering into linoleum and print it on paper or canvas.

A new website for a new journey

Another thing I did these last days is setting up a new website. I have had a website for almost 10 years now, fran6art.com. It has been a successful blog for years, having more than 2000 visits per day for a long time. The blog focused mainly on WordPress and Web Design. Earlier this year, I finally decided to add my portfolio to it, with some web and lettering projects. I did not plan to do any new website. Until I did setup one for my wife last week.

She needed a new landing page for her business. I offered to help her, of course, and chose Squarespace to do it. I love the platform and that was a perfect opportunity for me to use it as well. And it ended up I wanted to do the same for me!

I have a personal domain name, francischouquet.com, that I never really used and decided to use it for my new activity. Fran6art will remain focused on my web business. But I don’t know if I will update it though. I want now to focus on my new identity and communicate with it.

I took a picture of some of my works, which you can see at the top of the article and did setup up what Squarespace calls a “Cover Page”. I added a simple tagline: “I draw letters.” because that’s what I do now! I added the links to my different social medias profiles, where I share my work and my inspiration about lettering. That’s it! And I did put it quietly online. Here is the link: francischouquet.com

It is kind of ironic that I did not use WordPress nor design anything for this new webpage. I just added the background picture and did setup the page. I guess this really shows that I don’t want to focus on web stuff right now. With Squarespace, I will be able to setup a blog, a portfolio or even a shop if I want and without having to touch a line of code. Not sure yet what I will do.

So what are the next steps?

I still have web projects for recurrent clients. It might take me up to october before they are all done. But that’s ok. It does not take too much of my time and these are projects with great clients. So everything should be fine and easy.

I have a few lettering projects going on right now. These are 2 logos for different kinds of clients. These should occupy a part of my time until September.

The rest of my time, maybe a third, will be spent to practice, improve my skills, draw and explore new ways to draw letters such as murals, chalk lettering or block printing. These could be also fun because of the more artistic orientation.

Financially, I can see 3–4 months ahead. I hope to get a few new projects which could take me to the end of the year. I will try to not be too nervous about it. A large part of the risk is here.

But I am really excited for what is coming. I am really looking forward the next weeks. I am not sure where I am going, but I want to go there. I want to get out of my comfort zone and explore new horizons. Even if it is scary, risky and unpredictable.

We have one life. It’s our job to enjoy every moment of it. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t like what you are doing anymore, you want to try new things but you are scared of doing it, just go ahead. Prepare it, organize it financially but do it. That first step will already be a success. Don’t live your life with regrets.

I will post short updates on Twitter, works on Instagram and Dribbble about my new journey and when I have time, blogposts here on Medium. If you need any other link, or if you want to contact me, just go on my new website!

Let’s go back to my new work now. A lot of things need to be drawn :-)

Talk to you soon :-)

Francis

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