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100 Days of Lettering

My thoughts and process

Tiantian Xu
Apr 5, 2016 · 6 min read

From Nov 2015 to March 2016, I finished a personal creative project called “100 Days of Lettering”. Each day, I drew a letter or a word and published it on Instagram with the hashtag #100daysofletteringbytx.

Why lettering?

Simply put: I wanted to learn. Without a formal graphic design background, I have always been curious about typography and the art of lettering. After reading books like <Think with Type> and <Just My Type>, I found myself dreaming in letters. So, instead of waiting for a perfect opportunity to start, I just started.

Getting started

My tools are simple:

  • Moleskine grid notebook

Most of my letterings are black and white because I wanted to simplify my creative process. I frequently reminded myself that the goal of this project is about creation and persistence, not polished art.

Daily process

Lettering, it turns out, is challenging and time-consuming. It requires both accuracy and precision and my previous “free-hand” approach to doodling was no longer applicable. As a result, I broke down my daily lettering practice into the following 4 steps:

  1. Brainstorming: Figure out what you want to say and what letter style you’d like to use.
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My favorite quote in 2015: Designers play a major role in shaping this world, respect that and do your part.

Day 1–30

Copy for practice

As I learned from my first 100 day project (100 Days of Doodle), copying is the best way to learn from the masters. Sometimes I would open up the Font Book on my Mac to practice the basic font style. Other times I would pick a piece of work from Pinterest and copy its style.

The following are basic font practices. They could be script, number, or even a set of ampersands.

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Basic font practice

The following are examples of copying other people’s lettering styles. The trick is to pick the word/message that resonates the most, so the lettering feels authentic even though the style is not original.

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Copy style for practice

Day 31–60

Being part of the community

After posting my work to Instagram for a month, I gradually discovered a wonderful lettering community. My favorite Instagram account is “HandletteredABCs” — hosted by a group of lettering enthusiasts; it organizes lettering challenges on a weekly basis.

During its alphabet challenge, I hand-lettered 26 letters in 26 days. Each letter represents a word I love, with an illustration symbolizing its meaning to me.

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My alphabet (80+ hours of work)

The alphabet challenge took me 80+ hours. The comments and likes from the community were tremendously supportive, and I had the privilege of making friends with many talented artists around the world. I wouldn’t have achieved any of this without being part of the lettering community.

Day 61–100

Creativity is everywhere

After practicing lettering for two months, I started to feel the creativity flowing inside me. Instead of picking up an existing style from Pinterest, I would come up with an idea I wanted to share, then brainstorm different ways to communicate that message.

As opposed to the common belief that creativity is a talent, I think creativity is a skill. And the more you practice it, the more creative you are.

The following are lettering pieces about my daily life, with hashtags like #notetoself, #startuplife, #designadvice, etc.

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More creative work

Reflecting

Looking back, passion and self-discipline are the secret sources that helped me in the past 100 days.

Passion

There were times when I was so immersed in my lettering practice that I would not go to bed till 4am the next morning. I felt so passionate about the creative process that I would think about my next lettering idea all day and all night. This is where my passion lies:

Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it.

Self-discipline

However, there were other times when I ran into resistance. For example, “I’m too tired”, “I have more important things to do” or “I won’t be as good as last time.” This is where self-discipline came in to push me through self doubt and roadblocks. I kept reminding myself about the goal of this project. I limited my time surfing the internet each night. Later on, I set up a rule to stop practicing by 12am so that I could make it through the next day without four shots of espresso.

Self-discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to do it.

Fin

In the end, I feel accomplished and grateful. My lettering skills have improved in terms of accuracy and speed. The sheer satisfaction of creating feels great, and I’m another step in the right direction of becoming a good designer.

Needless to say, it takes decades of practice to master a skill. My 100-day project just scratches the surface of lettering, but I’m glad I took that very first step.

Below is my 100 days of lettering in 15 seconds.

Useful links

An Intro to Typography by Karen Kavett

Free Hand Lettering Class by SeanWes

Hand Lettering for Beginners by C.S. Jones

Also, check out those feeds on Instagram: HandletteredABCs, typespire, 50wordsongrey, typeriot.


Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for my next 100 day project.

The 100 Day Project

A place to share thoughts and process for the…

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