We all heard the „Just keep working at it and you’ll get there“ advice many times, and we furiously work on our skills and try to „put in the time“ to get better. That tactic works…for a while. And then it suddenly stops. You are stuck at a level that you can’t seem to pass no matter how hard you try. Today I want to talk a little bit about how to improve your lettering practice, not your lettering skill. Your skill will improve as a byproduct of a purposeful practice.
Recently I read a book by K.Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. I’m sure many of you heard the term deliberate practice and so have I, but until I read the book, I wasn’t quite clear about what that meant and how I can apply it to my lettering practice. The book is a great read and I highly recommend it, but in case you don’t have the time I’ll outline the main points of the book and give you a plan on how to apply it to your own lettering practice.
About the book
Ericsson and his team did quite a bit of research on the subject of expert performers over the years and came up with a proven method that anyone can use to improve their skills. That sounds really encouraging doesn’t it? But also scary because that means you have only yourself to blame if you fail. You are the only one responsible for your skill. You can’t blame it on a lack of talent because there is no such thing. You may be inclined to do something because it interests you but only hard work will get you to a level of a master, or an expert performer.
You also may have heard about the 10 000 hours rule. In case you didn’t, Ericssons research was originally misunderstood and word spread like fire that it takes 10 000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. While reading the book I have found that that is not true.
The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.Peak
Doctors who practice medicine for 20 years are no better from the doctors practicing only five IF they think they reached an acceptable level of performance. Time doesn’t matter, purposeful practice does. And your goals matter. The book is filled with examples of great musicians, chess players and other expert performers proving the method and giving you real life examples of what can be done with purposeful practice. I’ll skip that part here because in case you do get the book I don’t want to ruin it for you.
There are four important steps to the method of deliberate practice:
- Well defined specific goal – something that you can easily say you achieved or did not achieve
- Intense focus sessions – no distractions, no emails, no social media. Only practice.
- Immediate feedback – when you immediately know whether or not you completed the task.
- Getting out of your comfort zone – creating frequent discomfort and forcing your mind to create new mental representations (new ways of dealing with the problem)
The trouble with lettering practice is that it’s subjective and you may have trouble finding that specific goal and knowing immediately if you completed the task well or not. There is still no proven method of practice like there is for playing the violin for example. That is why you will have to create your own method and keep adjusting it until you hit the one that is right for you.
How to apply this to your lettering practice
Get clear on your goals
Since lettering is so wide and subjective there are many different ways to approach your practice. The most important thing to start is strong will and clear goals so sit down and write out your goals. Make sure to choose goals that will get you out of your comfort zone.
Find a techer
Next step is to look at your goals and try to find someone who you think already reached those goals. It would be best if that person could become your teacher but if that is not possible, study them and try to figure out how they became so good. How do you think they practiced their craft? Trust me, they are not talented and they can’t „just do it“. They worked really hard to become experts in their field, and we should not undermine their hard work and time spent practicing by saying they are simply talented.
Step back from your work and find any problem areas. Where do you want to improve? Do you have trouble with layout and composition? Do you wish you knew more lettering styles? You can never quite draw a good „S“? Make a list of areas in which you want to improve. These will be your specific goals.
As I already mentioned, it doesn’t matter how long you practice, so if you are pressed for time, 15 minutes of intense focus practice will be much more beneficial to you than simply sitting at your desk for hours on end while your mind wonders to your grocery list. It also helps to have the list of goals close so when you do find the time to practice, you are not sitting there wondering what you should do. Keep in mind the time you have and design your practice sessions accordingly. Let me give you an example.
One of your goals might be to be able to draw an „S“ perfectly, 5 times in a row. This is an example of a very specific goal. You have only 15 minutes a day so make them count. Turn off all distractions and concentrate. Draw just one „S“ and concentrate on what you are doing. Once you drew it, step back and give yourself honest feedback. Where do you see issues? Compare your „S“ with an „S“ from a font and try to identify the differences and fix your „S“ accordingly. Next time you sit down to draw an „S“ you will know what to do and what not to do. Repeat the process until you reach your goal and you can easily draw 5 „S“ letters in a row.
You can do the same with each goal you have and you will improve much more quickly than just simply going trough the practice with your mind wandering. And keep in mind that your list of goals should be never ending. As soon as you think you are done, and you reached the level of acceptable performance, you will stop improving. Keep adding to your list, keep practicing purposefully and you will always be improving.
To end this blog post I want to share with you (and properly embarrass myself) one of my old works from roughly a year ago and a recreated version now.
June 28th 2017 Terrible right?
Getting better after roughly a year
If all of this still sounds overwhelming make sure to check out my freebie “Learn lettering yourself” and use it to create your own practice sessions.