3 Calligraphy Practice Exercises Every Calligrapher Should Try

Okay, wow, hi - where exactly has time gone? I didn’t post a single blog in March, and I literally have no idea how it came to be April 9th. Is it just me, or is 2019 flying by?

Anyway! For the past little while, I’ve been working hard on a project that is near and dear to my heart - a Calligraphy Prompt e-book! I often see that new calligraphers & lettering artists struggling to come up with words or phrases to write when they are learning and practicing calligraphy. I think this kind of “writer’s block” stems from social media and the constant flow of new content being thrust in front of our eyeballs every minute of every hour of every day. There is no shortage of new artwork seemingly being churned out by everyone around us. That can be inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when you’re having an off-day or are stuck in a creative rut.

Thankfully, there are lots of great prompts available on Instagram - like Goodtype’s weekly #GoodtypeTuesday challenge and Lauren Hom’s #Homwork prompts. I’ve participated in both many times, and these kinds of challenges can really help to get the creative juices flowing. The only thing is that they are somewhat time sensitive (though Lauren Hom’s prompts are all available in an archive, so you can go back and complete any of the challenges at any time!) and I personally struggle to get them done before the deadlines.

So, I wanted to make something that you can download, keep forever and refer back to any time you’re feeling stuck. I also wanted to make one that was full of the kinds of prompts that I believe will help people tap into their personal artistic style - something I am super passionate about helping other artists do.

So, what are the 3 Calligraphy Practice Exercises that every every calligrapher should try? These babies right here:

1) The Alphabet Exercise - You probably know this one because I’ve talked about it a million times. Basically, you pick a theme - for example, Cities - and letter one word for each letter of the alphabet, keeping with that theme (Athens, Barcelona, Chicago, etc!)

2) The High Fidelity Exercise (Yes I named this exercise after a John Cusack movie) - Okay I totally made this one up, and it’s all about making lists of your all time, top 5 favourite things in different categories and then using those lists to inspire other calligraphy & lettering practice pieces.

3) The Talk to Yourself Exercise - This one is all about having a kind & positive dialogue with yourself, and lettering advice/reminders/messages that you need to hear.

In the workbook, I go over these three exercises in detail, aaaaand provide you with over 50 prompts & ideas for your next calligraphy practice session or content creation day. The workbook is 20 pages long, it’s super pretty, PLUS it’s suitable for both beginner calligraphers and weathered old calligraphy bats like me!

You can download it (for free!) right here!


PS. I recently I did an interview with Becca of The Happy Ever Crafter all about one of my favourite topics - how to find your own unique calligraphy style. In this interview, I go into detail about different calligraphy practice exercises, how to turn your practice into a self care exercise and how to start working towards honing your own unique lettering style. If you’re interested in watching the interview, you can check it out here. Or, if you want the Cliffs Notes version - check out the corresponding blog post here.

A Few Of My Favourite Things | Calligraphy & Art Supplies

Disclaimer: I am not a pen hoarder, and I like to keep my art supply collection as minimalist and functional as possible. I’ve been creating a long time, and I know what I like. So while there are about a million different options out there and I encourage you to find what works for you - the below items are what work the best for me, personally.

Calligraphy Supplies:

Zebra Comic G Nib

This nib became my favourite out of pure convenience. My boyfriend is also an artist - and he is a pen-hoarder lite. In the sense that every now and then he’ll order a bunch of pens/pen adjacent items online but then never use them, so I get to steal them and decide if I do or don’t like them. Well, he ordered a pack of these nibs, never used them, and one day I was working on an envelope order with a Nikko G (which is the first nib I ever used, took a long break from it and have now come back to for its simplicity and fine lines!) that was so was so worn down, I had to stop using it with just a few envelopes left to go, and I didn’t have a backup. So I grabbed one of these nibs and it was perfect and lovely, and basically the same as a Nikko G! Using the Zebra nib has been a game changer for me, because I can order them in a pack of basically a million at a time and don’t have to leave my house.

Honourable Mention: The Blue Pumpkin because it’s gorge, and was my favourite for a long time.

Dr PH Martin’s Bleedproof White Ink

As someone who loves a white ink on a dark envelope, this product is everything. It delivers gorgeous crisp white letters in a perfectly opaque white, with no fuzzy edges. There is a bit of a learning curve with it, though. You can’t use it just out of the jar. You need Liquid Gum Arabic to make this baby sing, otherwise it’s like dipping your pen in nearly-dry cement.

Mini Tutorial: In a separate container, mix Bleedproof White with a little bit of Gum Arabic at a time until the ink reaches your desired consistency. If you were mixing with water instead, stop that right now and do it this way, I swear it’ll change your life.

Honourable Mention: Winsor & Newton White Ink.

Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers

Okay so this one is kind of ironic because I actually kind of hate them. But, I am a slave to them because they work better than any other marker I’ve tried on pretty much every surface, are permanent (unless you use a paint scraper & acetone to remove and have strong biceps). Yes, you have to shake the living hell out of them regularly to get their ink flow going and the white ones usually require two coats in order to be truly opaque. But, they are my go-to for mirrors, wood, acrylic and all of my corporate calligraphy gigs where I’ve worked on everything from glass perfume bottles to ceramic tiles to rubber yoga mats. They are also the best thing to use for mirror seating charts - if you’re wondering how, head here, where my boo Sylvia explains perfectly how to create one.

Honourable Mention: Posca Markers. Oh, how I wish you were permanent.

Rhodia Paper Pad

Just the smoothest.This paper is my go-to for calligraphy practice, warmup exercises and client mockups. I’ll never understand how such a delicate paper can withstand nib & ink calligraphy without any ink bleeding, it boggles my mind, but I am here for it.

Honourable Mention: Not even. Just get a Rhodia pad.

Drawing & Art Supplies:

Sakura Micron Pens

These have been my favourites basically since birth. They come in a wide range of sizes so you can get ridiculously, crazy fine details (use the .005 for the teeny tiny ones), all the way through to very thick line work. I know there are a billion pens out there, but these are truly the only ones you will ever really need. Pro Tip (and this actually kind of goes against my anti-pen-hoarding philosophy): Keep your old Micron pens, even when they start to run out of ink. I like to write on my older pens with sharpie to know which ones are older & losing their ink flow, so I can use them to achieve less opaque or lighter effects! (Dispose of them when they really have no ink left, obviously!)

Honourable Mention: Sakura Pigma Sense Pens. Hello Sakura, I love you.

Fabriano Watercolor Paper

Just so good. I use this for watercolor painting as well as calligraphy, and I actually prefer cold press to hot press. However, most people would probably prefer hot press for using a nib and ink, because it has a smooth texture. When choosing between hot press of cold press watercolor paper, I think it’s a matter of personal preference. When deciding on which type of paper you’ll use for calligraphy, it’s a matter of preference as well as how long you want to keep your nib in good shape (the textured paper will wear it down faster).

Honourable Mention: Arches. Because it’s literally perfection but way too expensive for me to not feel too nervous to paint on.

Winsor & Newton Watercolors

My go-to watercolors. Highly pigmented, smooth and reliable- and not ridiculously expensive either, especially for the quality level. You can buy them in a variety of different forms - I usually do tubes so I can mix custom colors easily, but I’ve recently realized that I have a bad habit of letting the tubes dry out, so I might be switching to the tray of colors next time I replenish my supplies!

Honourable Mention: Holbein. I lust after them, but only own 3 because $$$.

So those are my top picks! If you want to check out my other favourites, I have a full shop on Amazon where you can see all my preferred art & calligraphy supplies.

*Please Note: This post contains affiliate links for Amazon’s Influencer program, which means if you make a purchase using my referral links, I get a small commission. I never promote anything I haven’t tried and loved myself - Plus buying something you would be buying anyway with an affiliate link is a really nice way of supporting creatives who give away so much of their knowledge and time for free!*

5 Mistakes I’ve Made In My Calligraphy Business

You guys already know I love to talk about business, and while I try to focus on the positive/educational side of things, I think it’s just as important to talk about the trial & error that we all go through on our business journeys. Most of what I know about business, truly, has come from making lots - and lots - of mistakes.

This has been me way more times than I would like to admit.

This has been me way more times than I would like to admit.

In honour of the exciting new online course that I created with Sylvia Wong of Via Calligraphy, (which is called The Badass Brand Academy, and is all about helping other creatives avoid these growing pains and get on the fast track to successful business babe life) - I thought I would share some of the mistakes that I’ve made in my own business. So here we go…

5 Mistakes I made in my Calligraphy Business

1. Spending too much time on the wrong tasks.

When I think back to how much time I wasted “perfecting” my website - tweaking the colours, agonizing over the fonts, switching templates 18 times - I honestly shudder. I was so consumed by the aesthetic aspect (which is important, don’t get me wrong, but not something you should spend 80 hours on - especially when you haven’t made any money yet!) that I completely ignored the things that would have actually made a difference to my business right away. Things like SEO, creating engaging content & blog posts, building an e-mail list, and crafting the message behind my brand. If I could go back in time, I would have learned everything I could about all those things first, slapped together a website in a day, and worried about the aesthetics later!

2. Being too shy to enforce my own policies.

Now that I’m a weathered old bat/cold-hearted business bitch (I mean…not really. But kind of.) I almost never make this mistake anymore. Sadly I do still catch myself letting small things slide that I know I shouldn’t. Being more assertive is something I’m always working on, because I do worry about being perceived as difficult or demanding. However in the early days, I was so shy that I would borderline not even ask to be paid. I would do work without a deposit, or without a contract, I would run around town delivering signage without charging for my time, I would wait around for weeks for an invoice to be paid and not make a peep. I allowed myself to be walked all over time and time again. Eventually I decided enough was enough, and now I hardly ever waver from my policies (which are fairly strict - ex. A late fee of 5% of the total project cost is charged per day that an invoice is late). But I do wish that there had been someone there to take my face in their hands and give me a sassy pep talk - I would have avoided many crying-into-a-tub-of-ice-cream moments (…and I probably would have made a ton of money on late fees. Going back to my Blockbuster roots, y’know?)

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3. Pretending that money didn’t matter.

I got into this whole calligraphy biz thing because I am an artist at heart - not a business-person. I just truly want to create beautiful things, and I genuinely never expected to make more than a mostly-adequate living from art. I used to think I would just be grateful to be able to pay my bills doing what I loved, and wanting anything more than that was somehow wrong, or greedy. That is, after all, kind of the narrative that’s out there for a lot of artists. I felt like there was a pretty low ceiling to how much I could ever make. After a while though, I realized that I have just as much of a right to make a comfortable living as anyone else in any other field. That I shouldn’t hold myself back because of societal expectations, or outdated concepts like the “Starving Artist”. It took time and a lot of un-learning of ingrained ideas, but I gradually shifted my money mindset, and made my finances a top priority instead of an afterthought.

4. Thinking that Saying No was a bad thing.

Guys. Saying “No” is basically my new favourite thing. I used to say yes to every project & every client, thinking it made me innovative and bold to always be trying new things, even if I wasn’t completely sure I knew how. When I first left my full-time job, I also felt like I wasn’t in a position to turn down work, so that led to a lot of projects I had absolutely no business taking on. There’s always a little spark of excitement when someone contacts you for a job - and then another feeling when you read the description of that job: either more excitement…or a pang of dread. I would say yes either way. Until one day, I got an email for something completely out of my wheelhouse - someone who was opening a restaurant, and wanted a full sign painted on the outdoor awning of their new establishment, in a vintage serif lettering style. I furiously googled sign-painting, trying to convince myself I could figure it out, and then I stumbled upon the website of Mr.Sign - another Montreal lettering artist who specializes in restaurant signage. And it occurred to me…I could just refer the client to him. He actually knows how to do this. So I did, and a huge wave of relief passed through me as I pressed “send” on that e-mail. Turns out, the feeling of liberation when saying “No” to something you either don’t know how, or don’t want to do - well, it’s fucking fabulous.

5. Trying to go it alone.

As someone who works alone at home all day, I have had a lot of one-sided conversations with my dog. And as much as he is an adorable angel who supports and loves me unconditionally, he can’t really give me any feedback when I have a situation or an idea that I need help working through. That’s why I’m extremely happy that I finally have an amazing group of fellow boss babes who I regularly talk to, bounce ideas off of, and occasionally ask to talk me off a ledge for one reason or another. I enjoy being independent, and as an introvert - I love my alone time - but it’s really lovely to have somewhere to turn when you need valuable advice or a second opinion. Being self employed can be isolating, and it’s super important to have a supportive network that you can rely on. You absolutely don’t have to go it alone, and you shouldn’t! It’s a lot better for your sanity to surround yourself with like-minded creatives when you need it.

So, those are 5 of the many mistakes that I made when in the early days of calligraphy business. Thankfully I learned from each of them, and they’re the reason I was able to change and grow my business. If you enjoyed this post, it would mean the world to me if you would share the below image on Pinterest, so more people can learn what not to do!

PS. If you’re in the market for a business road-map that will help you break through your self doubt and turn your hobby into a high end business, Syl and I created the perfect online for you! Check out The Badass Brand Academy here - Enrollment is currently closed, but grab a spot on the waitlist to be notified when the next semester starts!

How I started my Calligraphy Business

How I started my calligraphy business

The questions I get asked the most, by far, are “How did you get started in calligraphy?” and “How did you start your Calligraphy Business?”

The short, but not super helpful version is this:

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The longer version is almost too long and is not your average “calligraphy journey”. The story, in a way, spans my entire life. If you’re interested in reading basically my life story, you’re in the right place! If you’d prefer to learn about the more tangible, actionable steps involved in starting a creative business, I’m actually doing a Webinar on this very subject in two weeks, with Sylvia Wong of Via Calligraphy. If you’d rather skip my long-winded diatribe and just watch the webinar, go here to sign up!

Okay, so. Back to my life story. I am one of those people who picked up a pencil at like 3 years old and just basically never stopped drawing, and never really cared about anything else. I am incredibly lucky to have super supportive parents who signed me up for art lessons when I was 9, and I attended an after-school art class every Tuesday until I was 17 and started college (Quebec is weird that way and we do less high school, but kind of double-college).

I was always going to be an artist, it was just a question of what medium and in what capacity. But, given that my college years & the early stages of my career coincided with a really strange, transitional time in the art world, I struggled to find my place for almost a decade. I dropped out of my first college art program (Illustration & Design) because it drained my creativity - basically I went from drawing every day of my life for fun, to dreading the act of sitting down to draw. That totally broke my heart, and I knew it wasn’t worth sticking with something that affected me so negatively. So, I switched into a more lighthearted program (Visual Arts) in order to graduate with my artistic soul intact. It was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and was totally based on my gut instinct.

In 2009, I took a year off from school and tried incredibly hard to make something close to a living from art (while also working at Blockbuster! Can you believe?!). This was before Instagram was a thing, so even though I did things like host my own art shows, had an Etsy shop and would post my paintings & drawings anywhere on the internet that I could (hi, Deviantart, Tumblr, and MySpace!) I hardly made a dime. I went back to school in 2010, enrolling in Fine Arts at Concordia University, but ultimately dropped out after one year (#artschooldropout). I never felt like I had the theory behind my work to be one of those fancy artists who shows at galleries, but also didn’t understand the mysterious world of commercial art or how to break into it. Even though I had a lot of skills and passion, I lacked focus and didn’t have the tools to turn myself into an entrepreneur at that point. So, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would never make a living as an artist. I bounced around in other jobs that were at least a little artsy, first as a makeup artist and then as a graphic designer…but nothing ever felt right or made me feel whole. There was always something missing, and it hurt. I was a big sad mess and I would cry in my car on my way to work every day. (#emolife)

And then in 2015, randomly and without really knowing what calligraphy was, I enrolled in a Copperplate Calligraphy class (taught by Joy Deneen, who is the best). I fell in love with it instantly, and finally felt like I had stumbled upon a medium that I could really focus on and build something around. After the course (which was in-person and 8 weeks long!) was done, I had not just a new hobby to focus on after getting home from my 9 to 5, but a mission. I was deeply miserable at my day job, and was already planning on making serious moves towards leaving it and pursuing a freelance career. Calligraphy was the catalyst that made me really take action. I practiced constantly, paying extra attention to developing my own style and making the kind of things that I wanted to eventually get hired to do.

It took me a long time, and a lot of hideous work (PSA: When you learn a new artistic skill, you will have about 100 pieces of just-plain-bad art in you, that you’ll need to get out of your system! #Facts) before I started taking on “real” clients. In the Summer of 2016 I worked my first Wedding Season, which included a few disastrous situations - particularly one on-site seating chart that I actually contemplated running away from halfway through. Even though my work was not perfect and the jobs were coming in sporadically, at the end of that summer I took a bit of an insane leap of faith and quit my full-time graphic design job to pursue being a freelance calligrapher & artist.

I’m a naturally artistic person, not a naturally business-minded person, so turning my creative passion into a business was a steep learning curve for me. Admittedly, I leapt a little too soon, and even though I had savings when I quit - it wasn’t the most financially sound move. If I could go back in time, maybe I would have tried to tough it out a little longer at my old job, at least until I had a firmer grasp on the business side of things. It took me a solid year of working for myself to really find my footing and start bringing in the kind of money that I could actually support myself with. Now, 2.5 years into being my own boss, I am very comfortable calling myself a “business lady” - thanks to lots and lots and lots of trial & error, many late nights pouring over business articles & books, years of failures & mistakes behind me to keep me motivated, and a teeny tiny bit of luck.

Being a “#girlboss” or whatever isn’t all sunshine and rainbows - there are many really hard days, times you’ll go from feeling like a badass to feeling like the biggest loser on the planet in the span of an hour, there are downright painful tasks (oh accounting, how I loathe you) and many, many speed bumps along the road. It’s not for the faint of heart, and requires a high level of commitment and perseverance.

(Channeling Moira from Schitt’s Creek is not a bad idea at all…)

(Channeling Moira from Schitt’s Creek is not a bad idea at all…)

That being said, starting a creative business doesn’t have to be such a long, arduous, emotional process - and I truly hope that for most people it’s not. It is more possible than ever before to actually get to be your own boss, and to live the dream of making money while working from home with no pants on. The internet & social media have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for people who never quite fit in the “traditional career” box. It just happened to take me a really long time to master it because I was going it alone, and didn’t have anyone to show me what to do or how. So that, babes, is why - along with my friend/low-key idol Syl I’ve put together the Webinar I mentioned earlier in this post. It’s going to be a Free Masterclass (!) all about the key steps you need to take to kickstart your creative career path. This is the kind of knowledge that I would have literally killed for 3 years ago. And we’re giving it away for free because 1) We Love You and 2) We genuinely don’t want other future ladybosses to have to go it alone like we did. You can sign up for it here! (and I promise it will be much more concise and less ramble-y than this blog post).

When I was a student, and then a struggling aspiring artist, all I really wanted was to make a living doing what I loved. And especially as a Millenial, I grew up with that narrative - the whole idea that what you do for work should also be what you’re passionate about. That you could do anything you want in life, if you just put your mind to it. But for most of my 20’s, I felt like that had all been a lie. A big, stupid, idealistic fairytale. What I was missing (which I feel silly about, in retrospect) was the understanding that no one was going to hand me my dream job - I was going to have to create it. So now that I have, I get to be the one to say it’s possible. You just have to put in the work. And I am so excited to show you how in a couple of weeks.

If you actually read this entire thing, you honestly deserve a medal (or at least a box of chicken nuggets).

Hopefully you found some value in it, and if so It would mean the world to me if you could either share this blog post on Pinterest or tell a friend about the upcoming webinar!

XOXO,

Jodi