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Lettering, Words, and Learning


I've been lettering quotes and lyrics and verses and invitations...for decades. Some thoughts about the process.

A smart friend taught her daughter the alphabet by having her draw the letters with her little index finger...in cookie dough rolled out on the counter. Some of us learn best when an action in our hand forces the information into our brains, as if we were squeezing it out of a toothpaste tube. I think that people whose thoughts run far and wide are helped by a process that forces us to focus.

Lettering is like drawing. Every letter of the alphabet has its own personality, and wears different fonts like I wear different shirts. I once re-designed my business card because the otherwise-friendly font had an uppercase M that scowled. Now I hand-letter business promo material, and can make the M as cheerful as the day is long.

So, I choose a style for the letters. Then comes the task of assembling them into verses or paragraphs, and the variables multiply exponentially. Now each letter's shape has to play well with the other letters on the page. And the words must be arranged with respect to the other words, heeding the spaces between the letters (the word for this process is "kerning," and was an art form back in the days before computers), keeping the spacing consistent and then managing the line breaks so they don't break the meaning--fighting the dictates of space and the constraints of readability--the process of writing out a quote or song or verse is a challenge on lots of levels. Then I have to decide if an illustration is warranted, and manage the whole shebang without my left-handedness smearing the ink or the paint.

But, when I'm done, I find the words have wormed their way deeper into my mind, along the same channels through which my friend's daughter absorbed the alphabet. I find this a good way to meditate, if you will, on certain writings, because the lettering process slows down my hasty way of thinking, and encourages depth, just as writing out an argument or a point of view orders the material in a way just thinking about it does not encourage. If I'm like a squirrel on a treadmill on a certain subject, writing it out is helpful.


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