James Bates
James Bates
29th May 2015

A couple of months ago at Clearleft we embarked a collective personal-project called 100 days. I wrote about it here, but it’s now been going for 68 days and we’ve amassed nearly 600 posts on our tumblog. Despite losing quite a few collegues along the way there’s a few of the team still going strong.

My personal operation was to create a piece of hand lettering from some aspect of my day, and in doing so I’ve had a some thoughts and reflections about the process. As we now head into the final month I thought it would be interesting to capture them.

It’s more difficult than I thought

Doing the same thing again and again each day is hard. It’s hard fitting it into a already busy day, filled with work, home & family life. Some days it’s a real struggle, much more than I thought it was going to be. Often I struggle for inspiration, other times I feel like I’m repeating myself or the outcome was less than satisfactory.

Is it sustainable?

For the first month or so I was convinced I’d picked something too difficult to sustain every day. But I realised that it was me making the task harder than it needed to be, making things too elaborate or expecting them to be perfect. I quickly learned to adjust the complexity to suit. if I have time I do something more time consuming then I will, if not, then I keep it quick and simple.

Letting go of perfection.

The first few days took me ages (often over an hour), as I tried to make them as perfect as I could. I often ended up starting over and over until I got it to a point that I was either satisfied or too fed up to do it again. I had to remind myself that I’m supposed to be learning something and the value is in the process not the output in this case. To be sustainable I had to be happy for them to be less than perfect. I’ve also had to resist the urge to digitise them and further perfect them in Illustrator – although it’s something I might do with a few of them once I’ve finished.

Making the time

As I said above, fitting it in is difficult. In the first few weeks I experimented with doing them at different times of the day. But I soon found that the time that naturally worked best for me was in the evening after the kids are in bed, but before I’ve mentally shut down for the day. We all use the excuse that “I haven’t got enough time” I certainly have. But I surprised myself and found that once I’ve sat myself down at the kitchen table I often find myself being quite productive and immersed in what I’m doing. I’m also watching a lot less trashy TV which can only be good.

Initial sketches are often better

I allow myself one sheet of paper to do some exploratory, compositional sketching before I commit it to ink on another page. I’ve noticed that often the quick pencil sketches have a lot more fluidity and freedom than the final piece. In my desire to perfect them they lose something. In recreating what I’ve just sketched and trying to be precise with the pen means lines and shapes become contrived and stilted. I’ve gotten better at this as the project has moved on, now often finding myself sketching quickly and then just inking over it directly.

Size matters

I initial started working in an A5 Moleskine sketchbook, but soon realised than it’s form and size was constraining me. The spine would often get in the way when I was sketching and it’s portrait shape would mean my compositors would inherit that format. I’d often run out of space when I wanted to create a larger composition or create more expressive shapes. I’ve now moved onto using just plain old A4 printer paper. The size is about right and it’s cheapness means I’m less precious about —and more free with— the marks I make. That said they do have a tendency to bleed, especially when using fineliner pens, so I’m considering buying an A4 marker pad instead.

New tools

I’m a total sucker for nice pens and stationary (Cult Pens is your friend for these) and this was the perfect excuse to buy some new ones. I could of quite easily have done this task with just a pencil and paper, but having nice tools and experimenting with them is part of what keeps it interesting for me. A chisel tipped pen sure makes calligraphy and blackletter type easier and I’ve enjoyed using these brush pens - despite still not feeling like I have control of them.

My handwriting is terrible

Finally, despite being a designer —and working with type everyday— my handwriting is terrible. I rarely write cursive or in any length. What I do is often restricted to the few words that can be squeezed onto a Post-it and often in all caps. I don’t remember being taught how to form letters at school —I’m sure I probably was— but having to repeatedly draw them out has given me much more of an appreciation for how letterforms and words are constructed.

So that’s it, with a month to go I’m still really enjoying the process, but I can’t wait for it to finish. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourites so far:

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