This weekend I have been lettering. Extreme lettering, you could call it. A crash course in creating, refining and imagining shapes, serifs and flounces. Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? As silly as it may sound, I was somewhat intimidated at first. I can have neat handwriting . . . when I really try. But most of the time it’s a cross between a sloppy cursive mixed with a few block letters thrown in where my cursive ones don’t make the cut. I knew I had a lot of work to do.
It started off easy enough, block lettering, keeping a keen eye on proportions and angles. Then shadowing and adding serifs –aka the fun details that make letters unique and captivating. Up to this point, I had examples to follow, letters to trace invisibly in my mind onto the sheets of white paper. Now I was expected to imagine, to create, to dream, all on my own. It was a scary thought.
I’m usually a rule follower. I follow the guidelines, color within the lines and never let my pen stray from the form I am imitating. Now the possibilities were endless . . . and I drew a blank. Has this ever happened to you? You become so used to staying within the black lines that when you are given free reign to do whatever your creative heart desires, you cannot begin to fathom where to start?
It’s been a very long time since I’ve just sat down, no parameters, no end goal, and just let myself create. In fact, I’m not quite sure that I’ve ever done that, except maybe as a child sitting with a blank white sheet of paper and a full box of 64, sharpened crayons in front of me. I had no idea where to begin. It took awhile to reignite the creative right side of my brain, but eventually, without fear of failing or messing up, I dug in and let the spark grow into a small fire. Thus, began my weekend of lettering. I know. I lead a pretty exciting life.
I think words may have been my first love. I fell in love with them at an early age. I can still remember the huge, beautiful world they opened up for me when I realized there were hundreds, thousands, millions of books just waiting to be read. I can still remember the first hard covered, library checked-out book (although the name now escapes me) that told a mysterious and wondrous tale of the Lipizzaner Stallions. Stately, white horses that danced on the ground and in the air, with riders clothed in dramatic red coats and hats – it was no wonder I was mesmerized in the third grade. I read and reread that book over and over, I loved the magical world it escorted me to. And as I closed my eyes to dream at night, I would find myself swept away to the land of the Lipizzaners, their intricate hoofed ballet under my direction.
Then came the “Create Your Own Adventure” books, where myself, the reader, had the chance to make my own decisions throughout the book. If I crossed the bridge, I was to turn to page 84. If I took the right turn instead, I was to turn to page 70. They resulted in endless hours of reading and flipping, turning back and changing my decision to find out where that one would lead me instead.
Although surely not the touted literary works that someone in the fourth and fifth grades should be reading for class, the books taught me that endings can be dreamed up in mass quantities. The tale spun and its ending can change along the way until that final last page. The tales of Ramona Quimby, James and the Giant Peach, The Indian in the Cupboard, Tuck Everlasting, The Black Stallion,Charlotte’s Web, the Little House on the Prairie series and the like ensued.
I entered college, knowing most certainly that I would study journalism and become a journalist in the news world. Isn’t that how every new college freshman begins, with a set dream in mind? No quicker than I had taken my first college level journalism class, I was quite certain that I could not, would not become a news journalist. The rules, the fact finding, the verifying, the cold-hard-facts prose process put an abrupt end to the sort of writing I thought I was to pursue.
I did, however, find quiet solace in my literature classes where I could analyze, question and appreciate words in their more beautiful, poetic form. Where one word could seem so perfectly placed that it could not possibly exist anywhere else. The possibilities of strings of words, with lilted alliteration, were endless. There were always more possibilities. I was unbound by rules, other than proper grammar and sentence structure, free to use nouns, verbs, synonyms and descriptives as I so desired to convey thoughts.
A couple of years ago, while serving as the recording secretary in an organization, I found myself with no better explanation for my long, drawn out minutes except that I . . . . loved words. It is true. I love words. I love what deep memories they can affect. I love what images they can conjure and the feelings they can emote. To me, there is just something about words on a page, simplistic in their beauty, yet enduring and timeless.
That’s what I thought before this weekend of extreme lettering. While I still will always appreciate a white page covered with words, I’m learning how to illustrate words here and there with whimsy and creativity. To draw attention to the details and to let a page full of black and white text . . . laugh every once in awhile.
As I practiced and created this weekend, I was taken with the finality and the intentionality of tracing over my penciled-in preliminary lines with a black pen. It gave it a formality, a permanence of existing in something more than erasable lead. The contrast of black line on white emptiness is dramatic and severe. Beautiful, even in quivering lines, shaky shadows and eraser smudges.
To give words, with an inner beauty all their own, a beautiful, unique presence all my own is kind of fun. To convey artistry into the technicality and rules of words and letters is exciting. So let the fun begin! The doors have been opened to a whole new world.
I am a fan of CBS’ Sunday Morning (another sign that I lead a very exciting life) and a few weeks ago they did a story on Apple’s outsourcing of the production of its iPhones and iPads. This wasn’t the part that caught my attention and I in NO way want to get into that discussion. At the very end of the segment, one of the interviewees made a very small comment, a one line sentence at the very end that really made me stop and think. I’m not going to quote the poor guy for fear of shredding his eloquent quote inadequately, but the bottom line was this:
Even things as seemingly technical as iPhones, iPads
and computers, are still handmade.
There are not necessarily huge machines, churning out computer after computer. Or mobile device after mobile device. These intricate, beautiful technological advancements are still assembled by hand. In a world where everything is cold, hard and machine-made it is quite impressive to think that there are still things, and beautiful, surprising things in our world, made precisely by hand. It gives you a new appreciation for that sleek, gorgeous device in your hand, doesn’t it?
It got me thinking about my letters and words this weekend. We all have hands. And we all have the ability to use our hands to create, hand-made things of beauty. We don’t necessarily need a machine, a robot or a computer to do it. We can carve, cut, mold, draw, paint, write, design and dream, no technical assistance necessary.
So as I sit down in front of my letters again, I am reminded that perfection can be in the little imperfections. The not-so-straight lines, the black ink blots and the colored marks that escape the lines, all proving its handmade uniqueness. May we all find perfection in our imperfections and let our lives “laugh” with a little whimsy here and there.