Q&A with Grace Song

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Q: Please tell me what sparked your interest in lettering and calligraphy.

A: I’ve always been drawn to beautiful lettering and calligraphy but it didn’t occur to me that I could learn the skills myself until the summer of 2015.  While surfing online one day shortly after the summer holidays started (I am a full-time elementary school teacher), I came across someone’s beautiful wedding calligraphy and in an instant I knew that now was the time to learn.  I had the luxury of having time off of work to really delve into this new skill and took advantage of it.  After more Googling, I came across artists who used different tools like brush pens and the pointed pen and realized that there were a slew of tutorials and helpful information that I could learn from.  Although I intended to start with the pointed pen, I thought using brush pens were more approachable so I started with those and never looked back.  The more I got into it, the more I was exposed to different styles, from traditional to modern, created with different tools and on different mediums.  The idea that I could take this learning in different directions and as far as I would like to take it, really excited me.

 

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Q: What made you decide to invest the time to nurture your love of lettering and develop your own style?

 A: When I first started learning, I found Nina Tran (@anintran) and Sharisse DeLeon (@piecescalligraphy) on Instagram and they had just made an announcement about creating a daily alphabet challenge and, thus, @handletteredabcs was born.  With Nina using the pointed pen and Sharisse using the brush pen, one letter a day was to be introduced, modelled, and practiced.  The idea of tackling one letter a day was very manageable so I decided to join along.  Learning the alphabet in 26 days was a goal that I had confidence in attaining, especially with the support and encouragement I received by posting my progress on Instagram.  The lettering community is incredible for that.  I also realized how therapeutic it was to spend time doing art, creating something with my own hands. Simply speaking, because it made me happy and it was just for me, it was easy to invest the time to nurture my love of lettering.  In terms of developing a style, I think it’s really important to feel that your style best represents you while embracing the nuances in your lettering that exist because it was created by your own hand.  Through practice, my style has definitely changed since I first started but I would still describe it as being “clean and simple”.  Over the last couple of years, I have spent time to experiment different lettering styles, serif, sans serif, and so on, to build my repertoire and be able to provide clients with something that is catered to their needs but stays within my skill set.  As I continue to learn, I know that my style will continue to evolve but will still represent me.

 
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Q: What are some projects that you’ve worked on that stand out to you?

A: A few months ago, Liz and Jon, the owners of Wonderpens, asked me if I could design a piece for their amazing chalkboard wall.  It was so much fun to go from a pencil sketch to something life-sized in chalk!  I’ve also recently revamped my basic stroke and alphabet worksheets by incorporating more of what I’ve learned along the way and what I thought would be helpful to beginners.  It means a lot to me because not only did I come far in terms of learning how to digitize my work, thus, being able to create the worksheets, but also because it means I have a way of helping others.  The how-to book is definitely a stand-out project which I’ll share more of down below.  When presented with the opportunity, I was both terrified and excited, which I took as a sign to take the project on!

 
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Q: You share your love of brush lettering and calligraphy by teaching workshops – what advice would you give to someone starting out?

A: Just like with any other skill, it takes time and practice to develop and improve.  In a time of instant gratification, it’s so easy to get frustrated when you don’t get the results that you want quickly.  I promise that with consistent and purposeful practice, you will see results.  Sure, practicing for hours every day will lead to quicker results, but it doesn’t mean that you have to – more importantly, use the time that you do have, whether that be 15 minutes or an hour, and carve out that time on a consistent basis.  That could mean every day but it could also mean every other day or every few days.  Learn the rules first – understand why the basic strokes are foundational to your letterforms and aim for consistency in your strokes rather than perfection.  I would also recommend documenting your progress – that could mean keeping some practice pages and writing the date on them.  Day to day, you may not see much improvement but you’d be surprised with the progress that you see over weeks or months.  You could also open an Instagram account dedicated to just lettering and calligraphy.  Being a visual social media platform, it is a fantastic way of building a portfolio of your progress and eventually any projects that you work on.  In addition, it’s a great way to connect with others who are into lettering as well which leads me to another point.  There are so many knowledgeable and skillful people in this lettering community who are so willing to share their tips and tricks.  Don’t be afraid to interact, start a conversation, and ask questions.  I was pleasantly surprised with how open most people are with where they get their supplies, what process they follow for creating a specific look or style, or what tool to use for a tricky type of surface.  Developing your own style requires that you break the rules.  It takes time and requires the making of deliberate choices, for example, to incorporate different lettering styles in one piece, have oversized loops, or highly flourished lettering.  In any case, you will find that your lettering style will change over time as you learn what elements best represent your personality and aesthetic.  And remember, your hand, not someone else’s, creates the lettering so embrace the nuances that make your lettering unique to you.  All in all, just have fun!  Don’t take it too seriously.  If lettering makes you happy, that’s all that matters!

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Q: You and two fellow calligraphers started the Toronto Lettering Crew, and you host meet-ups. Please tell us more about the meet-ups. 

A: Carmen (@thunderloftpaper), Erica (@ep_lettering) and I have been hold meet-ups once every 2 months or so. People of all different levels of experience attend and bring their own supplies to work with.  We have so much fun chatting about tools, supplies, tips and techniques, resources, and everything in-between! Over the last year or so, it has been amazing to see this community grow.  Holding these meet-ups has been a great way for letterers to connect with others who share this passion.  As artists, many of us work alone in our (home) studios so coming out to meet new people is a way that we can boost our creativity and stay inspired.  We set up Facebook and Instagram pages so that we can interact with each other online in a space that is positive, uplifting, and safe.  On these pages, we showcase artists’ work through the hashtag #torontoletteringcrew and, in the future, we hope to develop more ways to engage our growing community.

 
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Q: You have a step-by-step decorative script workbook being released. What was it like to develop the workbook and break down the lettering process?

A: I had four months to write 30,000 words and accompanying photographs all while working full-time.  Needless to say, it was daunting but I knew that with the support of my publisher, Ulysses Press, it could be done…well, it had to be done!  One of the first tasks was to write a chapter outline.  My goal was to write an instructional book for the beginner letterer that would set her up for success and be a resource that she could constantly revisit after having some practice.  I wanted to include everything from the basics, to troubleshooting, creating letterforms, tips for practicing, and applying your new-found skills to DIY projects.  From beginning to end, the book takes you on a learning journey that progressively builds on the skills learned previously.  After I got the green signal to work with the chapter outline, I broke down the work into weekly chunks.  I gave myself a goal to write 2,000 words a week along with shooting and editing photos; it was like running a marathon, keeping up with a steady pace so that I could complete the project on time and with some time to spare in case anything went wrong.  Breaking down the lettering process and being able to articulate clearly how to do something that is so visually-based was probably one of the hardest parts.  That’s why the photos are so important.  I chuckle thinking back to how I took photographs, always waiting for natural light, balancing a white foam board off my shoulder at times, and having to press the shutter button with my left hand so that I could have my right hand in the photograph!  I hope that I was able to clearly demonstrate how to letter through the combination of text and photographs and that it is well received by my audience.

 
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Any favourite supplies?

A: I have too many!  For large-tipped brush pens, I love using Tombow Dual Brush Pens (I learned with these first!), Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pens, Kuretake Zig Brushables, and Artline Stix.  For small-tipped brush pens, Tombow Fudenosuke Hard and Soft Tips, as well as, Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pens are a must! For brush lettering, my favourite paper to use is Rhodia, particularly the dotted pad.  The dots make for perfect guidelines and the paper itself is so buttery smooth.  For a more economic alternative, I use the HP Premium Choice Laser Paper (32 lb.).  It is also smooth and has a bit of weight to it.  For watercolour lettering, I absolutely love using Ecoline Liquid Watercolors.  The inks are bright, ready to use right out of the bottle, and are fabulous for blending.  The paper that I generally use for watercolour lettering is Canson XL Watercolor Cold Press.  One final tool that I cannot live without is the Huion Light Pad.  It’s great for when you want to use a guide sheet underneath your practice paper and especially when making several iterations of a layout design.