Yesterday I had an eep moment.
See, I’ve enrolled in a course called “Lettering with the Masters” from the amazing Heather Martinez (seriously, even if you’re not interested in lettering, just study her marketing funnel and deliverable videos and digital content. She really knows what she’s doing.)
The idea is that every month she interviews a “Rockstar” of the lettering/visual practice world, and you (the student) get the chance to ask the guests directly for input (or, if you miss the live broadcast, you get to see the re-broadcast).
I had gone through the first segment, where Corinna Keeling talked about her work as an urban artist using (mainly) the medium of chalk and the street. It has literally changed the way I write, sketchnote, you name it. My friend recently needed a sign with his last name on it to pick up his kids from school, and I eagerly dug out my brush pen as I confidently said “I got this…”
But…I’m new at this. I’ve probably practiced it for about an hour, tops. Sure, I’m trying to put it into practice wherever I can…but in spite of the tremendous confidence granted to me by a world literally designed for my convenience, I’m not that good at it yet.
The Terrible Challenge of Praise
I also am a firm believer in documenting your own process, and sharing the challenges and progression, which is why my Instagram for CreativeGrayVisual exists. There’s a thriving community of letterers, visual recorders & facilitators, and sketchnoters on the platform, and it’s inspirational and makes me feel a part of this community.
Yesterday my friends’ daughter (who we’re watching, along with her siblings, while their parents enjoy a well-deserved vacation) invited me outside to do chalk drawings with her. I seized the opportunity with perhaps more gusto than was warranted, resulting in the image you see above (in case you’re wondering, it’s half of a quote from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and no, I was not about to put the second part of the quote on my friends’ porch).
Dutifully, I took a picture and posted it to Instagram, making a joke about being “Bert from Mary Poppins” and of course giving credit for the inspiration and style to Corinna Keeling.
Of course, she saw it. And she commented back: Swoon!
Not “Good job.Not “Keep it up”. ” Not “That’s an interesting start to a possibly legible style.” No, that was not just praise, it was praise that made me blush.
And instantly, the voices were in my head: Of course she said that, it’s social media, she’s protecting her brand. You know it’s a smudgy mess. She’s really laughing and showing her friends just how ridiculous that old guy in flyover country is to think he can emulate her style.
Thankfully, those voices are not so much “loud” in my head as they are “tinny and distant locked away in a glass jar in a pantry in my soul marked voices we do not listen to.”
Learning to Love the Journey
But I confess, the pantry is pretty damn full. I can see all the things I wish were better about that drawing, and at the same time I can see things that I really like about it. The challenge is to extend to myself and my early work the same love and compassion I would share with others – while at the same time keeping myself uncomfortable enough to stay in that zone of Deliberate Practice.
I like the piece. I love lettering, and creating things with my hands in a way that I’ve not done much of in my life. It’s not a matter of whether I love the things when I’m doing them.
The challenge is to love them when they’re done, even if they are imperfect, and even if – or perhaps because they are helpful signposts showing me the direction I need to go.