Creative New Year's Resolutions: Five Rules for Great Work

Studio 360

Garman Herigstad started 2015 with an ambitious resolution: he plans onhand-letteringthe entire Book of Proverbsto practice calligraphy. He's already startedtheproject, soHerigstaddecided towrite down a few goals for the next 9 months.

March Update:
It's been a two months since I started my calligraphy adventure with Proverbs. I've decided to setmyself some ground rules.

1) Avoid making revisions for the first few months
My main goal for this project is toimprove my calligraphy skills by doing a LOT of work. Improvement will come over time. IfI try to make revisions too early in the progress, I'll loose the benefit of the greater skills Ihope to acquire over time.

Day 9 of my creative resolution, mixing small caps with large italic

2) Work from alphabet-style memory for the first few weeks
The last time I did anysignificant calligraphy was about 1986, just before my daughter Lydia was born and mycareer in computer animation began. I still have a pretty good memory of the variousstyles I did then.Now I'm trying to just build back the skill of moving my hand and arm smoothly, and I cando that fine with the styles I'm familiar with.

3) Study layout and design
I had worked as an illustrator, lettering artist, calligrapher andgraphic designer before my computer animation career. Over time those old skills becamerusty. That career was in the pre-Macintosh era when art and printing preparation weredone by hand, referred to as "mechanicals" and "paste-ups." Type was expensive and weindicated type with pencil gibberish called greeking.Those old skills are still valuable now that I'm doing calligraphy and hand lettering. I'm alsoreading modern graphic design textbooks, master calligraphy books, and anything I canget on traditional sign painting.

 A completed proverb

4) Do a lot of work
On a 2002 trip back to Thailand to visit my cousin, I brought asketchbook with me instead of a camera. I showed my trip drawings to my mother, whoremarked how bad my drawing had become. She can't remember saying that, and shewasn't being mean, just factual.Before I worked with computer graphics I had been drawing often. I spent second grade inCopenhagen after my grandfather died. My mom, sister and I went to visit mygrandmother, who emotionally fell apart after her husband died and didn't want to let mymother leave. So my sister and I were put in a Danish school for a year. The teacher I haddidn't want to spend effort teaching the American boy Danish, and gave me sketchbooksso I could sit and draw while my classmates were doing their lessons. My mom was angryand arranged for a tutor to teach me Danish when I came home from school. But I sure dida lot of drawing.After my mom's comments on my vacation sketchbook, I decided to take a sketchbook withme everywhere I went. I moved to Beijing for a couple of years and drew in my spare time.I was working half-time on feature film effects and spent most of the rest of the time inStarbucks, the subway, the bus or restaurants drawing. At first I was shy about drawing inpublic. In Beijing it's difficult to avoid people, who were curious about my drawing. I gotmany requests for me to draw people's pictures. Free models for the price of a cup ofcoffee. In the two years I was in Beijing I did about 20-40 drawing each day. With 4000+drawings (I gave away about 10%) my skills improved.I hope that experience with doing a lot of work will have the same benefit with doing a lotof calligraphy and hand lettering.

5) Periodically Evaluate My Progress
I'm not holding sacred (no pun intended) the first fewmonths of my works, and need to go though with a pencil and mark-up any improvementsI need to make to the works I've produced. Perhaps for later revising the verses I'vecompleted. But more-so to improve my eye for the new works I'll be doing.There's more goals for me in the coming weeks. Working with new pens, brushes, inks andvarious papers. Doing extreme size works from very small letters 1/8-in high to large lettersover 12-inches tall.I don't want to spend my money on expensive papers now while I'm trying to improve myhand skills and layout sensibilities. More on those things later.