Finding Inspiration in a Niche Art Form
There will be many more tutorials to come in the near future… But today I want to write to those of you currently feeling bored, stagnated, unmotivated, or uninspired when it comes to your calligraphy endeavors.
These ebbs and flows are something every artist deals throughout their creative journey. It’s normal, and as much as it sucks, it can be overcome. As artists, we must constantly search for new inspiration to drive our pursuits. Today, I’ll be sharing some ideas to help relight that spark and get you out of that rut.
Buckle up, this one’s a bit longwinded, but it’s packed with some encouraging insights and reflections.
A Brief Story
Back in January, I posted about the new direction I was taking. At the time, I was no longer interested in trying to “brand” myself as a hand lettering artist available to hire to help brands with their identities. Sure, this was something that I enjoyed doing. However, I was SO captivated by blackletter calligraphy… and I still am.
I consider myself an “all or none” kind of person. I don’t want to dabble in too many things for fear of being mediocre at all of them. For better or worse, I like to pool my efforts into as few initiatives as possible in the interest of “mastering” them. Whether or not it’s the right approach, it’s the way I operate personally and I’ve come to accept it for what it is.
So I made the jump. I gave up focusing on hand lettering and directed my efforts towards calligraphy. But I didn’t stop there. I niched down even further to focus exclusively on blackletter style calligraphy and artwork.
Looking back, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. But at the time it felt like a substantial leap into the unknown. I have a passion for sharing my work and helping others learn, so I was afraid of finding myself in a place where there was no audience to speak to. Was I giving up on everything I had worked for at the risk of falling into an empty realm where I was the only one who cared about the style of work I was doing?
These observations and internal dialogues continued to keep me up at night over the course of several months. Finally, I said screw it. I decided to follow my heart.
Once I had taken that leap, guess what? I landed on my feet. Turns out there were hundreds, if not thousands of artists across the world that focus on the exact same niche I was interested in. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. I didn’t know that world existed until I went looking for it.
Bottom line, what sometimes feels like the tiniest niche is really just a small door into a gigantic world you never knew existed.
And now that I’ve discovered that world, the niche I had originally thought was tiny is so broad that I’m approaching a point where I think I need to niche down even farther.
Funny how things turn out when you take creative risks, right?
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you can relate, then I got your back. And if you’re feeling at a loss for inspiration, then it’s time to make some changes.
Loss of inspiration, at least for me, can generally be distilled down into several sources of frustration:
- Feeling like a small fish in a big pond. Are there a lot of people doing what you do and if so, is the idea of being “another face in the crowd” killing your drive? This can also be summed up as imposter syndrome.
- Creating the same work over and over again. When you sit down to create, are you actually trying new things? Or are you doing the same routine drills over and over? There’s a time and place for both, but it can be very difficult to strike a balance and flow. I struggle with this one big time.
- Prioritization. We’re all busy. Ideally, you want to be creating all the time, but life happens. You have other obligations and when you finally get some free time, you’re exhausted.
We all deal with these things at some point and unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet. But there are some steps that can be taken to get things moving in the right direction.
Back to #1. If you’re feeling like a small fish in a big pond, you’re not alone. Truth is, so is everyone else in that pond. My biggest piece of advice here is to talk to them. Follow them on Instagram. Strike up some conversation. Maybe even collaborate with them.
When I took the plunge into creating blackletter exclusively, I felt like the only fish in the pond. Then I started searching for other fish. Turns out this pond is packed! Then I started to feel like the small fish. I still do, but I’ve taken it upon myself to develop friendships with other artists.
Artists who share the same niche as you ARE NOT your competition. They’re your family. And together, we’re all evolving the art world a little bit at at time.
Get involved. Make friends. Hear their stories and share yours. Collaborate. Lift each other up. It’s a good feeling and I promise you that it will drive the excitement of what you do.
Quick side note… you know those artist spotlights I do every month? I don’t do those for you. Yes, I love sharing people’s stories with the world through my blog. But I do it to make friends and learn about the lives of the artists that inspire me the most. And through this medium, I’ve met dozens of artists who are not only incredible artists, but incredible people.
Embrace your community.
Tools, Mediums and Techniques.
Let’s tackle #2. You’re bored. You’re creating the same thing every time you sit down to write. Yes, it’s good to practice and cement your technique. That’s important. But so is evolving your work and trying new things.
Break out of your comfort zone. If you work on paper, paint a canvas or a wall. If you work with pen and ink, work with paint and a brush. If you work in black and white, introduce some color. If you’re drilling the same style alphabet over and over, spend an afternoon learning a new one or finding new variations of existing letters.
It can feel like a burden to try new things, but a whole new world opens up when you start experimenting. Challenge yourself to try something new every time you sit down and create. It doesn’t have to be big — just new. This habit has allowed me to sustain an excitement for the art form day in and day out for a while now.
And remember; not every experiment is a win, but it’s a lesson.
Finally, #3… prioritization. Forget how much time there is in the day. If you don’t practice regularly, you’re not simply going to find 2 hours here and there where you can productively sit down and create.
In the beginning, it’s not about time, it’s about habit. The problem is that you artwork doesn’t feel like a priority, so you won’t prioritize it. Instead, you’ll subconsciously find excuses to do something else.
So once again, forget about time. Instead, find 10-15 minutes where you sit down, pick up a pen, and write a couple words. That’s it. Then you can stop and do something “more important”. Do this everyday for a couple weeks. If possible, do it at the same time every day. Before bed is perfect.
The goal here is to develop a routine where you’re producing some sort of creative output, even if its small. If you’re enjoying this output, you’re going to subconsciously chase after the enjoyment and you’ll eventually find yourself prioritizing artwork over other things.
3 Action Items You Can Take Right Now
Rather than just ramble on philosophically about being a more committed artist, I’d like to challenge you with 3 things you can do right now. Ready?
1. Build a Relationship
Pick up your phone right now and reach out to a couple of artists on Instagram that are around your “level”. Tell them what you like about their work and ask them some questions. Show your genuine interest for what they do and I guarantee you the majority of them will respond.
Keep them close and study their work. If there’s something specific you like about their work, don’t rip it off, but try introducing some of those elements into your own work. Post that work and tell the world that ____ inspired you with their style and you gave it a shot in your own creations.
Build that friendship and it might even lead to collaborations or other opportunities down the line. Worst case scenario, you have a new friend that shares a common interest and passion in calligraphy.
2. Get Andrey Martynov’s Workbook
If you’re not familiar with Andrey martynov (@remrk), go check him out. He’s an incredible calligraphy artist out of Russia.
Andrey put together an incredible PDF that he sells. It contains hundreds of gothic type specimens and letterform variations from many different styles of blackletter.
So here’s what I want you to do:
- Email him and tell him you want to buy it. He’ll send you a Paypal invoice and once you pay it, he’ll email you a copy of the PDF.
- Print it out and study it extensively.
- Start practicing those alphabets and letterform variations.
It doesn’t matter what skill level you’re at… this one should keep you busy for a while.
3. Participate in Inktober
Remember that bit about committing 10-15 minutes to your calligraphy everyday? What better time than Inktober?
The rules are simple. Create a piece everyday of October and post it online with the hashtags #inktober and #inktober2017. Not only is this a great way to develop a habit, but it’s also a great way to share your work and meet other artists online.
That’s all I got for you today. I hope you were able to take at least one thing away from this. Your struggle might feel isolated and unique, but it’s probably not. If you ever need some words or encouragement, or just want to chat calligraphy, I’m always here!