How and Why to Start a Lettering Series

I've mentioned in the past that personal side projects are one of the best ways to improve your skills. The best thing about them is that you don't have to rely on anyone but yourself to get them done. Not to mention, you have complete creative freedom in this type of work, which is nearly impossible (and not always appropriate) for most paid jobs.

This is not to say that side projects are easy. In fact, around this time last year I was really struggling with staying on top of my personal work...

I knew I wanted to put in the time and focus on the work, but I didn't like the idea of sacrificing my precious summer sitting indoors at my desk. After all, in my region the beautiful weather only comes around for a brief window of time.

Every time I would go out to enjoy the weather, I would feel a bit guilty because I knew I was going back on my commitment. On the other hand, these adventures were necessary to inspire my creative work in the first place. It was quite the catch 22.

Instead of trying relentlessly to find that perfect balance of work and relaxation, I came up with the idea for a new series that would strive to blend the two seamlessly.

Drawn and photographed in Central Park, NYC

Drawn and photographed in Central Park, NYC

Summer of Sketching

The original goal with the Summer of Sketching series was to explore more of this great city (and the world in general), while making new lettering pieces in the process. Basically to hit two birds with one stone.

With each new place I visited, I took time to be present and take in the surroundings. Once I was ready, I brainstormed some ideas inspired by the local flavor and found a comfortable spot to sit and draw.

As a bonus, I invited my peers on Instagram to join in on the project and share their own sketches using  #SummerOfSketching.

The Benefits of Starting a Series

  • Curation
    If you're sharing your work with an audience, starting a series is a great way to gain traction. By it's nature, a series has some sort of consistency to it. People crave this whether they realize it or not, and they will want to follow along. This summer I have taken it a step further by choosing a unified photography style — all of my sketches are framed in the same straight-on composition.
  • You Make The Rules
    What makes it a series are the rules (set by you) that tie all the parts together. For me, it was just that I had to go to a new place each time and make a pencil sketch. But it can really be anything! Also, it doesn't have to be scheduled in any way. I chose to make a new piece each weekend and that works for me. If you're wondering how to choose your rules or how specific to get, keep reading.
  • Public Accountability
    It's easy to talk about doing something, but way harder to actually show up and do it. However, if you announce a series publicly, it puts pressure on you to fulfill that commitment. Your reputation is at stake and you don't want to let your audience down, no matter how few people are watching.
  • Get Client Work 
    Once you've amassed a decent number of pieces in your series, it becomes a cohesive project that you can add to your portfolio. This type of project shows discipline and direction, and is typically more impressive than a handful of one-off pieces. Ideally this is a project that you enjoy doing, so when you promote it online, you will attract clients to hire you for similar types of work. Who doesn't love to get paid to do work they enjoy?
Taken in Gowanus, Brooklyn

Taken in Gowanus, Brooklyn

How to start your own series

As I mentioned before, the thing that ties a series together are its rules (or its variables) that stay constant throughout each portion. However, it's important that these constraints not be too broad or too tight.

A successful series has repetition with variation.

How much variation is too much? If you are having trouble coming up with ideas for each piece in the series, the project is probably too broad. Try limiting yourself to only using one medium or tool, using one type of phrase, or even just a single letter at a time. Draw with your non-dominant hand, or with your eyes closed. Why not? You can be as creative as you want — that's the beauty of it!

Inversely, if you are feeling like the series could be too repetitive, your constraints are probably too tight. Take off a couple of those rules and to allow for more variation.

If you've been working your series for a while and it's starting to feel stale, that might be a good sign to wrap it up and move on to a new project. 

I hope this post was helpful in getting you thinking about how you could make your own series. I'd love to hear your ideas and perspective on this. Send me a note and share them with me! If you're too shy, you can also follow along on Instagram to keep up with my Summer of Sketching Series.

Taken at Rockaway Beach, Queens

Taken at Rockaway Beach, Queens


Bonus: here are a few of my favorite series for your inspiration and viewing pleasure: