In December of 2014, I had the idea to challenge myself with a yearlong calligraphy project on Instagram. Then, I was only a year into practicing and trying to earn money from calligraphy. My challenge was to post a photo of my lettering, a quote or phrase, every Monday morning with the #coloregraceletters.
I had three goals in mind:
1. Practice calligraphy more often.
2. Post the photos to track my progress and admittedly grow my Instagram followers by posting consistently on a schedule and utilizing the correct hashtags.
3. Develop some of the best lettering from the project to create prints to sell in an online shop.
I failed at my first goal almost immediately. Within the first two months, I realized it was more time and work efficient to write several quotes in one session and take several styled photos at once. This meant I was not picking up my pen to practice each week like the project suggested I was doing. Instead, I would spend roughly one day per month struggling to complete a handful of quotes because I hadn't practiced in weeks. Each month I was forcing myself to remember the skill, but, since I was out of practice, it would take me hours of work to write one sentence I thought was good enough. During these sessions of struggle, I noticed how unhappy I was when I was lettering. It felt like a chore, not like something I would do for fun even if I didn’t have to. But, I kept going because I committed to completing my project.
At the start, I was eager to post and grow. In January 2015, I thought, like most people do, if I grew my following on social media it would validate me as a calligrapher and artist. I imagined I'd get more jobs and I'd stop feeling like an amateur.
I completed my second goal by posting every Monday morning between 7 a.m. - 10 a.m. CST and using my project hashtag, #coloregraceletters. At a minimum, I was using my project hashtag. Then I would add one to three maximum other relevant hashtags (ex. #lettering, #calligraphy, and, depending on the styling of lettering in the photo, #moderncalligraphy or #brushlettering). These hashtags were specific for the skill I was promoting, but easily searchable for my target audience, the calligraphy and lettering community on Instagram. I gained the most followers and likes when I included #calligraphy and #lettering. Throughout the year, I could encourage new followers to look at the entire project with by viewing #coloregraceletters. By being consistent and utilizing hashtags on Instagram, my followers increased from approximately 500 to now over 2,000.
Within the first few months, my number of likes for each photo increased with the new followers. However, my unpleasant need to have the perfect photo to get a higher number of likes made me feel less joy with every photo posted. Since I didn't enjoy the work of doing calligraphy, it was difficult to enjoy any positive feedback I gained from the photos. I was so focused on pleasing others I ignored how low it made me feel about myself and my work. Soon, the quotes and phrases started to have less meaning for me too; they were just words on a page.
Toward the end of spring I decided to start caring more about the captions I wrote for each photo as a way to give the post more meaning for myself. As I invested more time in writing the caption, I noticed it gave me more creative relief than calligraphy. After a few weeks of more meaningful captions, the practice of writing made me feel happy and excited again. The feeling of agony when practicing calligraphy plus the excitement I felt when I was writing made me start to realize the change. I was forcing myself to focus on a skill I was increasingly less passionate about and hiding my lifelong passion for writing. After acknowledging this shift in my feelings, writing captions kept me motivated enough to finish the year.
In the fall, the third goal was my focus. Starting in October, I worked tirelessly every weeknight and weekend. I felt exhausted and stressed until my shop opened on November 30. While preparing to open my shop, there were several moments I felt joy. For example, when I completed a print design or a small task that moved me forward in the process. But, my joy was instantly overshadowed by the amount of stress and misery I felt while doing the work. The shop launch completed the third goal I set for 2015. But now, at the end of the year, I've accepted the fact I no longer desire to sell my calligraphy work. I cannot force myself to endure the stress of learning and operating a small business, especially when I'm passionless about the skill I’ve learned, practiced, and promoted. For these reasons, I've decided to quit freelance calligraphy work and to close my print shop on December 31.
As I reflect on my yearlong project, I'm amazed at how it changed me in a different way than I originally thought it would. When I began I imagined this year would push me closer to working and earning a living as a full time calligrapher. Instead, I'm turning away from calligraphy and I'm looking forward to something new.
It's bittersweet to move away from calligraphy when it has been my focus for nearly two years, but I'm full of positive emotions to carry me forward. I'm proud of myself for completing my project and working through and achieving each goal I set. I'm grateful for the support and encouragement I've received from friends and followers throughout this project and my journey with calligraphy. I feel a large amount of relief to have this chapter close. I'm full of excitement and joy for the new, uncharted adventure ahead of me.
In 2016, I will be starting a newsletter. I will share my writing and links to good content (from books, articles, blogs, podcasts, etc.) I've found enjoyable or helpful. I intend to live the life I imagine for myself instead placing the expectations of others above my own. I want to enjoy a more simplified life and I'm going to document and share this change with you.