Ten Years of Daily Practice

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Either in December 2013 or 2014, I decided to resume my daily creative practice. Having explored resuming it three or four years earlier, I found this undertaking familiar. It is now close to ten years since I resumed my practice. The ways in which it has given me a sense of purpose are hard to put into words.

Recently, I shared a little bit about my daily practice as one of the speakers at the Typism Summit. If you don’t know what the Typism Summit is, it is a three-day international online event featuring lettering artists and designers sharing tips and lessons in 20-minute prerecorded videos followed by a 20-minute Q&A. Its founder is Dominique Falla, an accomplished design educator and typographer from Australia. She reached out to me and encouraged me to participate this year. I am very thankful that she encouraged me. I had a blast and enjoyed the process very much. I learned a lot about making videos, though I can’t say I am an expert. 

My talk was titled Type as a Creative Practice. Kudos to my niece’s husband, Isaac Forde, an accomplished musician and video editor who helped me with the music aspect of the talk.

During the Q&A, a conversation ensued about sketching, creativity, daily practice, discipline, and time limits. It occurred to me to summarize the principles under which I operate and maintain a creative daily practice.

Time management or time allocation. There is no such thing as having a magic time block. Nor is there such thing as not having time. Any time spent on your art is better than no time. Five, ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes is good enough. A daily practice is a matter of habit. Thus, when your brain becomes used to a certain routine, it learns to react accordingly. By keeping a routine, showing up to it, and picking up your tool, our mind starts getting the idea: it is time to work. It won’t matter whether you feel like doing something or not. You will do it because it is what you do.

An investment. A bad doodle, mark, word, sentence, note, jump, run, or lyric is better than nothing. A simple line becomes more lines. A word becomes a sentence. A note soon fills the staff. The point is that having something on the page or screen begets something else. More importantly, a daily practice is not solely a time to produce a masterpiece. It is a time to invest in your craft. It is time to practice your craft. For a time, if you are new at something, anything you do will feel and probably look very crappy. That is okay, expected, and needed. To get to the good stuff, one must often walk through the mud for quite a while.

A quirky saying of mine to my children when they say I am weird. I respond with yep, I am limited edition. © Alma Hoffmann, 2023

Content. Any silly thing is good for content. The dreaded question is always, what do I do? What do I paint? What do I letter? What do I write about? And so on. I have learned to keep my ears open to quirky things that are said around me or by me. People say cool stuff all day. Reading also makes for good material. At the moment, I am reading A Higher Loyalty by James Comey, and there are many interesting quotes I plan to use at some point. In the case of letterers and calligraphers, the alphabet is always there. Or you have a family, and there is always a quirky thing that someone says. One example is the photo above. It is my typical response to my kids when they complain about me.

Romantic notions. During the presentation, I shared that I teach my students to divorce their work, sketches, and projects. There are several reasons for this. Anything we spend time on and cultivate becomes an object of affection. We are wired to connect with the things we cultivate. We are biased to think we are better than what we are. This is especially true when we have been struggling with any particular aspect of a project or process. We might feel elated from solving it, from untangling the mess. Thus, an emotional attachment develops in the process of creating, and we lose perspective. Even a small detail becomes bewitching and keeps a hold on our emotions. We stop seeing what is not working. Hence, the divorce. It’s a simple reminder that it is all part of a bigger picture. To improve, we need to see what does not work. While I advocate divorcing our work, I do not throw things away.

Any tool is better than no tool. Self explanatory.

Documentation. Instead of trashing things, I flip the page and move on. I keep all my sketchbooks and have the boxes to prove it. The best thing about a sketchbook is that there is always another page. Keeping my process allows me to refer back to it later when and if I need it. And my process legitimizes my work. It is like keeping a record of my thinking.

Timers are useful. A good, old timer does the trick if boundaries are needed, and sometimes they are. I tend to be flexible with my time slots, but sometimes, I need to be dragged away from my work. So, I keep a timer in case.

Honesty. I post the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everyone started somewhere. Seeing my not so good work allows me to be humble and remember how I started. It is healthy to see things with honesty.

Social media accounts. Keep things simple with one social media account on each platform. I rarely post personal stuff on my accounts. If I do, it is only an occasional post around the holidays and birthdays. It is too complicated for me to keep tabs on multiple accounts on any one platform. I do keep two accounts on Pinterest because of work.

Allocate time but also allocate a corner or a bag. Have a space, even if it is small, for your supplies. Or keep a small bag that you can carry around for when you find that sweet moment. I do not have a bag. I carry my “other children” with me: iPad Pro, sketchbook, pencil, pen, eraser, mini iPad, and iPhone. I am like that old lady with her bag. In my case, it’s not a bag but techie toys.

Reflect. Take time to look back. For one, it allows you to see your growth. Rejoice in it, but do not dwell in it. It is good to gather a sense of perspective, but keeping your eyes in motion is vital to keep growing.

Consume, copy to learn, but then edit, keep editing, and do your version. When I started lettering, I thought I knew enough because I grew up doing calligraphy. I could not believe how far off I was when I began looking at the work of the professionals. I would study how they place their hands, where they press the nib, how to lift the pen, and a number of details I wanted to understand. Sometimes, I would trace their work to assimilate how something was done physically. But then, I would try to do it independently, not tracing it. This little choreography allows me to learn something and give it my flair, my imprint.

Creativity is a muscle, and sometimes it feels like a capricious person. Yes, you read that right. I sometimes talk to myself because my ideas lack direction or peace. Or they are struggling to come out. Creating is one of the biggest privileges one can have. I did not appreciate it when I was growing up. But I am glad I gained the sense to embrace it fully now. That is a long story—one for another post.

I can share much more about keeping a creative daily practice. I may share more later. For now, I will end with this: enjoy your talent. Revel in it. You are the only one who can do what you do the way you do it. Lean into it and let it grow. You are your biggest investment. Invest time in your craft. 

Alma Hoffmann is a freelance designer, design educator, author of Sketching as Design Thinking, and editor at Smashing Magazine. This was originally posted on Temperamental amusing shenanigans, Alma’s Substack dedicated to design, life, and everything in between.

Banner photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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