You want to stand out from the crowd. You want to have your own unique voice. You want to build an audience.
You want someone to look at your hand lettering and immediately know that it’s you.
A style doesn’t develop over night. It’s not something you want to force overnight either or it’s just going to come across unnatural.
A style is something you settle into, not something you make happen.
Here’s the short answer: Keep creating. You will settle into a style with time.
But that’s not very satisfactory, is it?
Let’s break this down a bit more.
Is A Style Really Needed?
First of all, do you need to make sure you have a one-of-a-kind style to succeed? No.
We’re all good at many things. Even the people who you would say have a unique hand lettering style still possess the ability to create in other styles. They’ve simply curated their output to the style they became known for.
This brings up an interesting question: did these people become known for a style because they curated it, or did they curate the style they became known for after the fact?
In most cases, they found their style through exploration. As they found something they enjoyed, they subconsciously started doing more of it. Gradually, people came to associate a certain hand lettering style with them. As this association grew, they strengthened it by selectively sharing those things more and more.
What’s Wrong With Forcing A Style?
A style is something that should’t feel forced. This is the problem with obsessing over having a style.
The way you know if you’ve forced a style instead of discovered it is whether or not you feel trapped in it.
If you force a style because you think you should have one, you’ll end up feeling trapped and like you have to create in that style. It will seem limiting because you’ll feel like you have no choice but to remain in the style you’re known for—the style you forced.
Think of it this way: having a style should be something others observe about your work. A style is how others describe you. You don’t have a style if you say you do, you have a style if others say you do. A style is how others articulate what’s unique about you not what you try to make others think.
How Do You Discover Your Style?
The goal is to create a ton. Create whatever you want, however you want, in whatever style you want. What you’ll find is over time, you will naturally gravitate toward a certain mix of things.
This mix of things is a blend of your many influences—or few influences. That’s actually a common problem with people who do not diversify their sources of inspiration: you can only blend the ingredients you have.
Do you look up to one person and obsess over their feed and their feed only? Don’t be surprised if your work looks just like theirs. You may even get comments from people saying it looks like you’re ripping off their style. That’s because you probably are.
If all you’re consuming is the work of one other person, you’re not giving your brain much to work with.
By diversifying your hand lettering inspiration, you give your brain a big, mental bank of references. Over time, these references mix together like a stew. The stew takes on a unique flavor unlike any one of its ingredients alone.
That stew is your style. It’s the unique combination of many diverse influences.
When you go to create, you will pull from your mental bank of references. The more references you have stored up in your mind, the more likely what’s pulled out will be a unique combination of what you’ve been exposed to.
Hand Lettering Building Blocks & Modifiers
Certain things can’t be changed. When it comes to hand lettering, you obviously need letters. Letters are your building blocks. They’re how you form words and that’s not something you can change unless you want to create something that is no longer considered hand lettering.
However from this point on, the possibilities are endless.
Do the letters form words? Is it just a single letter? Is it a single word? Are there multiple words? Do the multiple words form quotes? Was the phrase written by you? Is it a famous quote?
This is just the content.
Are you using san-serif letters? Are you using serif? Are you using script? Are you using black letter? Are you using slab serif? Are you using a combination of the above?
This is just the classification.
Are the letterforms solid? Are they outlined? Is there any fill? Is the fill solid? Is it filled with lines? Is the border solid? Is it dashed? Is there a drop shadow? Does the style change from line to line? Are you using highlights? Are there other forms of decoration?
This is just the ornamentation.
Are you using a single color? Is it black? Is it another color? Is there a limitation on the number of colors? Are you mixing colors? What colors are you mixing? Is the background light or dark? Is every word a different color or is every line? Are all the words the same color except for one? Which one is a different color? What color is it?
This is just color.
What tools are you using? Are you only using one? Are you using a combination of tools? Which one is used first? What happens if you switch one of the tools? What happens if you skip one of the tools? What happens if you create the exact same piece using different tools? What happens if you try to recreate the look of one tools using a another tool?
This is just tools.
Are you creating in traditional mediums or digital? If traditional, have you tried converting to digital? If digital, have you tried recreating with physical mediums? Have you tried creating physically, transposing to digital, printing it out, recreating it again, and re-transposing to digital?
This is just digitization.
Does your work have any texture? Does this texture come from the tool or medium? Are you adding it after the fact? Is it natural? Are you adding it digitally? Have you tried adding it physically? Have you tried changing the way you add texture? If you always use texture, have you tried without?
This is just texture.
Have you ever tried communicating your message in fewer words? What about one word? Can you convey your message through the style of a single word? Have you ever tried writing something long form? What happens to your style when you double your previous maximum number of words, but only allow yourself the same amount of time?
This is just the your message.
Those are the modifiers. I’m spitballing here, but I could keep going. A style is comprised of so many factors it’s almost daunting. On the other hand, it’s oddly comforting. What I wrote above is far from a conclusive list of modifiers you can use to change your work and that’s good news.
Try mixing things up. Take any handful of modifiers above and change your practice. If you’re stuck in a creative rut, try a new tool. Try a new context. Try a new medium. Try a new method. Try a new word limit. Try a new color.
There’s Nothing New Under the Sun
Stop trying to create something new and start trying to create something unique. You’re not going to create something new under the sun. The good news is you don’t have to.
Nothing I named above is new, but that doesn’t mean your combination of old things can’t be unique.
You don’t need to create something new, you need to combine something old.
If I had to narrow it down to three words, I’d say this:
Create. Diversify. Experiment.
There’s no substitute for any of them. You need to make a lot of things, you need to diversify your sources of inspiration, and you need to try out new tools, methods, and limitations.
The less you worry about having a style, the sooner it will come.