How a Momentary Hand Lettering Obsession Taught Me to Embrace Messy Doodling
When I first started the Bullet Journal in 2014, I was just looking for an organizational method to streamline the chaotic system of phone apps, Post-It Notes, and scrap paper. Two journals later, I found myself in a YouTube and Instagram rabbit hole watching posts of prettified planner spreads, fancy hand lettering, and washi tape. I became obsessed. I wanted my planner to be beautiful pieces of art worthy of the MoMa.
As I got deeper and deeper into the “BuJo” world, I started to compare my chicken scratch markings with the elegant loops and curls of scripted hand lettering created by total strangers on the Internet. An all-too human behavior, I fell into the comparison trap which, according to Psychology Today, can have a negative effect on people who have compromised self esteem, and when “we compare upward only to note the differences that feel insurmountable.”
I spent the latter half of 2015 and most of 2016 trying to perfect my hand lettering and watercolor game. I watched videos and took mental notes on how people prepare and plan their beautiful journal spreads. I coveted the washi tapes and brush pens, but I never made the move to buy my own stock of stationery accessories; it was bad enough that I was into photography — an expensive hobby all its own.
I sat mesmerized as brushes skated across sheets of paper, leaving trails of curly loops and waves. It was strangely soothing and meditative. But no matter how much I attempted to beautify my own BuJo with perfectly coiffed lettering, the fear of messing up the pages was too much. I’d sooner abandon filling out my planner than risk soiling a pristine, off-white page in the $20 notebook. I was afraid of the ugliness.
After years of clean, cornered design invoking a “digital” aesthetic, it's not all surprising to see hand lettering re-emerge as a trend. A quick look around online, from pithy quote frames on Etsy to marketing ad copy, reveals the old practice of fancy lettering is being adapted for contemporary applications. The surging interest in hand lettering also appears to be a welcome sign for unbridled creativity; I like that but not when it's forced into something as practical as a planner to keep track of projects, appointments, and other information.
As you can imagine, the obsession of trying to make my pages pretty negatively affected my ability to keep my life organized. It took me a year, and quite a bit of ugly layouts and hand lettering to eventually accept my doodling and abstract style. It’s fun and has its own quirk so I started looking online for other artists with similar styles. I found a lot of them and I feel much better. Instead of getting caught up in the comparison trap, I've found the positive side of comparing myself to others: inspiration to keep at it and practice.