Updated: Sep 29, 2019
There’s one skill that you can practice that will help you improve at learning any new skill (including calligraphy, of course!). It’s applicable to learning anything, and it will save you hours of frustration!
If you’re just getting started with calligraphy, and you’ve been bitten by inspiration, congratulations! Now, what do you do about it? It is natural for us to get excited about a new endeavor, and we will embrace it and maybe even obsess over it. This joy is temporary, though. At some point, you’ll realize that deeper work must be done to reach the same level of gratification and get over the plateau of mediocrity. Learning a new skill of any kind will incubate a flood of feelings. These feelings can cause us to procrastinate and even worse…quit. The frustration might look something like this:
You: I’m frustrated because I’m not seeing improvement in my craft.
Your feelings: I feel frustrated, and this is a negative experience, so I must stop working in order to protect myself from feeling frustrated again.
You: I’m going to quit this difficult thing and chalk it up to not being “my thing.”
How can you get back to the joy and excitement? First, you need patience and perseverance, but let’s be real. I have had students in the past who had loads of patience and perseverance, but when they wouldn’t see improvement, they would then get frustrated/discouraged and want to quit. The reason? They weren’t fully present during their practice at home.
“You must be present to win!”
You have to be completely present in order to have a mindful practice. You need to have the ability to observe and self-correct. You need to learn from mistakes quickly, practice the corrections, and you’ll immediately find reward in this endeavor. Your brain loves these little nuggets of success, too! Another thing to think about is that “practice makes permanent.” So, if you put in thousands of hours of bad practice, guess what? Don’t allow yourself to go on auto-pilot either. That’s a sure-fire way to boredom and mediocrity. If you’re unable to witness your own mistakes and correct them in the moment, improvement will be very slow, and you’ll experience more frustration instead of joy.
“The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This is where your patience and perseverance need to kick in! Get gritty and take on the challenge! Tell your frustration that you acknowledge it, but that you have other plans. You have grit and hustle. You have passion. You have goals. There’s no need to procrastinate. Don’t let fear of failure or frustration allow you to quit the things you love! You’ve got this! Give yourself the respect and compassion you need to rise to the challenge!
Three tips to help you have a mindful practice:
Take five slow, deliberate breaths. Acknowledge what all of your senses are sensing. What can you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? This level of awareness forces you to become present. Don't skip this!
Get clear about your goals. If you’re practicing copperplate calligraphy, perhaps your goal for the day is to simply accomplish underturns. During your next practice, you can work on overturns. Your next goal might be squaring off your tips, and so on. Make your goals very specific. Just focus on one goal during your practice. You will see positive results sooner because you’ll have a narrower focus.
Be observant. Things to notice: Where are your feet? Are they flat on the ground? Are you balanced? How is your posture? What is your alignment with the paper like? Is it comfortable? Is your pen at the correct angle to the paper? Often times, our small mistakes are based on the few things we take for granted. The goal here is to remain observant at all times so that you know exactly how you made a mistake so that you can correct it. Sometimes, we have to make mistakes a few times before we can acknowledge the reason for it.
"We use mindfulness to observe the way we cling to pleasant experiences and push away unpleasant ones." –Sharon Salzburg
Keep up the great work! Let me know what works for you. Feel free to leave comments below.