In October 2017 I started a month-long project; hand lettering Devon words and phrases to share online. Many Devonian residents shared their own experiences and memories of these words. And, many people from outside the county expressed their bewilderment, confusion or amusement at the words and phrases I shared.
I wanted to take an opportunity to talk a bit more about the process of doing this project, and the things I learned from it.
You may have noticed the Inktober hashtag pop up every year. Inktober is an annual art challenge started by american illustrator Jake Parker. Every October thousands of people try to complete one piece of art each day, and share it online using the Inktober hashtag. It’s a fun project that encourages people at any level to share and improve their art skills over the course of the month.
I first took part in Inktober in 2016, although I only managed to share ten things over the month. A big part of the problem was a lack of prior planning; I just sat down each day and tried to think of something to share. If I couldn’t think of anything I’d end up not posting that day. For 2017 I planned ahead and decided to choose a theme, making sure I had each day’s submission planned out in advance.
Hand Lettering Devon Culture
Having been raised in a rural village in North Devon, I’ve always wanted to create a project based around the dialect words and phrases I heard in my youth. I’ve also been working to improve my hand lettering skills, sharing my lettering progress on instagram. Inktober 2017 seemed like the perfect chance to bring these things together; hand lettering devon dialect over the course of the month.
In early September I sat down to make a list; and decided on the following rules:
- Each word or phrase had to be one I either used myself, or personally heard being used ‘in the wild’.
- I would try my best to represent the pronunciation I heard by spelling each word or phrase phonetically (a decision which caused some controversy at times).
I worried these constraints might limit the number of pieces I could think of, but within five minutes I had 26 day’s worth of content, and within 24 hours I’d managed 37. I edited the list down to 31, and arranged them in an order that gave a good variety of length (some were single words, some three or four) and meanings (Viddy and Proper Job have fairly similar uses) across the month.
On October 1st I sat down and started hand lettering Devon dialect with, fittingly, ‘Ow be’e knackin’?
It soon became a bit of a habit; each night I’d sit down at around 8pm, grab a pencil and some paper, and start quickly sketching a few different ideas of how to represent the word in an appropriate lettering style. Once I settled on a style I’d start working on tracing paper to produce the inked version; either tracing over the pencil sketch, or starting in pencil and inking over the top.
Once I’d finished the piece I’d photograph it with my mobile phone, adjust the brightness and contrast in Photoshop Express, and post the final version up onto Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. All-in-all the process would take between thirty minutes and an hour.
You can see all of the images I shared in the galleries throughout this article; but here’s a few of my favourites in more detail:
If you’ve ever experienced mizzle, the thick, claggy, foggy light rain that is so common is South West Britain, this piece will bring a smile to your face. To create this one I lettered the word first, then placed a new sheet of tracing paper over the top and started to create the rain drops using a thicker pen over the letters. It took a while to finish but was good fun to do.
A Do’bake is someone who acts in a stupid manner or does something silly. The slightly wonky lettering style on this one was good fun, and came out well considering it’s the first time I tried to write like this.
Controversial! ‘Dreckly’ is a widely used on souvenirs from Cornwall, to the point that this spelling has become considered correct by many. But this spelling just didn’t reflect the word I would hear growing up. The middle syllable was definitely harsher and more ‘a’-like, and there was a ‘t’ in the middle too. Staying true to my rules I wrote the word as ‘Dractly’ and fully expected a few people to ask me why. In the end I think I was asked 3 times why I had spelt the word this way, but everyone seemed to understand my reasoning.
Hand Lettering Devon Memories
Within a few days of starting this project it became apparent that people were enjoying the project. I started to get some nice comments on Facebook, with people sharing their own memories of family members who used the words and phrases I was lettering. A few people also let me know how happy they were to see these pieces of cultural history being kept alive in the modern age. I also had people messaging me to ask when the next word was coming, or making suggestions of their own.
By the time October 31st came around I had managed to post every single day of the month. My final phrase, ‘Frape n’ up!’, was also one of my favourites. The lettering seemed to come together quickly, and the final photo came out very cleanly.
Two weeks down the line, and with a bit of perspective, I realise there are a few things that I learned from this project.
A lot of people seemed to really enjoy seeing the work I shared during this project. While hand lettering Devon dialect was something I wanted to do personally; I can also see now that because it was significant to me, it is also significant to a lot of people. The stories they shared and the encouragement that gave me made thie project so much more worthwhile and enjoyable.
Done is better than perfect
I have a habit to try and perfect and polish everything I do to the best of my ability. Don’t get me wrong: I still think this is a benefit for my client work, and I fully intend to continue this when I’m being commissioned. However, it does sometimes mean that I fail to share or complete personal projects because I just don’t feel they’re ready to go out into the world yet. Taking part in a month long daily project soon changed my perspective on this. Instead of aiming for ‘as good as possible’, I realised that ‘good enough for today’ was the best route forward. Hand lettering Devon words and phrases every day taught me to aim for a certain level, share, and move on.
There was the odd piece that went out without me being totally happy with the quality (‘Granfer’ for example, or the black fill on ‘Where be’e gwain?’). But none of these pieces had to stand alone; because of the nature of this project if I wasn’t happy with today’s image I could do better tomorrow. Also the few lower-quality images still stand up to scrutiny as part of a larger project.
Related to the two points above, I also saw that if you put work into the world people will respond. Because this project was being shared with people for free and being shared to the social media accounts they were already using it was effortless for them to engage and respond. I absolutely intend to share more projects like this with people in the future.
I still have five or six suggestions from people that I’ve saved. I will be hand lettering Devon dialect some more over the next few months.
I’m also going to revisit some of the words I’ve already produced and work them up a little bit more to produce higher quality lettering. Once this is done I may look into turning these pieces into products like posters, pin badges, or desktop backgrounds.
I’ve also thought of a few other Devon-related projects exploring the history and culture of the county I live in. If I do start any of these I will be sharing my process and progress in the open, here on the blog and across my social media profiles.
Hand lettering Devon words and phrases for a month was one of the best projects I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoyed finding out a bit more about the process.
Here’s the project in full:
If you have a favourite piece of Devon dialect you’d like to see hand lettered, or anything else about Devon you think would be good for me to explore in a project why not leave a comment below, or get in touch?