Tools for Beginning Hand Letterers

So, you want to start hand lettering. You’ve been watching talented people showcase their work on Instagram and you want to try to start to make your own designs. It’s so exciting!

Until you realize that you’ll have to buy supplies. What supplies? Do you buy everything your favorite letterer uses? Do you just buy the cheapest option? Where do you begin?

“What do you recommend that I get to start out with hand lettering?” is a common question that I get. Many people don’t realize they’re actually asking about brush lettering specifically, but my answer is usually the same: you need a pencil.

Now, I realize that it’s not all that fun to simply use a pencil to begin to hand letter. I’ve been in your shoes! I also spent a lot of money on supplies that I’m not using anymore or that I ruined too quickly because I didn’t understand them.

So, I’d like to give you a list of the supplies I think are important when you’re starting out. You’re sure to find one that is particularly helpful to you, and you’ll find your own path from there!

Back to my previous statement — you should start with a pencil! It’s SO important to practice just “feeling” the letters and working through one letter at a time. The best way to do this is with a pencil. It’s also important to think through your up and down strokes and the process of adding weight with “faux” calligraphy.

While I will continue to say that it’s important to practice with a pencil, there are some other great tools out there that won’t break your bank and you can learn fairly easily.

If you’re sick of the pencil, you could easily move on to Crayola markers. These are not only a cheap and effective option, but they are great practice in the weight of strokes and pressure you have to apply to get the difference. They require a lot more pressure when lettering than the brush pens do. You can also use the Crayola Super Tips for smaller and finer lettering.

The first common specific-to-lettering tools are the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens. These come in two types: hard and soft tip. You’ll quickly find your preference between the tips of these pens and it’s probably best to buy them in the two-pack they’re usually sold in. They’re best if you’re practicing small words and phrases and can really focus attention to your up and down strokes and maintaining your consistency throughout.

My favorite small brush pen is the Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen. I’m not sure if this has to do with being a lefty, but I just love these pens. They are firm, yet flexible and give me a perfect separation of thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes every time. I’m able to manage the weight and control my strokes a little bit better than I am with the Tombow brush pens although they are very comparable.

For larger lettering, the Tombow Dual Brush Pens are incredibly popular. They have so many features that make them a fun lettering tool: they help you create large lettering pieces, there’s a huge difference between the amount of weight you can add to strokes, they come in about a million different colors, and they are easily blended with each other. The do require a lot of practice to get the feel of the amount of pressure you need to use, but that is the same with any new tool you’re using. They have a very flexible tip that is great for practicing your control of the pen and stroke.

Another thing I wish I would have known before ruining several brush pens was that paper matters. Now, when I’m using my brush pens, I exclusively use Canson Marker Paper or Tracing Paper. This makes all the difference in maintaining the important brush tip of your markers and getting the most bank for your buck. You’ll also notice that it’s just much easier and smoother when you’re practicing to use paper that’s made specifically for the marker/brush pen.

All in all, don’t spend a fortune on lettering supplies when you’re just starting out. You’ll fray the tips of your pens and regret the wasted money. I do, however, encourage you to find a set of brush lettering practice sheets and pick a tool to try from the beginning.

Now, pick a tool and happy lettering!

 

Angel Baby Hart

I’ll never forget the day I got a positive pregnancy test.

It was cycle day 28, and just like every month’s day 28, I was ready to take a pregnancy test. I was also ready to see just one line on the test as I had gotten very used to in the past 11 months.

I took the test, did my makeup and hair, and got ready for school. I went back to the test later (honestly forgetting that I even took it) and SWORE I saw the faintest line. Then, I swore I was crazy; I had made up that line in my head.

I took the test to school with me that day, and had my friend Melody look at it (I just had to tell somebody!). She swore she saw the line, too. I truly couldn’t believe it. I could hardly wait until the next morning to take another test, that then was a little darker second line. I was too scared to tell Brenden (and get his hopes up) before I had a positive digital test. I was still pretty sure I was making up that extra line. Finally, on day 30, I got a positive digital test.

I could not wait to tell Brenden. I had bought the book “Dude, You’re Going to be a Dad” several months prior, and knew that’s how I wanted to tell him the news. I wrapped it up and told him I had forgotten to give him a Christmas present. He totally went with it. He was pretty confused at first when he opened it, but shortly after I finally got to share the joy and new unknown with him. We were SO excited. I can’t even explain it. I don’t think either of us really believed it at that point because we were so used to trying every month with no success. We were just so happy.

I wanted to tell everyone in the whole world that we were finally pregnant, but I knew better as it was very early. Perfectly, we had previously planned a trip to Mexico with my parents. We ordered special “Bun in the Oven” and “She’s eating for two, I’m drinking for three” shirts and were SO excited to tell them the news. It was so hard to keep this a secret from my mom, but we made it to Mexico and surprised them. I drank way too many virgin Bloody Marys while we were there, but wouldn’t have changed that for anything. I was finally pregnant!

I had had some light cramping during this time, but I wasn’t concerned. From what I read, some cramping and pulling pains happen at the beginning of pregnancy as things are stretching and preparing for the baby. I never had any spotting or bleeding, so I just convinced myself it was all part of growing a baby.

Other than that, I really had no pregnancy symptoms. I was so happy to talk to my mom about her pregnancies and felt so relieved to know that she never felt sick with any of us kids nor had any terrible pregnancy symptoms. I figured I was just going to be a lucky one.

During this time, I was actually praying for some symptoms, though. I just wanted to know this was real. For whatever reason, from that very first faint line, I felt like it was too good to be true. I told Brenden that lots of things can happen in the first trimester and that I was trying to not get my hopes up too much (pessimistic, I know), but he had a hard time with that mindset.

Thankfully, my doctor was letting me be seen at 8 weeks. That was my only saving grace in getting over my anxiety about not really being pregnant and this all being a big joke. I don’t know how women wait until 10 or even 12 weeks; the wait is HORRIBLE.

The day of the doctor’s appointment (February 10th), I was SO nervous. I had IEP meetings that day before the appointment and they truly couldn’t have gone fast enough. We were so excited to get there and see our baby and then go to dinner afterwards to break the news to Brenden’s family. I had made magnets for all the new aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and I was so excited to show them the Shutterfly book I had made of our trip to Mexico with a pregnancy reveal page at the end.

I had a really weird feeling from the moment I woke up on the 10th. I just felt like a fraud. I felt like there’s no way I was actually going to get to be a mom and that I had made up that I was pregnant in the first place. I never felt pregnant at all, and today someone would tell me that my fears were true.

We got to the doctor’s office, and got right in to a room. The ultrasound tech said she was so bored this day so she was ready to get me in right away. Man, this pregnancy stuff is awesome! I wondered if I was ever going to have a long wait or if it would always be this fast.

I got all prepped and ready, and she went straight to the ultrasound. She started clicking away on the computer and watching the screen. I sat so impatiently and nervously for her to say something. The first thing she said was “Hmmm…” and I knew it wasn’t good. I just laid there and waited for something else to be said.

Shortly after that, the doctor came in. He wasted no time, and said “It looked like you have a large sac, but there’s no baby seen on the ultrasound. This means the baby probably stopped developing around 5 weeks.”

5 weeks. When I started having the mild cramps.

I’ve never felt so sick in my life. The worst part, though, was Brenden’s face. He was so shocked (I think he assumed everything I was saying was me being dramatic and pessimistic). I knew he had never even dreamed that this would happen. He got up from his seat and stood right next to me and held my hand, which is when the tears started.

The doctor then said that I had two options, being at 8 weeks. I could wait another week for an ultrasound, and hope that I was wrong on my dates and the baby just wasn’t measuring 8 weeks yet. The other option was to go right away to the Beyer building and get my HCG levels done, and then go back again on Friday. In 48 hours, my HCG levels were supposed to double if it was going to be a “viable” pregnancy.

Of course we both agreed that I’d go get blood work done immediately. Waiting an entire week seemed so horrible.

We left, mostly in a fog, and went straight to the Beyer building. We checked in, I filled out paperwork, and was told it would be about 30 minutes. I sat there and sobbed. In front of at least 30 people I didn’t know, I just sobbed. I had to text my parents (I couldn’t have possibly made a coherent phone call) that things weren’t looking good. I just sat there for what seemed like an eternity and felt so sorry for us. The “why me?” and “What did I do wrong?” all started, and that is a super slippery slope.

It took an hour and a half for me to get called back, and I couldn’t even communicate with my nurse by this point. Bless her heart; she was SO sweet, but I just couldn’t even talk. She took my blood and we left.

I remember feeling so bad for Brenden. I had no idea what was happening to my body, but for some reason, I knew this was going to happen. He had no clue. He also had even less of an idea about what was going to happen to me and my body. He was so supportive, but I know he was incredibly upset, too.

I cried pretty much all night. I quickly tried to Google some information about what a miscarriage timeline would be like because I wasn’t really given any information at all at the doctor, and I wasn’t able to calm my brain enough to ask any questions. Now I had a million: What’s this going to feel like? How long will it take? Could the doctors be wrong?

I read a lot of possibilities about doctors being wrong about early diagnosed miscarriages. My only hope was that my HCG levels would double, I’d get to go back next week, and a healthy baby would be right there on the ultrasound screen.

I couldn’t go to work the next day; I was still sobbing at every thought my brain went to. I got the call around noon that day that my HCG levels were 36,000. That was, according to the doctor, “really good.”

You can bet that my hopes went up dramatically from there. The whole previous day, I had basically grieved the loss of my first baby. Then, there was hope. This is what all of the articles said; your HCG levels may be high but baby just isn’t detectable on the screen yet. So now, Friday was the big day.

I went in for blood work on Friday in a much better state than Wednesday. I was in and out of there, and now just had to wait on the next call that my numbers had doubled and that I may actually have a viable pregnancy.

I had to go back to 4 more IEP meetings that day. I looked at my phone around 2:00 and had a voicemail from the Women’s Center. I was so anxious to call them back, but I had another meeting.

Eventually, I was able to call back, and got the news I was dreading. My numbers had gone down to 30,000. At this point of pregnancy, there is no reason besides a miscarriage that numbers would be going down.

Ugh.

It just sucked. I felt so alone and hopeless. Even though Brenden has been nothing but incredible through this early version of “for better or for worse”, I felt so alone. I was so thankful that it was Friday and I could just cry and be with Brenden on the weekend. There just wasn’t anything else to be said; I knew it wasn’t going to result in a baby that we ever got to meet and hold. I think that’s the worst part; it wasn’t that I wasn’t pregnant or that I tricked myself into thinking I was. I was pregnant. A baby had started to grow, but we would never get to meet him or her. We never get to know if this first baby of ours was a boy or a girl, looked like me or Brenden, nothing.

The doctor said that I should call by Thursday if I hadn’t started cramping or bleeding. On Wednesday, I had some really intense, almost shooting pains. It didn’t feel like cramps at all, just a sharp pain. I got nervous (again) that they were wrong and I really was pregnant still. They told me to come in first thing Thursday morning for another ultrasound because I hadn’t begun to bleed at all and was having these intense pains.

This time, the doctor was there the whole time, and he explained why I was having the pain: the process was starting. My body has to expel all of what was supposed to be my baby through a tiny canal and it was going to hurt.

He told me that if he had to guess, I’d start bleeding within 5 days. He told me I could expect some clots and what it would look like and probably feel like. I’d done enough research by this time to know that I wanted to do this naturally if at all possible. He agreed and told me to call on Monday if it hadn’t begun. I cramped off and on all weekend, but no spotting or bleeding at all. The cramping was worsening, but it wasn’t anything debilitating.  Finally, Monday rolled around and I called to explain that I’d had no bleeding.

The doctor said I’d be at risk for infection if things didn’t get moving along quickly, and he prescribed me Misoprostol. I was super hesitant about this at first (I wanted to do it 100% naturally), but my body has always had a mind of its own, and I realized that this was going to be my best alternative. Also, at this point, I had been waiting nearly two weeks from the first day we found out the news and the waiting was about to drive me insane.

I plan to write a separate post about my day of Misoprostol and the actual miscarriage because the blogs I read about what to expect were the only things that helped me through the worry of what the process would be like.

Throughout this whole thing, I just can’t believe how little knowledge there is about miscarriage. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. ONE IN FOUR. Still, all the information that I have acquired is from wonderfully written blogs or pregnancy loss websites.

From the second we found out that this probably wouldn’t result in a baby, I felt so shameful. I felt like I had the biggest secret ever that I just couldn’t share with anyone. No one wants to talk about my baby that’s never going to be born. No body can understand what it feels like to wait for that process to begin. The people that we have told have tried their best; I’m so sorry for your loss, you’re in my prayers, God has a plan. I know people that know feel awkward around me. I know it’s a huge elephant in the room and they know it’s all that’s on my mind. I don’t know how that will change, but I think it’s so sad.

It’s just so lonely. I can’t believe how many women I might know that have gone through this in silence and private mourning. It’s really frustrating to me that there seems to be so little support and information about this for it being so common.

I also hope that my story can help someone be a little more sensitive to couples when talking about pregnancy. The simple comments of “So when are you guys going to have a baby?” or “Gosh, everyone is pregnant!” hurt much worse than you can imagine.

We should’ve met Baby Hart #1 on September 23, 2016. I am already dreading that day of what could have been and the new start to our little family. I know there’s something better in the cards for us and that God wouldn’t bring us to this if he couldn’t get us through it, but this is hard.

It’s just hard.

My Special Ed Soapbox

I often feel that Special Education is an island all its own. I know, from an outsider’s perspective, it must seem like we (Special Ed Teachers) just walk around spouting acronyms and holding random meetings and begging for accommodations for our students.

I haven’t been able to figure out why this somewhat-separation occurs quite yet. I’m not sure if it’s the case-by-case basis that is Special Education, or if it’s the legality issues behind different expectations, or if it’s simply still not a fully-inclusive world that we’re living in, but there’s definitely a separation.

Regardless, a couple of things are constantly on my mind and driving my day-to-day that I tend to get on my soapbox about. They’re on my mind tonight, so here I go:

PART ONE:

Students, or just people in general, with disabilities DID NOT CHOOSE to be a student with a disability.

Did you get to pick your skin color? Did you get to pick your parents? These are the same as being a student with a disability. It’s something that he or she was born with, didn’t get a choice in, and is living day to day with.

IT IS NOT A CHOICE. Don’t treat students like it is one.

PART TWO:

All. Means. All.

The legislation behind Special Education is pretty extensive, but there are a couple laws that are most influential, in my opinion:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 said that students with disabilities must be exposed to and given the opportunity to experience the same curriculum and schooling opportunities as their general education peers. 1973, people.

In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed, which included six different things that every student with a disability must receive:

  1. A Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
  2. Nondiscriminatory evaluation and identification
  3. Individualized Education Programs (IEP)
  4. Education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  5. Procedural Due Process
  6. Parental and student participation

So, since at least 1975, we have been requiring, and expecting, schools to include all students in every classroom. This is not a new concept. If there are 25 students in your classroom, they are ALL your students, and should all be treated as that.

PART THREE:

I hate the word “disability”. It comes with such a negative connotation. Having a disability is not a punishment, but more often, a blessing. Some of my favorite people in the world are people with disabilities. We can all learn the most from people who view or experience the world completely differently than we do, but we have to be open to that.

PART FOUR:

Have high expectations for all students.

Are you noticing a pattern?

Please, please, please, don’t flag a student with a disability as a student who cannot perform at the same level as a student without one.

Instead, set students up for success. Be flexible. Approach each student as a different learner who needs access to the curriculum in his or her own way.

Better yet, let the kids teach you.

Lost At School

Here are some reflections on Lost at School by Ross Greene.

My thoughts on Chapter 1:

Chapter 1 starts with a story about Joey. Joey is a student who didn’t understand the requirements of a Social Studies project and ended up hurting an administrator and running out of the building when confronted.

On page 1, Mrs. Woods (the teacher) says to Joey: “Joey, the instructions are on the board. How can you not know what to do?”

Ah. Right away, I’m guilty. How often have I said, “How do you still not understand what to do?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Greene says, on page 6, that “what we’ve been thinking about challenging kids–that they’re manipulative, attention-seeking, coercive, unmotivated, limit-testing, and that these traits have been caused by passive, permissive, inconsistent, noncontingent parenting–is way off base most of the time.”

Wow. Again, how many of those things have I said about students? Specifically, how often have I said those things when I’m in a bind and can’t find a solution to a student’s behavior? I think, most often, the things we say about challenging kids (or their parents) are just excuses for us; a way to get out of the hard work that will be teaching replacement behaviors or the thought-process necessary to change behaviors.

I just got a new student, and his behaviors and discussions we’ve had were in the forefront of my mind as I read pages 6 and 7. What are we quick to do with a student who has behavioral difficulties? Give him or her consequences. We don’t always give negative consequences; maybe we give praise and rewards, but if he or she slips, negative consequences are put into place. I did this right away with my new student.

Greene says, “Consequences are wonderful when they work. They are less wonderful when they don’t work. And they often don’t work for the kids to whom they are most frequently applied” (page 7). HOW TRUE IS THAT?

Further, Greene explains that consequences only help with two things:

  • Teaching kids basic lessons about right and wrong ways to behave
  • Giving kids the incentive to behave the “right way”

The important thing that we’re missing, by giving consequences, is that “the vast majority of challenging kids already know how we want them to behave” (page 7).

Greene explains that kids, the majority of the time, know the expectations of the classroom and school. They want to do well. They want to participate just like the other students. They know they aren’t supposed to do certain things at school. Knowing right from wrong isn’t the problem. The problem is, according to Greene, that “kids with behavioral challenges lack important thinking skills” (page 7).

Greene compares this lack of important thinking skills to learning disabilities. Just like a student with a learning disability has difficult mastering the skills required to become proficient in reading, challenging kids have difficulty in mastering the skills required for becoming proficient in handling life’s social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

Why isn’t our first impulse, when a student displays an unwanted behavior, to teach him or her the appropriate behavior? Why do we so quickly give a consequence? Do we always take the time to ASK a student if he or she knew the appropriate response? Do we ask what his or her thought process was?

“Consequences don’t teach kids the thinking skills they lack or solve the problems that set the stage for their challenging behavior” (page 8).

“The reality is that well-behaved students aren’t behaving themselves because of the school disciple program. They’re behaving themselves because they have the skills to handle life’s challenges in an adaptive fashion” (page 8).

It’s my job as an educator, but especially as a special educator, to help my students understand where they are lacking thinking skills and help them to fill in the gaps. It’s also my job to be my students’ advocate and help his or her teachers understand this as well.

That was only the first chapter. I can’t wait to see how this book changes my thinking and practice with my students with behavioral challenges.

Teaching With Poverty in Mind

Teaching With Poverty in Mind – Introduction and Chapter 1

The introduction was a quick, humbling three pages. Jensen goes straight into assumptions made about people living in poverty.

The thing that stood out to me the most was on page two where Jensen explains “theories” about why disadvantaged students underperform in school. “Their parents do not have high IQs, their home environment is substandard, their parents are missing or have moved, or they just don’t care.”

How many times have we, as teachers, said that a student or his or her parents “just don’t care?” How unfair is that?

Jensen defined poverty as “a chronic and debilitating condition that results form multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body, and soul” (page 6).

Jensen then describes several different types of poverty, including situational, generational, absolute, relative, urban, and rural. While I was reading through the types, I could quickly picture several different students and where they may fall in these subgroups.

The most interesting and thought-provoking part of Chapter 1, for me, was The Effects of Poverty section. I thought, going in to reading and having heard Jensen speak before and discussing this book previously, that I understood the effects of living in poverty. I was wrong.

First up: “40 percent of children living in chronic poverty had deficiencies in at least two areas of functioning (such as language and emotional responsiveness) at age 3” (page 7). AGE 3. Already, by age 3, kids show these deficiencies. How can we expect kids to bridge that gap and be successful in school?

Next, Jensen goes into all of the effects of Poverty at Home. The list just goes on and on:

  • low-income neighborhoods are likely to have lower-quality social, municipal, and local services
  • poor children often breathe contaminated air and drink impure water
  • households are more crowded, noisy, and physically deteriorated
  • kids living in poverty spend less time finding out about the world around them and more time struggling to survive within it
  • low-SES kids are more likely to rely on peers than on adults for social and emotional support
  • low-SES kids are more likely to come from single-guardian homes, and their parents or caregiver tend to be less emotionally responsive
    • single parent strain is directly related to poor school attendance, lower grades, and lower chances of attending college
  • low SES kids form more stress-ridden attachments with parents, teachers, and adult care-givers and have difficulty establishing rewarding friendships with children their own age
  • common issues include depression, chemical dependence, and hectic work schedule
  • overall, there is a negative correlation between adverse risk factors and academic achievement

Poverty at School:

  • high tardy rates and absenteeism are common problems among poor students
    • school can help turn children’s lives around, but only if the children show up
  • parents who did poorly in school themselves may have a negative attitude about their children’s schools
    • these parents are often unwilling to get involved in school functions or activities, to contact the school about academic concerns, or to attend parent-teacher conferences
      • I’m not sure about the use of “unwilling” here; perhaps a better word would be “intimidated”? Do it make it easy for these parents to come in? What are we going to tell them at parent-teacher conferences?

Action Steps:

Thankfully, Jensen says that “teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential.”

My first thought about this statement was “HOMEWORK!” I don’t like homework (if you want to check for understanding, do it in the classroom and be able to quickly reteach or let a kid know they are doing things correctly), and I’m hoping that this part can be eye-opening for other teachers as well. It’s so important to remember what our students are facing when they go home; is your homework helping them master standards, or adding another level of stress to their already stressful lives?

Possibly my favorite part of any of the first chapters is this statement: “For example, some teachers perceive certain behaviors typical of low-SES children as ‘acting out’, when often the behavior is a symptom of the effects of poverty and indicates a condition such as a chronic stress disorder” (page 11).

I’m a huge advocate for understanding the root of any behavior, but how often have I just assumed a behavior was attention-seeking, when really it could have been related to Low-SES stress?

All in all, Jensen says that “the number of U.S. children in low-income situations is forecast to rise over the next few decades” (page 12). This isn’t something that’s going away, so we may as well embrace it and do our best to make all of our students successful.