Nicole Miyuki Santo is a freelance artist, graphic designer, and teacher. Since 2015, she has taught in-person hand-lettering workshops to students of all ages. She is a kind spirit and truly believes that everyone, kids and adults included, can enjoy using their own two hands to create. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including Martha Stewart Magazine, and she is the author of By Hand: The Art of Modern Lettering and The Kids’ Book of Hand Lettering. Nicole lives in Los Angeles, California.
We first discovered Nicole Miyuki Santo when we ventured into the world of watercolor at the Watercolor Summit. Hand-lettering is something we’ve always had an interest in, and we were very excited to see that Nicole was one of the teachers at the summit. So excited in fact that after learning some of the preliminary aspects of watercolor (ie setting up your watercolor palette) we skipped ahead to Nicole’s class.
We were immediately impressed by her teaching style, and I shared some of our first practice alphabets from Nicole’s class in my post, Hand-Lettering with Watercolor | Watercolor Summit.
In this interview, Nicole shares how she first discovered her love of hand-lettering to the most rewarding part about teaching hand-lettering workshops.
When did you first discover your love of hand-lettering?
In 2012, I decided I need an outlet from my 9-5 job staring at a computer all day, so I took my love for quotes and watercolors and combined them. Once a day for about a year, I challenged myself and posted my lettering to a Tumblr I created called Grounded on The Daily. This was purely just for fun and by no means did I think lettering would eventually become my career! You can see how much my style has evolved since I first started. I fell in love with it because it was a form of expression and connection to myself and to others.
Tell me about some of the essentials for someone who is just starting to learn the art of hand lettering…
A willingness to be a beginner and an open mind to not just quit when “yours doesn’t look that good.” In addition, I believe this art form is more than just muscle memory. The essence of anything I’ve put out into the world, whether it’s me teaching in-person or online, or my books, I talk about being mindful. Taking a step back and being able to dissect your own lettering and see where you can grow, is what will help anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner of if you’ve been doing lettering for a while. This isn’t just “your handwriting,” and I believe there is so much power in knowing why and then beginning to learn the how.
At what point did you decide to start teaching workshops?
I started teaching in 2014/2015 when lettering workshops were just starting to be a thing. I was approached by a small retail store and I actually said no in the beginning. It wasn’t the right time in my personal life, and I remember thinking “Who am I to teach!” But it seems there was more in the cards for me. The opportunity came up again a few months later and I decided to say yes to something that I had never done before. And I LOVED it. Then, in 2016 I taught my workshop online as part of the Modern Calligraphy Summit, in which being in front of a camera does NOT come naturally to me. So again, I got pushed out of my comfort zone.
If you’re reading this and getting approached by something that scares you, ask yourself if you’re getting in your own way because of fear. If that’s the case, do your future self a favor and get out of your way. Do that thing that scares you the most.
Has there been a workshop in particular that has stood out from the rest?
January 2018 in Orange County, CA. I stopped teaching workshops for the last half of 2017 as I was writing my book By Hand, so when I announced I was teaching a few workshops in 2018, I was nervous. I had been off social media for a while to write and I remember feeling insecure and wondering if anyone would sign up. That workshop did fill up, but more humbling than that, it was the women in that workshop who were such a special group who reminded me that if you do something you love and share it with others, people will connect with it and with you.
In addition to giving workshops for adults, you also give workshops for kids. What is the most rewarding part of this experience?
Yes, kids! Their child-like mind, heart, and wonder for the world are what make me smile. But what I did not expect, was the way some of them talked to themselves; I felt like I was teaching adults. I heard some of them saying out loud that their art was not “good enough” or that it didn’t look perfect. I actually wrote a post on my Instagram about that experience and I’d say that was the most rewarding part. It’s a message I hope The Kids’ Book of Hand Lettering will continue to spread.