Unfettered Letters

Unfettered Letters

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This digital-savvy entrepreneur is helping others find a creative outlet or a side hustle with online hand-lettering courses.

Helping virtual learners is a passion and profession for Gracia Ostendorf. She works part-time developing online training, graphics, and professional development resources for Miami University Regionals’ online faculty. 

The other half of the time she devotes to building and running Unfettered Letters, her small business focused on creating hand lettering and digital illustration art, as well as teaching others how to do the same through online courses, workbooks, and tutorials.

Ostendorf’s knack for hand lettering started out as a hobby. “I’ve always had a thing for pretty handwriting,” she says. “I really love to learn new things, so making a side business out of it came from that drive, and just a general curiosity about all the pieces that go into running a business. It’s been challenging, but also really gratifying when all the effort comes together and things start to work.”

With a background in education and instructional design, she’s combined her passions in creating learning resources for others who want to learn the art of lettering. 

Gracia Ostendorf, Founder of Unfettered Letters. Photo: Kristen Victoria Photography

“It felt like a natural progression to me,” she adds. 

The one-woman show primarily focuses on digital education resources for hand lettering and illustration. 

Currently Ostendorf has an online course with more coming soon, and some downloadable hand lettering workbooks, as well as free tutorials on her Youtube channel and blog

“I also have a couple in-person workshops coming up over the summer at Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center where I’ll teach a lettering style called ‘faux calligraphy,’” she adds.

For those who are interested in acquiring pieces from Ostendorf, she is always taking on new commissions and commercial lettering/illustration work. 

“I do a lot of hand lettered quotes for people to hang in their homes, and have done some illustration work for companies to use in their marketing and social media,” she says. “I started my company by printing my custom hand lettering and Cincinnati-themed illustrations on stationery and home goods like art prints, greeting cards, mugs, and stickers, so I do still have some of those for sale on my Etsy page, and I also provide those goods to local shops like Joseph Beth, Handzy, and Coda Co.”

The online course offered by Unfettered Letters is called Fundamentals for Lettering in Procreate, and is available on Skillshare. 

“Procreate is an app on the iPad that is extremely popular for digital lettering with the Apple Pencil,” she explains. “This course walks through the different features of Procreate and, more importantly, how they apply to lettering. Students in this class will learn Procreate tools and techniques in the context of an actual lettering project to build the foundation they need to create professional quality hand lettering pieces that they can get hired for.”

Ostendorf also just launched a free 7-day email course called Kickstart Your Lettering that teaches the basics of hand lettering, from the anatomy of letters to the process to creating a full lettering layout and composition. 

“I built this course and am offering it for free because I know how much of a struggle it was for me to learn some of the more nuanced parts of lettering without having any formal education in design or art,” she says. “I wanted to compile all the technical concepts that I wish I’d known when I started lettering and offer that to others to help them get a jumpstart on their lettering careers.”

Ostendorf hopes that those who take the course will walk away with two things. The first is the confidence that they can develop their own creative outlet. 

“Before a couple years ago when I started doing this, I never really considered myself ‘creative,’” she says. “I’ve always been very left-brained – I like logic, rules, and organization. But I learned that logic and creativity aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, to learn lettering you have to be able to follow specific rules, analyze why things do or don’t fit together, dissect elements of different styles and build them back up. I think lettering is an easy creative skill to get into as a “non-creative” because you’re already halfway there – you already know the alphabet, you just need to learn about it a little bit deeper and in some different ways than you initially did back in kindergarten. Finding this creative outlet has been really satisfying for me, and I hope that I can help others find that as well.”

Photo: Kristen Victoria Photography

She also wants to help others who take her courses to develop the skills they need in order to start their own business or side hustle. She’s found that working for herself has pushed her out of her typical comfort zone and put her in new situations and given her the opportunity to meet people that she otherwise wouldn’t have met. 

“I’ve found a lot of freedom in escaping the traditional 9-5 routine, and I hope I can be a part of helping someone else find that freedom and novelty too if they’re looking for it,” she says.

Currently, Ostendorf is working on a new online course for lettering in Procreate. “This one is focused on adding texture to your pieces, which is a skill that really takes illustrations to the next level and is crucial if you want to sell your work commercially,” she explains. “It’s also something that I haven’t been able to find many existing resources on, so I’m hopeful it will really be helpful to other letterers out there.”

Additionally, Ostendorf is working on creating a handful of new lettering style worksheets, as well as setting up weekly lettering prompts and challenges that email subscribers will get to help them practice and develop their lettering skills.”

You can follow Unfettered Letters on Instagram and at unfetteredletters.net. You can sign up for the mailing list/free email course, get more information on online courses and workbooks, and find new tutorials and blog posts to help you learn lettering on the website.

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