Usha Rajpal Cheddi on cravings for creative curation and redefining a “work in progress” brand voice

Usha Rajpal Cheddi is a hand lettering artist in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), curating an online hub where diverse everyday audiences will find tutorials on fun, accessible lettering and creative crafting projects. Her brand, Lettering by Usha, launched on Instagram on July 28, 2016, followed by an accompanying blog in March 2018.

Lettering by Usha began with something many readers may know well: A creative halt. A slow patch. A, “what do I do with this confusing creative energy, now?”

Looking for ways to reunite herself with creating, Usha invested in learning how to practice hand lettering with brush pens. A new mom with a full-time job, and with a longtime passion for colours, pen work and artistry, Usha hopes she will one day host workshops for fellow up and coming creatives – giving them equal access to positive hands-on opportunities to practice hand lettering, an art with which she has fallen in love.

We connect with Usha to learn more about her journey, the skills she’s learned while managing a growing family and a 9-5, all while treading entrepreneurial waters. This is what Usha had to say:

Usha Rajpal Cheddi beginning to craft the phrase, "You are strong," using soft pink pen ink. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.
Usha Rajpal Cheddi begins to craft the phrase, “You are strong,” using soft pink pen ink. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.

1. What inspired you to start Lettering by Usha? 

I had a lifestyle blog that I was working on around the same time that I started Lettering by Usha. I just wasn’t feeling the creative spark any more, despite that I had been writing for two years. I then somehow stumbled upon calligraphy on Instagram and thought, “Hey, that would be so awesome to try.” I ventured out and bought a calligraphy kit, but just couldn’t get myself familiar with how to use a pointed pen. That’s when I found this whole community of other creatives who do hand lettering with brush pens.

To track my progress, I started my Instagram account and then eventually kickstarted a blog to showcase my learnings. This blog has now become a place where I publish tutorials on how to create, using some of my favourite art and hand lettering supplies.

In the early days, I took two courses from the Queen of Hand Lettering herself, Amanda Arneill. She has many online creative classes and I wanted to learn from someone else. I had previously experienced difficulties with the art of self-teaching and Amanda’s lessons worked for me. For anyone looking to start hand lettering, I encourage you to check out her classes.

2. How long had you been dreaming of launching a business that not only showcases your passions for the art of lettering, but also creating blog posts and tutorials so audiences can also learn?

I would say that I’ve always been a creative person, by nature. After I worked on my lifestyle blog, I started a candy bouquet side hustle, but I would eventually lose that creative spark, too.

It wasn’t until I came upon hand lettering that I truly found something I was passionate about and to which I could commit. In 2017, I  had the urge to boost my brand and try something new, so I opened up my own Etsy shop, where audiences could download my digital designs. It was a great experience!

I surprised myself by making sales within the first year, but then life came along. I became a mom, started a blog and life got really busy. Eventually, I didn’t have the time to invest in a shop. It ended up costing me more money to have it stay open.

I’ve since closed this Etsy chapter and am now focusing on making tutorials and curating creative hand lettering content for my blog.

Right now, my dream is to host creative workshops, working with diverse brands and partners to bring new artists together. I’m currently working with Paper Mate and I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

3. What do you think these workshops will look like? What are a few concepts you absolutely want the workshops to include? 

I guess you will have to follow me to find out!

I am putting it out there into the universe: I would love to facilitate my very own creative workshop! I want to meet others, make connections and have that community creative experience.

4. What was that moment or experience that finally made you say, “I’m just going to do it?”

I think it happened when I was on maternity leave in February 2018. I said, “Just do it, Usha. You have nothing to lose. Yeah, you have a newborn and you are new at this mom thing, but you’ll figure it out.”

Becoming a mom proved I needed space and time for me, where I could be myself and showcase myself. Call it creative self-care, if you will.

5. What were some of the fears you had before officially launching Lettering by Usha? What skills have you developed to help you recognize and cope?

I don’t think I had initial fears when I first started Lettering by Usha. I think I’ve developed fears along the way, like negative self-talk: “You are not good enough in this trade. You can never be successful.”

While I know that our inner critic can prevent us from achieving our dreams, I think mine is actually trying to motivate me and push me further. I want to prove to myself that I can do it.

I feel it’s important to share that I’m a very positive person. I try to surround myself with as much positive energy as possible, whether it’s the environment I’m in, the people I have relationships with, the podcasts I listen to, the YouTube videos I watch or the books I read. I am very big on self-growth and manifesting the good. These tactics have helped me advance and learn to mute that little-big negative voice inside my head.

In the end, though, I know I am in control of my life and I am living a life I love! I am completely in flow with myself and my craft.

6. Who has been your biggest support since you started Lettering by Usha?

My husband, Ryan. He always believes in me and supports my ideas. We work together as a partnership to ensure I can buy all my lettering supplies, which can be really expensive, and he respects that I need to invest in building content, taking photos and brainstorming ideas for new Instagram shares. Ryan supports my commitment to writing blog posts and tutorials and is always pushing me to be better. He consistently tells me, “Go for it. You got this.”

7. You  also work full-time at Toronto’s University of Guelph-Humber and, as you mentioned, are a new mom! Congratulations on all of this. What have you learned about time and stress management in the last year?

If it means a lot to you, you will find the time for it. There are no excuses.

For me this means: packing chores, laundry, cooking and cleaning into a few days, so the rest of the days I can dedicate time to my creative side, while the baby naps. When the baby sleeps at night, I’m blogging, lettering or crafting (with Netflix on in the background!).

It’s funny because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself to be much busier than I once was.

I truly believe there is something positive to take away from every hard situation that life offers. With that thought in mind, managing stress is doable, while still acknowledging previous or prospective hardship.

I also like to remind myself what I am grateful for, ensuring I don’t forget that I am on my own path and journey. I should trust that journey!

8. In early 2019, you returned to work after maternity leave. What has this adjustment and transition period been like for you?

I would say that the transition is going well, and the reasons for this are my support systems. I have a very encouraging and loving husband. We work as a team and don’t stop until the dishes have been done, the laundry has been folded and lunches are packed. I also have a very generous family and I work in a very supportive environment. 

Usha Rajpal Cheddi is the Founder of Lettering by Usha. She is pictured wearing a grey knit shirt and a smile. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.
Usha Rajpal Cheddi is the Founder of Lettering by Usha. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.

9. How has creating with Lettering by Usha impacted this new chapter? Has it made the transition easier?

I would say so! I look forward to my evenings, because after the baby goes to bed, it’s my time to work on my blog, letter or craft. But to be honest, this schedule is similar to when I was on maternity leave. I tried to spend as much time as possible during the day with the baby, since I knew I could never gain that time back. I wanted to be there, fully, as often as I could. It was when he went to bed that I was able to work on my creations. The added and official lunch hour at work, however, does help with working on my blog, nowadays.

10. What types of art had you gravitated to, before Lettering by Usha? Why did calligraphy and hand lettering stick as something you wanted to continue to practice?

As a child, I had a pen collection. I remained fascinated with writing and creativity. I was always on the lookout for pens to find the “perfect” blue ink! I guess I never tapped into this until I discovered hand lettering, a practice that allows me to love the progress I am making, personally and creatively.  I enjoy adult colouring books too, but  since Lettering by Usha kickstarted, I haven’t been able to dedicate time to that activity.

11. Everyone has a unique definition of what, “the creative process,” is. How would you describe yours?

My creative process is: always exposing myself to new things. I gain inspiration from daily life, conventional or unconventional conversations, YouTube, podcasts, books, quotes, nature and being in tune with what is happening within the creative industry. The more “new” things I expose myself to, the more inspiration I feel and the more newer ideas come to mind.

12. Should you ever feel as though you’re in need of a creative refresh, where do you go? What do you do?

I try to see what is trendy within the industry, keeping a keen eye on what other creators, artists and entrepreneurs are working on. Instagram and Pinterest make this really easy.

13. Have you designated a certain work space in your home, or perhaps somewhere in your community, where you can go to curate lettering and blog content?

This is on my dream/wish list! I currently don’t have a dedicated space, and I am usually lettering at my kitchen table, which is often filled with art supplies. When it’s blog time, I’m on the couch, streaming something in the background, while writing away.

I don’t have a dedicated space to work on Lettering by Usha, because my house simply doesn’t have the space. But maybe one day I can have my own little nook – that would be wonderful!

14. Lettering by Usha is on Instagram, Pinterest and WordPress. How has connecting with audiences through these platforms increased readership, awareness and engagement?

I love connecting with others – so, readers, please don’t hesitate to send me a message!

Truth be told, social media is not really my thing and I am always trying to grow my platform and brand, but it’s been really hard. I am really struggling with it and I feel as though I have no idea what I’m doing. My strategy is to create content, put it out there and hope for the best. If anyone out there wants to give me a boost and help me out, let’s chat. 

15. What are a few ways that you connect with audiences, supporters and partners offline (#IRL)?

This is something I am hoping to do more of in 2019. It’s been hard with a baby and working full-time. I hope that I can connect with audiences more by attending future creative lifestyle events and workshops.

16. Have you received any feedback or advice from the community that you’ve used to build Lettering by Usha? Has there been any feedback or advice you’ve received that you chose to ignore?

I once received advice that aimed to help me find a niche target audience and my online voice. However, I found this perspective didn’t get me where I had hoped, and I didn’t love the results. So, I’m just going with the flow. I feel happy doing what am doing. If I am happy, I believe the rest will follow.

On the flip side, a great piece of advice I got was to try and grow the Lettering by Usha audience organically. “Don’t be tempted to buy followers, because that does nothing for the end game,” was valuable and insightful.

17. Are you following any fellow artists who inspire you? Who are there and how can we follow along?

There are so many people!

I adore Tombow USA. It’s my dream to work with this stationary brand, someday. They have a wonderful team of artists, too.

I don’t want to miss anyone, but I do want to mention Mimi Ikonn (found on YouTube). Mimi has really inspired me to go for it and do what I am doing.

Usha Rajpal Cheddi continues to craft the phrase, "You are strong," using soft pink pen ink. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.
Usha Rajpal Cheddi continues to craft the phrase, “You are strong,” using soft pink pen ink. Photo courtesy of: Usha Rajpal Cheddi.

Usha, thank you for sharing your story with A Quarter Young and for being transparent about your experiences developing a social media voice and presence. We look forward to learning more about your upcoming workshops and can’t wait to see you presenting your findings, and teaching best practices, for audiences of all creative abilities.

Readers, for more about Usha and her creative journeys, visit www.letteringbyusha.com and follow @LetteringbyUsha on Instagram.

The feature photo is courtesy of Usha Rajpal Cheddi.

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