How I became a calligrapher – my story

I don’t think I was ever meant to follow a straight or conventional path through life. I was raised on adventure stories and grew up in the countryside as a bit of a free spirit. At school I loved languages while my friends studied art. Words were my thing from day one…

Photo credit: Jenny Heyworth Photography

My dad trained as a draftsman, creating precise technical drawings for a living. My mum is an artist with a love of abstract and a talent for watercolour painting. I see my calligraphy as a combination of my parents’ skills – a dash of precision from my dad and a little of my mum’s creative flair goes into every word I write.

Perhaps it was nature rather than nurture that brought me here then. It certainly wasn’t my degree in languages and marketing, although the latter does still help me to run my little business.

I graduated from Salford uni in the nineties and got my first job as a marketing assistant for a company making rubber stamps. It was sooooo dull! My next marketing job was no better, working for Kays catalogue taught me three things: I never wanted to be a manager; I couldn’t stand being part of a big corporation; and I had a bit of a rebellious streak. (That’s from mum too.)

When the company moved from Manchester to Liverpool I happily took voluntary redundancy. With £8k in the bank to start my business, I decided calligraphy was the career for me.

Now, I’ve no idea why I chose calligraphy. Looking back, it seems more than insane! I was struggling with depression at the time, but I don’t think I can blame that for my choices. What I do remember is skipping out of that corporate job on my very last day, and being genuinely excited to begin my new calligraphy journey.

People ask if I’d done calligraphy before. The answer is yes – but for a couple of weeks as a teenager – along with lacemaking and playing the flute. So why I chose to go back to lettering I’ve no idea!

I got lucky though. I was determined, and I had time to practice a lot. Writing was a full time job from the day I left Kays. I poured everything I had into learning calligraphy and at the same time taught myself to build websites and advertise my business.

Slowly I built my first brand, The Wedding Calligrapher. In 2005 I probably wrote for 30 brides and grooms, and this was before calligraphy was even on trend.

One thing I love about calligraphy and weddings is how quickly styles change. I started out making scroll invitations in a gothic, mediaeval style. I taught myself new styles, gilding, even dabbled in bookbinding and pyrography along the way. (I do want to go back to both of those and try my hand again one day!) From heavy mediaeval letters through to formal copperplate and spencerian I learned to transform my calligraphy style and business to keep up with trends. By 2015 I was writing modern calligraphy and developing my own organic lettering style.

By this time I’d worked on celebrity weddings, for Louis Vuitton, the BBC – and I was asked to write place names for Kirstie Allsopp’s Vintage Home book and TV series. From there I was asked to teach calligraphy workshops at Hampton Court – an expensive adventure which served as a huge confidence boost (teaching 100 people via a microphone and TV screen is so funny! I loved the buzz but felt as though I’d landed right back in the corporate arena so I decided twice was enough!)

As a practice run for my first Handmade Fair calligraphy classes I’d taught a modern calligraphy workshop in Manchester – a small class of just 14 – and I loved it. Meeting new people, watching them learn to use a calligraphy nib and being able to give everyone the attention and help they needed just feels right to me – and being able to pass on my love of letters and learning – on my own terms – is the best thing ever!

So that’s how I got here. A very random journey, a habit of saying yes and seeing where life takes me, and a dash of luck and opportunity!

Calligraphy is still changing fast. 2018 will bring a big shift in what sells and how to market lettering – so I have no more than an inkling of what’s to come.

But that’s me – that’s what I love about my job and I’m looking forward to the next adventure!

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