Modern calligraphy lies somewhere between basic writing skills and art. We all learn to write from the age of 5 or so, and we’re also taught to handle a paintbrush and knock out a reasonable picture of a cat by the time we’re 7. Mastering either skill takes a little longer…
Calligraphy is where writing and illustration meet. We can all write the letter shapes and make them look artistic – it’s the pen and nib which give them a lot of their shape and style – and with practice and a little artistic flair we can accomplish a beautiful flow and grace to our lettering.
It takes 2 hours to learn the basics of modern calligraphy.
I’ve been teaching workshops of this length for a few years now; 99% of us learn to handle the calligraphy pen in this time and make great letter shapes. The trick is in the pen and how it moves.
By attending a calligraphy workshop you’ll see first hand how to hold your pen at the correct angle and use pressure to make the basic strokes of modern calligraphy – and this takes 2 hours to do.
Most people who come to my calligraphy workshops have never held a calligraphy pen before. By the end, almost everyone is writing a confident and shapely alphabet, and every single student can write letters with beautiful thick swells and delicate hairline strokes, ready to go home and practice in their own environment. We all learn at different rates – some students need a little more time than others, but everyone in my classes has been capable of gorgeous modern calligraphy lettering by the end of the session 🙂
But practice most definitely makes perfect where calligraphy is concerned, and 2 months of practice is vital even after you’ve attended a calligraphy workshop.
This is when you will learn how to make your letters flow – to test the waters and see if you can make that leap from writing to art with your letters. A dash of natural talent is required, but more important is confidence and the readiness to explore and experiment with your calligraphy. A few hours each week over the space of 2 months will equip anyone with the skills to write their own wedding stationery, gift tags or greetings cards.
2 months of regular practice will also tell if you have the natural talent to turn your calligraphy lettering into art.
Every calligrapher has their own unique style. This will take longer to develop: in my mind, 2 years of very regular practice is the minimum you will need to begin selling your services as a calligrapher. Even now – after 12 years of writing full time – I am learning. My writing develops every day and I don’t doubt in 2 years time my style will have changed again.
2 years allows you to relax into your calligraphy, to learn to enjoy experimenting and finding your own natural style. You’ll think you’ve found it after a year or so – but I promise as you grow into your art, your style will change. If you’re still in love with modern calligraphy after 2 years of daily practice, you’ll be ready to call yourself a professional – and you will know, because others will tell you first!
Mastering modern calligraphy is mission impossible.
If you join the forums and read the books you’ll have seen the phrase – if you’re a calligraphy lover on instagram you’ll know the hashtag #calligraphymasters. But modern calligraphy isn’t a static thing. Being a master of your art today leaves you with more to learn tomorrow – and this is one of the best aspects of calligraphy. It’s an ever-evolving art, which makes it impossible to master. There’s always more to learn and practice to be done – and the love of practising is kind of why we’re all here, right?
Hand calligraphy and bespoke commissions make up around a third of what I do.
Bespoke wedding invitations are wonderful to work on, and writing on handmade and watercolour papers is a dream. But these projects can be expensive, and I want calligraphy to be available to every bride and groom.
With this in mind I have developed a range of affordable calligraphy wedding invitations for By Moon & Tide. They’re timeless and on-trend, with minimalist design, beautiful typography and watercolour illustrations.
The 2018 invitation collection has something for every bride and groom, from botanicals to watercolour effects, soft dove greys to stormy midnight blues.
Prices start at £1.65 per invitation, with samples available for just £1.50. Each design in the collection has an invitation, rsvp cards and information card, and is easy to personalise for your wedding.
Calligraphy workshops are fun. We have a chat, and the more the group is talking during the class, the better – because as you focus on something other than writing, you relax and suddenly your calligraphy becomes more instinctive and natural.
So we talk about our jobs and lives and why we’re all there learning calligraphy. And I’m always asked how I got started in calligraphy.
I’ve always loved words – from spelling tests at primary school to learning joined-up writing, I was hooked. I read hundreds of books when I was young – weekly trips to our village library were a treat!
Then I chose to learn languages through school, while my friends went on to study art and design. I developed a bit of a fascination with how words are strung together and the nuance of meaning, while my friends showed me their typography projects – and I was hooked.
I dabbled with broad edged calligraphy as a teenager – a brief hobby (along with lace making and playing the flute!) which didn’t last long. But ever since, I’ve been super conscious of my handwriting. I’m a messy writer – and my scribbles will slant to the right, or to the left, or be super straight and neat, or girly and loopy depending on my mood!
Despite stuffing my old pens and nibs in a drawer for years, I later discovered calligraphy is like riding a bike. You don’t forget. So when I picked up a pen again 20 years later it felt natural and I fell in love with lettering all over again.
I was working in marketing at the time and took voluntary redundancy back in 2005. I picked up my calligraphy pens again (and bought a few new ones!) – writing wedding invitations for friends and working on traditional calligraphy poems as practice. In a year I built my business, learned about web design and coding, and began working on weddings locally and nationally.
At first I only had a website. Over the years my brand has grown and I now have a Facebook page, Instagram account, Etsy store and Not On The High Street shop.
My style of lettering has changed so much over the last 12 years: I began with gothic and italic lettering – which was totally on trend for weddings even such a short time ago! – and moved through Copperplate and Spencerian lettering to an organic, modern calligraphy style over the years.
As well as writing for brides and grooms, I write poems for anniversaries and gifts. I teach workshops, I sell calligraphy kits, inks and nibs.
I also write a wedding blog, which has helped me make contacts in the wedding industry and grow my calligraphy business.
And I’ve plans to try new things – in writing and crafts and life – over the next few years. I try to say yes to every new opportunity to make sure my story will continue!
As always, I offered a discount to any wedding photographers who’d like to come along to my last calligraphy workshop, and I’m thrilled lovely Emma Pilkington could join us on Friday! She took some gorgeous shots of all you new modern calligraphers at work – I thought I’d share the gallery with you here today.
If you’d like to join me for a modern calligraphy class this year, the next date is April 6th (online booking here) then we have more workshops in May, September, October and December. They’re all in Manchester – the photos show the classroom where you’ll learn the art of beautiful lettering!
Join me for a modern calligraphy workshop on one of these 2018 dates!
All workshops begin at one o’clock and finish at half past three. Click the links above to book, or see all workshops.
I’ll send you a booking confirmation in the post as soon as you’ve booked your place online. You’ll find the workshops in our little classroom at the Craft & Design Centre, around 10 minutes’ walk from Manchester Piccadilly station for easy accessibility from anywhere in the north of England.
If you’re struggling for ideas for a Mothers Day present this year, I can help!
These hand-finished family tree prints are a lovely gift for new mums, grandmothers and step-mums alike!
The modern family tree is a beautifully presented, informal record of your family at a moment in time.
With an original illustration by Welsh designer Amy Swann (who you may know from Kirstie Allsopp’s 2017 Christmas special), the family tree is perfect for springtime – there are even birds nesting in the tree!
Names are added by hand with a traditional calligraphy dip pen and nib, in archival quality ink which won’t fade.
Use our simple numbering system when you order online to put names on your family tree in the order they should be written.
Our new wedding invitations for 2018 are here! UK shoppers can find the collection of beautiful, personalised wedding invites in my Not On The High Street shop, while international customers can buy on Etsy.com (click the link to be taken directly to my store front!)
Each design has been carefully crafted with illustrative elements and calligraphy fonts to give you the calligraphy ‘look’ without the price tag of bespoke or handwritten pieces.
While I’m still writing bespoke invitations for smaller weddings, these wedding invitations are perfect for larger celebrations and couples on a tighter budget for wedding stationery.
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…
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!