I've been a calligrapher since 2005.
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…
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.
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.
This was 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.
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.
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. 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. As well as writing for brides and grooms, I write poems for anniversaries and gifts. I teach workshops and I sell calligraphy kits for absolute beginners.
One thing I love about calligraphy and weddings is how quickly styles change. I started out making scroll invitations in a gothic, mediaeval style. My style of lettering has changed so much over the last 12 years: I began with gothic and italic calligraphy and moved through Copperplate lettering to an organic, modern calligraphy style over the years. From heavy mediaeval letters through to formal copperplate 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 - and it barely paid for my expenses - 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!
I also write a wedding blog, which has helped me make contacts in the wedding industry and grow my calligraphy business. 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. Every year brings 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!