Becoming a Calligrapher

My First Class

When I started, I didn’t know “becoming a calligrapher” was an option. I fell hard for broad edge calligraphy as a child. My first class was over a school break in 5th grade. I got a scholarship for the course my teacher, Theresa Randolph, was offering. We used Elegant Writer felt tip markers to write Italic script and what we called “Old English”. I got to keep the markers and I was hooked. I loved the way the strokes fit together and I could just write and write. 25 years later, I still love those elements of calligraphy.

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Continuing Practice

My mom worked at our elementary school in the cafeteria. After work, she volunteered as a teacher’s aide, building a community for herself and us. One of her friends, an ESL teacher named Adrianna Beets, knew I loved calligraphy. She kindly Xeroxed a bunch of guidesheets for me in Copperplate script, which I may still have . . . I know I ended up with some Staedler fountain pens and I think my next set of Elegant Writers came with a booklet by Ken Brown.

I wouldn’t say I improved, but I continued to write for the next few years, for fun, for birthday cards or anything I thought needed to be “decorative”. In 7th grade I drew out a classmate’s name as a gift to her because I liked her name. A different classmate saw me tracing my own work for the final draft and accused me of copying. I let that be the last piece I did for years.

Picking Up Where I Left Off

My late 20’s had me writing love poems and calligraphy resurfaced for presenting them. Around the same time, a little website called Instagram had become popular. In June of 2014, I hopped on and checked out the #calligraphy tag, I found a community of people who loved letters and writing as much as I did. I’d never met anyone who felt that way too. It validated my desire to get back into calligraphy. I was fortunate to find Paul Antonio pretty early on while searching YouTube. He is vastly knowledgeable about the history of writing and calligraphy. His value of work ethic was what reeled me in and piqued my interest in becoming a calligrapher.

Diving In

I was working full time as a server and raising my two sons as a single parent (still am!). In September 2015, Copper Willow Paper Studio, a stationer in El Segundo, hosted their first design and production workshop, Pen to Press. The link will take you to my first post on this blog. Even though I didn’t know how I was gonna pull it off, I knew I couldn’t not go. To me, this was a doorway in to becoming a calligrapher. I maxed out my credit card registering for the workshop and booked a cheap hotel by the airport. I got care for my sons and drove out to California. During the workshop, I took notes, ran the press, and returned to my deep love of paper. I drove home ready to step into the shoes of my new business, enjoying a lunar eclipse.

Early Stages of the Business

By September, my best friend pushed me through establishing my LLC. I learned in the workshop to keep my business earnings separate from my personal earnings. I never made more than a few hundred dollars a year because I was still working full time, raising my sons, and by that time I had started my first yoga teacher training. Early photos on my Instagram are practically all taken at night. Any money I made doing calligraphy I spent to attend workshops in Phoenix to learn more about calligraphy from experienced practitioners. I was intimidated by them until I understood that they were under the same calligraphy spell I was under.

Taking the Leap

Within 2 years of establishing the LLC, I started working fewer hours at a different serving job. I stayed there for 2 years as well while I was building a name for myself. On Leap Day 2020 I left that job too to devote 100% of my effort to growing the business properly: to becoming a calligrapher. To me, that means following a schedule, having integrity and being transparent in my practices, and not being afraid to talk about and promote what I do. I’m willing to do what it takes to continue. I do that, conscious that my current position is due to the favors and privileges I have received my entire life.

Honestly, for the first five years, I was waiting for calligraphy to become serious about me. I said this phrase aloud many times: “When things pick up, I’ll leave my day job”. I had it backwards. A global pandemic is out of my hands and really could lead to me falling flat on my face. But I don’t want to live with the regret later of not knowing what would’ve happened had I given it a real shot.

I’m not just doubling or tripling down on my business, I’m doubling down on myself by concentrating my efforts. That comes with uncertainty. I used to think “uncertainty” meant “not knowing what bad thing is going to happen.” I am working with other possibilities around that word. My mind feels uncertain but my resolve doesn’t. Working for myself is still unsettling to me, but learning about, teaching, and making calligraphic pieces is more important than pacifying that discomfort.

So those are the highlights of my journey to becoming a calligrapher. Above all, I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to have your attention. If I have helped you on your path, I am honored. Thank you so much.