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The Business of Calligraphy

I suppose that having grown up with a parent who is an artist, and having gone to an art school, I have been frequently surrounded by people who know that being any kind of artist is not necessarily easier than another occupation. Many times, it takes all the aspects of being able to run your own business, plus mastering a technique, learning what tools to use and how to use them, and constantly pushing yourself to learn more.

Not too long ago, someone had asked me if doing calligraphy is hard. There are two ways I could have taken it. Either that they wanted to know more about my occupation, or that they did not think much of it. But in the context, I took it as the former. Sure, it seems like all you would have to do is pick up any pen on your desk and it's as simple as writing your own name. That happens in a fluid motion, but with calligraphy that's not how it goes. You need patience to use pressure on the down strokes and a light hand for thin upstrokes. Even though it looks smooth in the end, it's actually the addition of many smaller pieces.

So if you're planning a wedding, you're not here to learn calligraphy. I'll make it simple. First it takes dedicated practice time that you must keep up with. You'll even see the top calligraphers posting pictures of their practice. Second, you'll probably spend a bit of time figuring out what tools to use, i.e. what pen holders and nibs work for you best, what inks work with which paper, what nibs to use for each project, creating different styles, and so on. And then there's the business aspect of it: creating content to share, posting on social media, networking, designing and producing promotional materials, and just staying up to date on what is popular and what people are looking for.

One reason I wanted to explain this is so I can help more people understand why calligraphy is priced the way it is. I take into account how long a service will take me and how much I can complete within a time frame. That way I can come up with a reasonable number for both myself and my clients. I often get the idea that people don't know just how time intensive it can be. It takes several minutes to address one envelope, depending on the style. You have to ensure each line is formatted correctly and then begin. It is longer than one might expect because in the end in looks effortless to the unknowing eye.

There are also many people offering calligraphy services at too low of a price. This is either because they are doing it as side job or hobby, they don't know their worth, or they don't mind doing more for less just so they can book the job. This hurts those who are running a full-time business because customers start to think that you are overpriced and are tempted to use them instead. The only thing we can ask for is that you reconsider when this happens.

The detail of calligraphy can really make the difference in my eyes. Even as weddings are becoming more casual, I think if you're still throwing a party you can use it. It creates an impressive first impression, it makes your guests feel special, and it can make the event feel more complete.

On a final note, something important that I think is overlooked is that art is personal. It isn't left on the desk to come back to the next day. It can be hard to separate from your ideas when taking breaks, so they end up always on your mind. How can I improve, what can I do differently, what can I learn from others' success? Personally, I love that I can feel that connected to my job. Although it can add pressure at times, it holds more significance in the end.


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Paige is so pleased to be a full time calligrapher, working in her NY studio with her beagle keeping her toes warm. When she's not writing, she's making surface pattern designs and reading.

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