Being a Wedding Calligrapher in the UK…

Obviously being a wedding calligrapher in the UK is the easiest and quickest way of making money EVER…. hence I only did it for two years before retiring to the South of France to spend the rest of my days languishing in luxury on the proceeds of my inky deeds. Unfortunately my opening sentence is a big fat fib; being a calligrapher of any sort is not a get rich quick scheme. AND, to be honest, calligraphy just isn’t as popular here in the UK as it is in the USA. We sit here with our nibs a quiver waiting for the inevitable calligraphy boom, waiting for when the UK follows yet another American trend… and we wait… and we wait some more… we have a few enquiries, we write wiggly words, we prepare our cursives, we flash with a flourish, but sadly this trend seems to passing us by. Actually, this is not the only American trend to fly over our heads… Martha Stewart also went down like a lead balloon; we have Mary Berry… and..er… Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen… The UK seems to like style gurus to be authentic… and possibly slightly bonkers… gurus who have passion, but don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously.
In my 2 years of offering my services as a wedding calligrapher I didn’t do too badly considering that my marketing was minimal and my blog posts were on the flippant side of sensible… plus, my photographs were not as professional as they could have been… they were snap and go whatever the weather. BUT, that’s how I wanted to work. I didn’t ever want to be too involved in the wedding industry. I just wanted to offer a service for those who appreciated calligraphy. After 2 years of doing this I realised that although I had the skills something was very wrong… I was unhappy. The truth is that I am not cut out to be wedding calligrapher. I do not have the mettle.
I do have a general anxiety disorder, and over time I developed a dread of writing calligraphy on wedding stationery… especially if it looked expensive… and this simply developed further into a terror of being asked to write commissions! Hopeless. I always feared cocking it all up…. or spilling ink over someone’s invites… there’s a lot than can go wrong in calligraphy and I am a natural born worrier. Plus, my ultra carefulness slowed me down – it was extreme… to the point of locking things away in boxes and not letting people, pets, food, drink, wet washing, scented candles, fluffy jumpers, Robert Downey jr. etc, within 100 yards of my working space. My cautiousness ate into my profits… I was probably earning less than £3.00 an hour because my quality control was second to none meaning I’d rewrite commissions that were perfectly fine the first time I’d written them. This is no way to behave. Experience did not improve the situation. I had to stop. I’d turned what was once a pleasant pastime into a miserable experience for myself in an effort to make money. I decided that just because I was relatively good a something, it didn’t necessarily follow that I had to make a career from it.
So now I work for myself, and if people want to buy anything I’ve already produced, then that’s nice… and I’m fine with digitally scanned work – I have no idea why this is because I don’t change anything after my work is scanned… and I have been making some bits and pieces for a friend who wants to sell them at a craft fair… maybe I need to be removed from the final customer! Who knows?
Meanwhile, here is something I did last week… in a relaxed orderly fashion…

poem-sweet-neglect-hand-written-calligraphy

Sweet Neglect by Ben Jonson

calligraphy-poem-sweet-neglect-by-Ben-Jonson-UK

On my mantelpiece.

poem-sweet-neglect-ben-jonson-uk

Close-up

23 thoughts on “Being a Wedding Calligrapher in the UK…

    • Thank you, Mr Lax! I’m fine when I do it for love and not money!
      I have no business sense either… I might run a competition for ‘Sweet Neglect’… giving away my work to friends in this manner feels rather subversive 🙂
      Sx

  1. “That example of your calligraphy is bloody awful. I’ve never seen such rubbish.You call that art? You want putting away somewhere where your can’t ruin the good name of Calligraphy; a monkey could do better with a pointed stick writing in the mud” somebody once said to me. When I recovered from the shock of hearing that, I gave my wife a good hiding. Honour satisfied.

    I bet when you started reading this comment your heart sank, and you grabbed your pens and threw them in the wheelie bin, and broke down, fell to your knees and sobbed your heart out before returning to read the rest of my comment.

    Well, you can relax and fetch your pens back. Your story is exactly like mine. When I could hold a pen (I can’t now, not properly anyway) I was always worried about messing up somebody’s expensive wedding stationery etc. Like you I finished up just writing and lettering stuff for myself; I didn’t get much money for that unless some idiot bought a piece of my calligraphy. I worked as a scribe in Winchester Cathedral for a long time when I lived in Hampshire. It was voluntary, part-time work so all the profits went into the Bishops holiday fund (?). I did sell quite a bit then, and didn’t worry about cocking something up, because if I did I just tore it up and threw it into the waste bin next to my desk, and watched the tourists fighting over it to get it out and and sellotape back together. (Well I can dream cant I?

    Oh, BTW, your calligraphy is beautiful.

    • Four years ago when my daughter was getting married I offered to do all the invites, place names and the wedding album. She said “Thanks Dad, but no, we want it ding properly. Andy (her fiancée) has already asked one of his mates” Never was my ego so destroyed!

    • Ha, Ha! Keith! Yes… it’s a funny thing, writing specifically for other people. Some can, some can’t… I can…if I’ve had a few whiskies… but that’s a slippery slope and a dodgy liver! I have a friend who spilt coffee over someone’s wedding album… I would have been mortified, but she was quite pragmatic… this was back in the eighties and the memory is lodged in my head… it didn’t even happen to me but I am anxious by proxy.
      I am planning a post about calligraphy and stretching exercises… I think it’s scheduled as calligraphy tip no.4 🙂
      Sx

  2. Well, thanks for the smiles.Keith said it very neatly.Could have been me, except that I was never professional and didn’t work at a cathedral.
    These days, I can barely read the shopping list and certainly would not do wedding things.But I am trying to make time to write some alphabets and flourishes in an attempt to keep my fingers more supple.I can’t comfortably stretch an octave now so I need to do these exercises. (I get strange looks when I walk around doing “Incey-Wincey Spider…”)

    • Dinah – I could never comfortably stretch an octave, hence my saxophone blog was short lived. My fingers are too short.
      When I work on a large piece of paper I sometimes feel like I am playing Twister!
      My new book will hopefully be out at Christmas as a stocking filler, it will be entitled: Finger Aerobics – A step by Step guide to keeping extremities supple.
      My second book will be something to do with toes.
      Sx

  3. I suppose I shouldn’t complain about calligraphy’s popularity in the U.S. anymore! 😛 I had no idea it was comparatively more popular over here.

    I do think it’s kind of a shame that calligraphy has become almost synonymous with wedding stationery. There are so many more occasions that may call for it! (I also find it kind of weird when I get a full wedding invitation in the mail, complete with hand-lettered script on heavy paper when I’m used to getting text messages from the couple for “Thurs. happy hr inv.’s”.)

    Do you often get asked to work on projects that aren’t wedding-related?

    • I also think it’s a shame that calligraphy has become synonymous with wedding stationery, but I think I’d like to have an envelope pop through my letterbox that was addressed in calligraphy! It would make a change.
      I sometimes have designers asking me to write a few words, which I like doing… but this isn’t at all regular… I write the words several different ways and we take it from there. Loads of graphic designers are learning the craft… so they don’t necessarily need to go looking for a calligrapher any more… unless they are looking for a distinctive style. I think this is how it is. I would probably be having a whale of a time if I learnt how to use photoshop!
      Sx

  4. So you’re saying something from the U.S. hasn’t migrated it’s way over and you’re SAD about that? Usually we send our crap to muck-up your nice culture. Figures.

    This is the oldest cautionary tale in the book and the reason why I would never, under any circumstances, undertake writing as a career. I don’t want to turn something I find casually amusing into a money-making venture. As soon as I have to pay the rent with it, it’s not fun anymore. That goes double for my rare book fascination.

    • I liked the Ford Cortina… and the Ford Capri was also fun… and ??? Actually you have a point, we do reject a lot of ideas from the US! I think we like your food portions and coffee shops… although in some towns there has been a backlash against Starbucks.and Costa Coffee.
      Agreed… some of us are better off keeping work separate from our pleasures!
      Sx

  5. That anxiety thing can be a bit of a bugger, can’t it? I used to make cakes for family, friends, and friends of friends, but gave up for the same reason. I never really made any money out of it because I was never satisfied with the finished article – I ended up practically giving them away! Now I’m much happier just making them as and when I feel like.
    At least with your beautiful calligraphy you have an advantage over cakes, in that your finished piece won’t “go off” if it’s not used within a day or two. You can have a back catalogue that American tourists will just snap up, rather than a cupbard full of mouldy old madeiras that not even the mice will touch!

    Ooh, let me know when “Finger Aerobics – A step by Step guide to keeping extremities supple” is out, as my spell-shaping gestures are becoming rather claw-like.

    • Hello, Mr Devine! I often think that writing calligraphy is akin to playing a computer game – I am always trying to get to the next level! I have discovered a few ‘cheats’ along the way… scheduled as Calligraphy Tip no. 2… which will be posted when I have finished knitting socks and mittens.
      Cakes! Does MJ know that you make cakes?! How do you stay so slim? I bet they were lovely. I know I would get in a fluster trying to ice perfect lettering.
      Meanwhile, I have eaten too much chocolate this weekend.
      Sx

  6. Hello! I loved this piece – and your honesty. I am out of work but enjoy fine handwriting, both reading and writing it. I think your work is beautiful. Remember that all those amazing Persian carpets deliberately have a mistake in (because only God is perfect. Hmmm). Very small errors make something more human and personal. Please carry on and don’t worry!

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