How did you become a calligrapher? I’ve been asked more than once. And the answer is, I just sort of did, which isn’t really an answer. But it’s the best short answer I have.
Once upon a time, for many years, I was a writer. It was all I wanted to do and all I ever thought I would do. I worked online, in print, for editors, on spec. Fiction, drama, film journalism. In college, I got my first longterm writing job and quit my part time retail job, which never really paid much as the clothing discount sort of canceled out that whole paycheck thing.
I was writing screenplays and doing magazine work and starting to do some editing, too. Into my mid-twenties, I was a writer.
Photography was always something I loved, but not LOVED in the way I loved writing. (Not like something I’d tattoo on my foot.) The heart in “I Heart Writing” was a great big puffy heart of the “I Heart NY” sort, while the one for photography was a bit smaller.
I chose not to major in film because I felt that it was a world I grew up in and knew well. Maybe I’d go to film school for my MFA. Undergrad, I stuck with English Lit and Creative Writing. Words, words, words. Yet from my early teens, I was always carrying a camera or video camera. I was making short films and documentaries. I was winning awards for the stories I wrote, and the ways that I told them. Still, photography remained a hobby until I was hired to do some commercial work in 2005, and suddenly I had a hyphenated career. Every picture tells a story.
The social media news cycle made for writing deadlines more Broadcast News than anything I’d ever known. I was used to having 6, 8, 12 weeks to do research and interviews and develop a story. Suddenly it was 24 or 48 hours, maybe a week-ish. I could balance editing and writing, but photo had to give a bit.
And the timing was right. Because another one of those things I loved and always did but not for work was turning into work, and there was no way I could be doing ALL THE THINGS.
Hand lettering, modern calligraphy, writing in the most literal sense. When I was young it was for yearbook and addressing holiday cards. Later place cards and invites. And then, just a few years ago, I began asked to do it as work, and I found myself happy to balance the speed at which writing for the internet moved with the slow and deliberate pace of pen and ink.
In the last several years, my writing life has changed so much I sometimes feel a bit adrift. The speed of social media work was hard to balance with creative habits I’d spent over a decade developing. But I looked at the direction writing work was going and wanted to evolve with it. Change was hard.
Do you know what doesn’t change much? Handwriting.
Sitting down with a ream of paper and a full inkwell is like meditation. I leave the desk and keyboard, or the pages of editing I’m marking up, and move to my dining room table where I sit down with one word or perhaps twelve. Focusing on the letters as they lose their meaning, becoming shapes and lines.
I write. And I write. Great big pink puffy hearts, I write.