Starting My Calligraphy Business
The questions I get asked the most, by far, are “How did you get started in calligraphy?” and “How did you start your Calligraphy Business?”
The short, but not super helpful version is this:
The longer version is almost too long and is not your average “calligraphy journey”. The story, in a way, spans my entire life. If you’re interested in reading basically my life story, you’re in the right place! If you’d prefer to learn about the more tangible, actionable steps involved in starting a creative business, I’m actually doing a Webinar on this very subject in two weeks, with Sylvia Wong of Via Calligraphy. If you’d rather skip my long-winded diatribe and just watch the webinar, go here to sign up!
Okay, so. Back to my life story. I am one of those people who picked up a pencil at like 3 years old and just basically never stopped drawing, and never really cared about anything else. I am incredibly lucky to have super supportive parents who signed me up for art lessons when I was 9, and I attended an after-school art class every Tuesday until I was 17 and started college (Quebec is weird that way and we do less high school, but kind of double-college).
I was always going to be an artist, it was just a question of what medium and in what capacity. But, given that my college years & the early stages of my career coincided with a really strange, transitional time in the art world, I struggled to find my place for almost a decade. I dropped out of my first college art program (Illustration & Design) because it drained my creativity - basically I went from drawing every day of my life for fun, to dreading the act of sitting down to draw. That totally broke my heart, and I knew it wasn’t worth sticking with something that affected me so negatively. So, I switched into a more lighthearted program (Visual Arts) in order to graduate with my artistic soul intact. It was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and was totally based on my gut instinct.
In 2009, I took a year off from school and tried incredibly hard to make something close to a living from art (while also working at Blockbuster! Can you believe?!). This was before Instagram was a thing, so even though I did things like host my own art shows, had an Etsy shop and would post my paintings & drawings anywhere on the internet that I could (hi, Deviantart, Tumblr, and MySpace!) I hardly made a dime. I went back to school in 2010, enrolling in Fine Arts at Concordia University, but ultimately dropped out after one year (#artschooldropout). I never felt like I had the theory behind my work to be one of those fancy artists who shows at galleries, but also didn’t understand the mysterious world of commercial art or how to break into it. Even though I had a lot of skills and passion, I lacked focus and didn’t have the tools to turn myself into an entrepreneur at that point. So, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would never make a living as an artist. I bounced around in other jobs that were at least a little artsy, first as a makeup artist and then as a graphic designer…but nothing ever felt right or made me feel whole. There was always something missing, and it hurt. I was a big sad mess and I would cry in my car on my way to work every day. (#emolife)
And then in 2015, randomly and without really knowing what calligraphy was, I enrolled in a Copperplate Calligraphy class (taught by Joy Deneen, who is the best). I fell in love with it instantly, and finally felt like I had stumbled upon a medium that I could really focus on and build something around. After the course (which was in-person and 8 weeks long!) was done, I had not just a new hobby to focus on after getting home from my 9 to 5, but a mission. I was deeply miserable at my day job, and was already planning on making serious moves towards leaving it and pursuing a freelance career. Calligraphy was the catalyst that made me really take action. I practiced constantly, paying extra attention to developing my own style and making the kind of things that I wanted to eventually get hired to do.
It took me a long time, and a lot of hideous work (PSA: When you learn a new artistic skill, you will have about 100 pieces of just-plain-bad art in you, that you’ll need to get out of your system! #Facts) before I started taking on “real” clients. In the Summer of 2016 I worked my first Wedding Season, which included a few disastrous situations - particularly one on-site seating chart that I actually contemplated running away from halfway through. Even though my work was not perfect and the jobs were coming in sporadically, at the end of that summer I took a bit of an insane leap of faith and quit my full-time graphic design job to pursue being a freelance calligrapher & artist.
I’m a naturally artistic person, not a naturally business-minded person, so turning my creative passion into a business was a steep learning curve for me. Admittedly, I leapt a little too soon, and even though I had savings when I quit - it wasn’t the most financially sound move. If I could go back in time, maybe I would have tried to tough it out a little longer at my old job, at least until I had a firmer grasp on the business side of things. It took me a solid year of working for myself to really find my footing and start bringing in the kind of money that I could actually support myself with. Now, 2.5 years into being my own boss, I am very comfortable calling myself a “business lady” - thanks to lots and lots and lots of trial & error, many late nights pouring over business articles & books, years of failures & mistakes behind me to keep me motivated, and a teeny tiny bit of luck.
Being a “#girlboss” or whatever isn’t all sunshine and rainbows - there are many really hard days, times you’ll go from feeling like a badass to feeling like the biggest loser on the planet in the span of an hour, there are downright painful tasks (oh accounting, how I loathe you) and many, many speed bumps along the road. It’s not for the faint of heart, and requires a high level of commitment and perseverance.
That being said, starting a creative business doesn’t have to be such a long, arduous, emotional process - and I truly hope that for most people it’s not. It is more possible than ever before to actually get to be your own boss, and to live the dream of making money while working from home with no pants on. The internet & social media have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for people who never quite fit in the “traditional career” box. It just happened to take me a really long time to master it because I was going it alone, and didn’t have anyone to show me what to do or how. So that, babes, is why - along with my friend/low-key idol Syl I’ve put together the Webinar I mentioned earlier in this post. It’s going to be a Free Masterclass (!) all about the key steps you need to take to kickstart your creative career path. This is the kind of knowledge that I would have literally killed for 3 years ago. And we’re giving it away for free because 1) We Love You and 2) We genuinely don’t want other future ladybosses to have to go it alone like we did. You can sign up for it here! (and I promise it will be much more concise and less ramble-y than this blog post).
When I was a student, and then a struggling aspiring artist, all I really wanted was to make a living doing what I loved. And especially as a Millenial, I grew up with that narrative - the whole idea that what you do for work should also be what you’re passionate about. That you could do anything you want in life, if you just put your mind to it. But for most of my 20’s, I felt like that had all been a lie. A big, stupid, idealistic fairytale. What I was missing (which I feel silly about, in retrospect) was the understanding that no one was going to hand me my dream job - I was going to have to create it. So now that I have, I get to be the one to say it’s possible. You just have to put in the work. And I am so excited to show you how in a couple of weeks.
If you actually read this entire thing, you honestly deserve a medal (or at least a box of chicken nuggets).
Hopefully you found some value in it, and if so It would mean the world to me if you could either share this blog post on Pinterest or tell a friend about the upcoming webinar!