There's something I've only discovered through the experience of being a calligrapher, printer, and bookbinder that I didn't anticipate when I started out: the jobs that come my way are extraordinarily meaningful. People don't hire a calligrapher to write out grocery lists or a letterpress printer to pull some business memos. Instead, I often get hired for jobs that mark the most charged and important moments of life -- births and deaths, engagements and weddings, major awards. Calligraphy and letterpress printing are nearly non-essential in our day and age. But on those rare occasions when you want the moment's significance echoed by all the visual details, right down to the look of the lettering and the texture of the paper, that's when you call someone with my odd skill set.
I didn't set out to land jobs like this. I didn't set out to land jobs period. I just wanted to learn these crafts because they are beautiful, and beauty is something I've spent my life chasing. So it took a while to dawn on me what an honor it is to do what I'm doing. To be in on the secret that someone's about to propose (she said yes). To make the book where the scattering of ashes will be recorded for posterity. To print off custom notecards that a newly married couple will use at the outset of their joined lives. As arcane and arguably superfluous in our world these skills are today, jobs like these make me feel like I'm contributing something with staying power and a value not easily captured in dollars and cents.
For the proposal, the very sweet young man wanted to do a message in a bottle, and although I was backed up on projects and preparing to leave town, I squeezed it in because -- duh -- how can you not? I submerged paper into a shallow bath of diluted walnut ink and then let it dry so it would look a little old and weathered and then dashed off lyrics he had chosen from their favorite song. I am happy to report this couple is now engaged and planning a future together -- pretty amazing thing to be a part of.
I've been so focused on wrapping up some lingering projects this summer that I entirely neglected to take proper photos of a book I made for Carol Joy Holling Retreat Center. The grounds are a sanctioned location for the scattering of ashes, and they asked me to make a log book for this information. It involved drawing grids onto 15 page spreads and doing the lettering for the columns and the title page. I bound it as a single needle Coptic so that the sewing stations matched up with the rows and bound it in the same black bookcloth with gold pastedowns as I used below.
And this was a commission for a wedding shower -- custom letterpress printed notecards with envelope liners and a custom return address stamp. I am in love with this Greek key pattern in gold and black, so it was super satisfying to make this partitioned box to hold it all just so. I hope it makes them feel downright inspired to send correspondence.
This is just a small and recent sampling of the types of jobs I get to do, and as you can see, they're all thoughtful, creative, meaningful projects that are a joy to bring to life. Proof that chasing beauty takes you, if nowhere else, to beautiful places.