Growing up, I was obsessed with lettering. I ordered lettering books and practiced drawing, tracing the various types of alphabets. It was a great creative outlet. Ever since I began blogging back in 2012, I was constantly exploring ways to further unleash my creativity. Not too long ago, I found out about Calligraphy Classes through Instagram.
I took the Introduction To Brush Calligraphy Workshop a few months ago with Toronto Calligrapher, Sylvia Wong of ViaCalligraphy (Get it?).
Read on to learn about her lettering journey.
1. Your lettering journey began with you hand painting a leather jacket for your wedding. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
When I was getting married in 2016, my husband and I planned a wedding that really reflected us and our values. We got ready together, took the TTC and were married at Toronto City Hall in front of just 8 of our family members. Then we went and had an intimate dinner on a patio. There’s something about planning a wedding where you still tend to obsess over something though, so I had decided that I wanted to learn to hand letter and write “Just Married” on the back of my favourite leather jacket. Being a bit of a font snob, I really didn’t want to find the words on Pinterest and copy it, so I spent 2-4 hours every day for the month before my wedding trying to find my own lettering style. I painted my jacket and it was a huge success when I rocked it after I said “I do” and walked the streets of Toronto with my new husband.
A week after the wedding, I decided that I didn’t want my jacket to collect dust in my closet, so I posted it on a local trading group on Facebook asking for a bottle of wine in exchange. There was such high demand for it, I realized that with everyone having different wedding dates, they could ALL wear it for their weddings. Every week, it goes out for a new wedding in exchange for just a bottle of wine. Fast forward to today, 52 Toronto brides have worn #TheJustMarriedJacket!
2. Where is the farthest place the jacket has traveled to?
#TheJustMarriedJacket doesn’t leave Toronto. With back to back bookings every weekend, Toronto brides borrow the jacket only from Wednesday to Tuesday. Every renter of the leather jacket is welcome to have family or a wedding party member responsible for pickup and drop off as long as it’s back within their 7 days. With all the media coverage on this project, there has been demand in many other cities so I’m beginning to coach fellow calligraphers to adapt the project for their own local markets. Currently, there are new jackets circulating in New York City, Philadelphia, and London!
3. What tools and resources did you use to help improve your calligraphy skills? Did calligraphy workshops exist when you were starting out?
I didn’t use any calligraphy classes or resources to learn and in hindsight, that was a huge mistake. I’m sure there were plenty of resources but for some reason, I decided to take the hard road alone. I purchased all my tools online and learned by trial and error. It took a lot of wasted pens and paper (and a few times where I quit), so I formulated my classes to skip over all the frustrating stages and get straight to focusing on the right tools and techniques.
4. What is your favourite letter to write out? What is your least favourite letter to write out?
There are so many letters I love to write (most of the alphabet, in fact) which is how I stay inspired and why I love to letter every day. Personally, my least favourite letter to write is “S”. As I meet more calligraphers and students, it seems that it’s so common to dislike writing the first letter of your first name because it never seems to be perfect enough! I teach my students to experiment though and look for inspiration in fonts. Trying out new letter styles can sometimes inspire you to change your own “font” which should always be evolving anyway.
5. You provide many Intro to Calligraphy workshops in Toronto. Could you describe how you run your workshops?
My calligraphy workshops were formulated as a beginner resource to learn modern lettering from the basics. I specifically chose tools that are easy to control and created a workbook that starts with simple drills of tracing and then drawing without guides. It’s highly structured and I make sure to really put a focus on not being so hard on yourself. I also introduce some new tools that I think are approachable for next steps. During the entire workshop, I welcome questions about things that go beyond lettering, like how to start a side hustle, effective digital marketing, authentic branding, and pricing with confidence if anyone is curious 🙂
6. Why do you think calligraphy is so popular these days?
I think calligraphy has had such a huge revival as the world has become increasingly digital because people are looking to do more tangible things again. On a related note, quite a few years ago, I had switched from using a physical agenda to using calendar apps. While it was supposed to be more accessible and productive, I found that I really missed the physical notebook and the act of actually crossing things out by taking pen to paper. Calligraphy has a sense of approachability. The barrier to entry seems to be lower because tools are so readily available and most people figure they know how to write already, so it’s just improving those skills. But little do they know that calligraphy is much more like drawing than writing!
It’s easy to get into, but takes thousands of hours of practice to really perfect the skill!
7. What advice/practice tips would you give to people who want to improve their brush calligraphy skills?
My advice to my students is to be persistent and to practice. Lettering should be very intentional and requires a development of muscle memory so intentional practice is essential. Developing your own unique style requires so much experimentation. Malcolm Gladwell has a “10000-hour rule” which theorizes that it requires that many hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field, so I’m still working on making my way there.
8. What is the most unique custom calligraphy project you’ve worked on thus far?
I think it’s natural to want to experiment with tools and mediums a lot as a beginner. There’s a world of possibilities and I did take on a lot of varied projects when I first began in order to see where I would really want to place my focus. Now, I really believe in staying in your lane and focusing on specializing on particular surfaces and going narrowly specialized instead of broadly experimenting. I really tend to stick to surfaces like textiles and mirrors/glass and try to perfect my craft. That being said, every piece I work on is completely custom and for that reason, I’m always excited to work on my clients’ unique ideas.
9. What advice would you give to people who would like to do custom client work?
Doing custom client work can be intimidating at the beginning but having complete confidence in your quotes and your process is essential.
When you do custom work, the possibilities can be endless. If you’re open to absolutely any possibility, the choices can be overwhelming for clients and you can end up in an endless conversation about changes. Emails and communications are naturally a huge part of client work, but you want to keep the overhead on that low by having lots of templates to help you outline a clear process. Create some packages of your services and solidify your pricing so your clients can understand exactly what they get and what is and isn’t open for discussion.
Setting up some boundaries of what you do and don’t do isn’t about being difficult; it’s about knowing your offering and saving yourself administrative time.