On the last Tuesday of every month, I feature a fellow type lover from the Richmond, VA area.
Once a Richmonder, always a Richmonder: Amy Webber may have moved away from the capital, but she will forever be welcome here. Under the name Sincerely Amy Designs, she is one of the top wedding calligraphers around...and she couldn't be nicer! Amy was kind enough to clue me in to the world of calligraphy (completely different from lettering) while settling into her new home with her husband and soon-to-be-one-year-old.
SARAH BARTON: How did you get into calligraphy? How long did it take you to get the hang of it?
AMY WEBBER: Since learning to write, I have loved experimenting with my handwriting. I’ve also always been drawn toward typography in design. A few years back I started to see calligraphy popping up online and I was really intrigued. I asked for a calligraphy starter kit for Christmas that year and I was instantly hooked!
It's hard to say when I really got the "hang of it." I feel like calligraphy is something you are always growing and improving at. It was about 6 months after learning calligraphy that I decided to start a business with it, which when I think back to it, seems crazy and fast. At the time it seemed like a natural progression.
SB: You are able to write in so many different styles! Is that typical of a calligrapher? How did you learn/narrow down the styles that you offer?
AW: The first year of my business I went back and forth with whether to only offer one style of calligraphy or to offer multiple styles. When I couldn't decide which one style would be my signature style, I knew the answer was to offer multiple styles. I know a lot of calligraphers who only have one style and a lot of calligraphers who offer an array of styles, so I’d say it’s probably equally split.
I'm constantly tweaking and reworking the styles of calligraphy I offer. The narrowing down process was a mixture of learning what was comfortable for me, by practicing many forms of each letter, and then also what styles were the most requested by my clients. I love the process of figuring out what style of calligraphy would best suite each project.
SB: Can you walk us through your process step-by-step? Do you sketch out the phrases first?
AW: The process really depends on what project I am working on. The process for invitation design looks different from the process for envelope calligraphy, which looks different from the process for logo design. Generally though, the process always begins with talking with and getting to know the client. Once I feel I have a clear idea of what the client is looking for, I enter into the draft stage. I have a notebook full of pencil sketches for all kinds of different projects. Typically, after the draft stage, I'll calligraph the design and then scan it and pull it into my computer for any final tweaks and digitizing. For more simple projects like escort cards or projects where there is an order of 200, like envelopes, I'll figure out the layout, but I don't sketch every single card or envelope. I've learned tips and tricks along the way so that I don't have to sketch out each one before doing the actual calligraphy. :)
SB: Calligraphy seems like a pretty niche market, usually associated with weddings. Have you worked on anything out-of-the-ordinary?
AW: I love weddings so my favorite jobs are typically those related to weddings. I also really love the creative industry so I'm always thrilled when I get to work with other small business owners through logo design or calligraphy for their collateral and client experience pieces. I can't think of a project that was super out-of-the-ordinary, but I have done quite a few tattoo designs (which is always a huge honor that someone would choose my lettering for something so permanent), and written on some out-of-the-ordinary pieces for weddings (such as magnolia leaves, pieces of acrylic, ribbon, silver plates, mirrors, etc).
SB: What has been your favorite commission and why? Hardest?
AW: It's so hard to choose a favorite! Honestly, what makes a project a favorite for me tends to revolve less around the actual calligraphy and more around my experience with the client. I have worked with some of the best people and they have made this job a real joy for me. In general, my two favorite things are invitation design and logo design. I love being able to take a bride's vision for her wedding day and put it on paper and I love being able to take a business owner's vision for their business and put it into a logo design.
The hardest projects are always the ones where you only get one shot to get it right. There are no guidelines, no erasing, no do-overs. Those are stressful! It’s also difficult when the piece is really large, so some of my hardest projects have been signs and seating charts that are over 4 feet tall on pieces of wood or mirrors.
SB: Where do you get inspiration for your work?
AW: My inspiration typically comes directly from the client. For invitations and wedding day pieces, I love to include pieces of their love story that are special and meaningful to them. For other projects, I love learning the story behind the commission and using that as my inspiration for the design.
I also look at lettering and design on EVERYTHING, from street signs to businesses logos, from menus to product packaging. I love getting ideas and inspiration from the everyday things I see around me.
SB: If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ (websites, books, coaches, etc.) you’d recommend for calligraphy, what would you include and why?
AW: I think one of the best things for me has been joining a really good group on Facebook for wedding stationery designers. These women are so knowledgeable and can answer any and all questions. They have been my saving grace many, many times. Networking with other stationers and calligraphers has really been the best way for me to learn and grow! Don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the industry who you look up to! The Facebook group is the Wedding Stationery Collective for those interested.
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SB: Is there anything that would surprise people about calligraphy?
AW: One of the things I hear all the time when I teach calligraphy workshops is that people think they have to have good handwriting to be able to do calligraphy. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Many calligraphers have terrible handwriting. So if you are wanting to learn calligraphy but your handwriting is stopping you, there is hope! :)
The other thing is that people assume a calligrapher can just write anything on the spot and it will be beautiful and perfect. I think it goes back to the handwriting thing, where it's just assumed that calligraphy is what our normal handwriting looks like. Calligraphy is really more similar to painting or drawing. A lot of time and thought goes into the layout of the design and the letters.
SB: Your daughter Caroline was born last year (congrats!). How are you balancing motherhood with your creative pursuits?
AW: Thanks! Caroline has been the sweetest addition to our lives! The short answer to your question is, "I'm not.” :) Balance is so hard to achieve! I think in this season, it’s impossible to do it all and to do it all well. Every day, I have to make a choice about what I'm going to focus on for that day, besides caring for Caroline, and then let the other things go. Some days I choose focusing on my business and let all the chores and outside activities go. Other days I choose focusing on things around the house or exercising or relationships with friends and I have to let my business go for that day. Caroline has a brought a whole new perspective to my business and to my priorities in general. She has forced me to ask myself really hard questions about my business. Questions like, "What is the real purpose of my business? What do I need to change so this business better serves my family? What projects can I take on and what projects do I need to say no to? What do I need to do so that in 20 years, I don't look back with regret on how I spent my time?" I have to remind myself that this is a new season and that my business isn't going to look like what it did before Caroline. And not only is that okay, it's actually a really beautiful thing. Being a mom is so much more fulfilling than I ever imagined. So ultimately, balance for me looks like giving myself lots and lots of grace, choosing not to compare myself to others in the industry and focusing on what is best for me and my family.
SB: A semi-related question: Are you doing calligraphy full-time or do you have a day job as well? I'm still learning to balance my day job with lettering on the side so I'm always open for advice!
AW: I had just made the move to doing calligraphy full time when I found out I was pregnant with Caroline, so I had about 8 months of being a full time calligrapher. Now, Caroline is my full time job and I do calligraphy part time. Running a business while working another full time job is hard! I have so much respect for people who do that. I don't know that I have much advice for you, because I'm not sure I really did it well. I was working 40+ hours a week, running my business, and caring for my dying grandma, all while being a newlywed. I look back at that season and I have absolutely no idea how I got anything done and managed to grow a business. I think setting up good processes for your business is super helpful and it's something I wish I would have done sooner. Having a project management tool that can send out invoices, timelines, and contracts, and can simplify some of your processes is really key to saving you time and your sanity. It can be time consuming to set all of those things up, but once they are set up, it makes life so much easier.
SB: You recently relocated to Montross, about an hour and half away from Richmond. What did you love most about the creative community in Richmond, Virginia?
AW: Montross has a population of about 320 people and it has been a big adjustment for sure. No more Target and Starbucks fixes for me! One of the biggest reservations I had about moving was that I would be farther away from the creative community in Richmond. I have made some really, really great friends there. My business wouldn't exist if it weren't for some of those friends. Richmond has a thriving creative community and I love that it’s just that, a community. There are so many people you can surround yourself with that really understand what you are going through.
SB: Who are some fellow Richmonders that inspire you? Non-Richmonders?
AW: Oh goodness, there are some many creatives in Richmond that inspire me.
- I'll always be Andrea Pesce's, from Andrea Pesce Photography, biggest fan! She creates the most people images!
- Michelle Schmidt's work with One Sweet Day in May and Ruffled Lane always leaves me with all the heart eyes. I mean who doesn't love beautiful flower arrangements and silk ribbon??
- There are also so many talented stationers in Richmond that I really look up to. Chloe from English Tea Paperie and Amanda from Amanda Day Rose have been such a big inspiration to me as I jumped into adding full on invitation design to my business.
- I also really love following Julia Warren from Celebrate RVA. She hosts birthday parties for disadvantaged children. This girl is changing lives.
For Non-Richmonders, I'm always inspired by those who encourage me to use my business for a greater purpose and to serve and love my clients well.
Holly from Holly Holt Design and Alex from Alex Meyer Events not only produce beautiful work, but help to remind me of important truths about business and life through the ways that they run their businesses.
SB: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next few months?
AW: I'm looking forward to what the next few months hold for Sincerely Amy Designs! I'll be releasing a collection of wedding invitation designs that I'm really excited about. I'm looking forward to working with more brides on their invitation designs this year. The busy season is picking up and it feels good to be back in the swing of things after months off for maternity leave.