How to Start a Calligraphy Business and Write Your Own Ticket
In a time when cursive handwriting has faded from many classrooms, calligraphy is making a surprising resurgence. While carefully hand-lettered invitations, place settings and envelopes tend to be reserved for weddings, many calligraphers find themselves working on a variety of celebrations and other projects.
Maybe you’ve always received compliments about your handwriting or practiced calligraphy as a hobby over the years. The time may be right for you to hone your skills and start letting your friends and family know you’re taking orders. With rates for envelope addressing alone ranging from $3.50 to $5.50 each, calligraphy could be a lucrative side hustle or even a full-time career.
Want to take up calligraphy as a part-time gig? Here’s how to maximize your success.
How to Get Started in Calligraphy
Set aside $150 for supplies like nibs, ink and paper, but look for starter kits from well-known calligraphers. Laura Hooper Calligraphy, based in Virginia, offers a starter kit and course for $149, with various add-ons available as you build your practice, including in-person workshops and courses you can take from home.
But be prepared — you’ll probably find yourself wanting more supplies rather quickly. Ink colors alone could be a budget-buster.
If you’re new to calligraphy but have a knack for cursive, start by taking an introductory class taught by a pro in your area. This training can set you back up to $250 for a two-hour class, but it’s a worthy investment to get hands-on help and troubleshooting. You also usually get basic tools to take home.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Start small. “It’s easy to spend tons of money on starter kits, online courses, and every specialty tool you see recommended. But a good black ink, decent pen, a couple of nibs to experiment with, and some laser jet paper is more than enough to practice with at the beginning,” said Whitney Wade, co-owner of Oklahoma-based Laurel & Marie Stationery & Calligraphy. “Find free resources, printables, and videos online, and check out calligraphy books from the library.”
Marie is a self-proclaimed serial doodler who started the business with graphic designer Ruby Murry, a friend from high school.
“Practice, research, and put yourself out there! Calligraphy is an art form, and even if you are a beginner, you can still make money charging (rates) commensurate with your skill level,” Wade said. “The internet is a wonderful place to build community, make connections, and research things like materials, etiquette, and pricing. There are several online forums for calligraphers, as well as a very strong Instagram community of letterers, designers, and calligraphers.”
Beyond a beginner? Classes can still help you refine your style.
“Continued practice is key to maintaining your technique and skill, in my opinion,” Hooper said of the classes she teaches. “We offer a 5-10 week online course called the Calligraphy Practice Plan, and professionals have enrolled in that.”
If possible, attend calligraphy conferences. “The gold standard conference for calligraphers is IAMPETH,” Wade said, referring to The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting. “Professional and hobbyist calligraphers can learn from other calligraphers.”
Choose a Speciality
Use word-of-mouth advertising to your advantage and take time to evaluate the first few projects you complete for pay. Did you enjoy one type of task more than another?
Many calligraphers focus on on-demand hand-lettering at events. Some take on unique projects like lettering wedding vows or a speech. Still some work on mastering their lettering style before creating it as a digital font.
“Calligraphy is special because of its handmade nature. Instead of aiming for a perfect computer-generated font, the very nature of calligraphy is that each letterform and word is unique and customizable,” Wade said. Her business works almost exclusively with wedding clients. “We work with couples who want their guests to feel pampered and celebrated at their weddings, and there’s nothing like a really beautiful, personalized invitation to make that first impression.”
But Wade does stretch her boundaries a bit. “We do occasionally have a commercial or non-profit client,” she said. And she can also rely on live lettering events. “We always enjoy the change of pace when we do an on-site lettering event for a brand or business,” she said. “People love to watch a calligrapher work, and seeing their product become beautifully personalized in front of their eyes is a pretty magical experience.”
Be Easy to Find
What’s your favorite social media tool? Use it to promote your work — shamelessly and often.
“Social media is the number one way we have been discovered by clients, networked with wedding planners, and displayed our past work,” Wade said.
Seeing tons of followers, but not a lot of transactions? Build a portfolio of non-commissioned work.
“Post the kind of work you want to be known for, even if you don’t have a big portfolio yet. There is nothing wrong with creating non-client work with the sole purpose of taking beautiful pictures for your portfolio!” Wade said. “Some of our favorite requests have come from clients asking us to recreate a passion project or styled shoot piece we have posted on our social media feeds.”
What Else Should I Know About Being a Calligrapher?
So you’ve taken workshops, stocked up on supplies and started showing off your work on social media. Maybe you’ve also landed your first few clients — hooray! But there’s still more to know.
Hone Your Creative Process
Flexibility and variety will help expand your base of potential customers, and that requires creative flexibility, too. Since Hooper offers various services, her creative process changes depending on the client’s needs.
“When creating an invitation suite for a client, it starts with a mood board based on the client’s overall vision and our ideas for the direction, then I do a mock-up sketch to be sure we’re on the same page,” she said. “The most creative part for me is the watercolor and sketching of the art.”
As a doodler at heart, Wade’s creative process starts there. “My creative process involves pages and pages of doodles or layers and layers of art boards on my iPad,” she said. “There’s something soothing about adjusting a hand-lettering design in tiny ways until you get it just right. It’s very satisfying.”
How Much Can You Make?
If you’re invested and loving it, trust that you’ll make your investment back through your client work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that a full-time calligrapher can make about $50,000 per year, but that estimate might not include side jobs such as ready-made products or teaching.
And as a side hustler, your experience is likely to fluctuate. Varying demand for calligraphy services through the seasons (get ready for those summer weddings!) can result in busy times for your side business that can contribute heartily to your household income.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Start a Calligraphy Business
Here’s a roundup of answers to some common questions about starting a calligraphy business.
Calligraphy can be a fulfilling and lucrative career if you have certain skills. Are you artistic? Do you enjoy hand-lettering? Do you have basic marketing knowledge? Are you good at communicating? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you can turn your creativity and dexterity with a pen into a fun and challenging career.
Get good enough and you could teach others! There are even some colleges that offer calligraphy courses. While you’re busy growing your business, why not add “adjunct instructor of calligraphy” to your resume?
The first step is to set aside money for necessary supplies. Starter kits including nibs, ink and paper can be purchased from established calligraphers who have blazed the trail before you. You can also visit your local craft store for supplies.
Keep in mind that it can be easy to get carried away with ink colors and quality paper, so plan to start small and buy more as your business grows.
If you’re a beginner, the next step is to take a class or learn from online tutorials. Then practice, practice, practice!
Once you’re confident in your skills, get the word out through social media and by setting up an Etsy store. Make sure you’re easy to find and easy to contact.
Picture it now. You set up your Etsy store and social media accounts and you land your first job — 100 wedding invitation envelopes. If you charge $3.50 per envelope, you’ve made your first $350!
Rates range from $3.50 to $5.50 for hand-addressed envelopes, so imagine how much money you can make once you branch out into more elaborate projects! The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that a full-time calligrapher can make about $50,000 per year, but that estimate might not include side jobs such as teaching.
According to careerexplorer.com, the demand for calligraphers is growing and the job market is set to expand by 5.5% in the next four years. Hand printing is a stylish technique that communicates sophistication and elegance. The art of calligraphy sets a high standard for beautiful and classy designs that are in demand by everyone from wedding planners to large companies.
“Calligraphy is in high demand because it’s such a specialized and rare skill. Although beautiful printed envelopes are a dime a dozen, it’s pretty uncommon to receive a hand-calligraphed envelope in the mail,” said Whitney Wade, co-owner of Laurel & Marie Stationery & Calligraphy.
Contributor Veronica Matthews writes on lifestyle topics from North Carolina. Lisa Rowan contributed to this post.