A couple of years ago I took up lettering. Once a week I would spend a few hours copying letters, mainly the italic form. I became fairly proficient, but life interfered with learning any other styles. Now I am wishing I had learned more. I have a Twelve Days of Christmas party in the works and would like to use Old English lettering for our party invitations. Perhaps I could hire a calligraphist to help. Artist and owner of Ladybug Art Calligraphy Studio (619-563-0082), Susan Hull has been lettering for 35 years. "When I started, there were no classes offered so I learned out of books. Calligraphy, by definition, is the art of beautiful handwriting. So it has to be done by hand; it cannot be done by computer. You can't beat the warmth of the human hand. There are hundreds and hundreds of styles dating back to the cave paintings. From the cave paintings it evolved into symbols, the symbols evolved into letters, and then there was a break into the eastern and the western alphabets. In Roman times, everyone could read and write. That is what brought about the Dark Ages -- a paper shortage, in theory -- and because knowledge became just for the privileged class. During the Dark Ages only the monks wrote and the monasteries were isolated from one another so the alphabets became totally bastardized. When Charlemagne came into power, he resolidified the alphabets. That is why the letter style Carolingian [Charlemagne's favorite] is so important because that is the one on which our current alphabet is based. It has two additional letters from the alphabets of Roman times. And then from that it has developed into the curlicues and the fancies that so many people think of as calligraphy now. But calligraphy can be anything from a block letter to the swirls of Spencerian [Declaration of Independence] to Illuminated capitals."
Are there certain letterings that are more commonly used?
"Copperplate is the most commonly used for invitations because it is swirly but still very legible. Spencerian is a little swirlier, has more flourishes to it. We do a lot of invitations in italic. If people know only one letter style, usually italic is the letter style that they know."
What paper and instruments do you use?
"We can write on any paper; however, the paper will affect the finished product. All paper is milled; the more highly it is milled, the smoother the surface. All paper has sizing, which is a liquid that is added when it is still in the pulp form. The amount of sizing will effect how porous the paper is. The more porous the paper, the more it bleeds; it doesn't get a nice, crisp edge. The paper will affect the liquid that we use to letter.
"As far as the instrument," she continued, "there are basically four types of pens. Felt-tip pens -- the advantage of them is they're readily available, inexpensive, and transport easily. The disadvantage is that they run out pretty quickly and the tips mush down, so you can't get the nice, crisp edge you need to get the true thicks and thins of calligraphy.
"Then there are cartridge pens, where a little bullet of ink fits down into it. They are usually not too expensive, pretty good as far as transportation, but their downside is that their nibs are not as crisp. So, you are not going to get the clarity that you want, and there are also usually ink-flow problems. There are also reservoir pens, where there's a tank built into the pen that holds the liquid, like the old-fashioned fountain pens. But here we work with the dip pens. The advantage of the dip pen is that you get your sharpest point, the greatest variation in the thick and thin, and a much greater variation in the inks that you can use. With the dip pen, you can use anything; you can use iced tea if you want to. You can use watercolors, which make your palette limitless. So, if someone comes in and says they want this lovely puce green, we have to custom mix that color for them, and that cannot go into any of the other types of pens."
Hull laid out the process of lettering they use at the studio. "We do a single master in calligraphy and then we reproduce it. And then we hand-address the envelopes. We can individually hand-letter the invitations, but it becomes really pricey. Most people don't want to pay $10 each; they would rather pay $1 each. My favorite style of invitation is when we do a single master, reproduce it, and then instead of saying 'The courtesy of your presence is requested,' we put 'The courtesy of the presence of' and then we leave it blank and go back and hand-letter the name of the individual invited. And then we hand-address the envelope, and it looks as though the entire invitation has been hand-written for the person receiving it. It takes an absolute expert to tell the difference."
Pricing varies widely on each project. "For invitations," said Hull, "figure they start at $95 per 100 and go up from there. For $95 , you are going to get black ink on a plain flat stock." If the studio creates the invitation, there is 50 percent off the addressing costs.
Ladybug studio offers lettering for invitations, envelope addressing, seating charts, place cards, and guest books. "We do anything from Johnny's poem that he wrote to Grandma to the invitations for when the Queen of England came to re-inaugurate the Old Globe Theatre. I did a couple of prayer books for the queen, too. But my favorite is doing little Johnny's poem. All across the nation on Christmas morning, they are opening up my presents, so I have that wonderful feeling."
Hull teaches private classes -- "... $50 an hour for private instruction, but you can bring up to four students for that cost. A beginning class customarily lasts two to three hours, depending on how many people there are and how smart they are."