Nine things to keep in mind when you work with a calligrapher
Updated: Feb 16
Calligraphy, as we all know, is a special skill that can lend a touch of sophistication to many different projects. But not knowing where to start, or what to ask for, can put many people off from having their pieces or projects commissioned. So let’s cover some of the basics of how to commission your project, and make sure it’s a fun and collaborative process for you and the calligrapher.
1. Sum up your project
Start with an initial sentence to give the calligrapher an idea of the end goal. This could be along the lines of “I’d like to have this poem written out for a friend’s birthday gift”, or, “I have a party coming up soon and I’d like the envelopes addressed in calligraphy”.
You will already know what the project is in your head, and all it needs to be is a simple statement to frame the project for your artist. From here you can go on to flesh out the vision you have for your project.
It also will not hurt to let the calligrapher know why you’ve chosen to reach out to them in the initial stages of your contact with them. What do you feel they can specifically bring to the table in the time you will be working together?
2. Is there a specific size or quantity?
With poetry, for example, depending on the number of verses and words, you may not get much of a say when it comes to size. Just because a poem can be formatted by a computer to a certain size, doesn’t mean a calligrapher can replicate that (as we’re not computers!). A calligrapher will be able to advise you on what size you will need to go for at the proofing stage. At this point, you can get a good look at what to expect as the final art or decide if you only want one or two of the verses as opposed to the whole thing.
If it’s envelope addressing, of course, there will be a set quantity and this is an easier thing to allow for.
3. Is there a specific date you need it by?
Also known as a deadline! Gifts and pieces for events will have a drop date, and you should give as much time beforehand so that the project isn’t rushed. If you’ve left it so close to the date you need it by, the artist may decline the job or charge a hefty rush fee.
This can be a matter of artistic integrity. If it’s so close to the deadline it could well be that no matter how good the calligrapher and how quick their turnaround time is, they just can’t provide you with what you need in the time frame specified. Another reason could be that the calligrapher’s calendar is already full. In this case, they might be able to provide you with a contact for another calligrapher that can accommodate you.
The best thing you can do is to give as much time as possible for you and the calligrapher to work together to get the best result out of your project.
4. What’s your budget?
It’s important to have in your mind what you’re looking to spend on your project, and that you share this information with the calligrapher. It’s all too easy to go to someone and ask for all the bells, whistles, flourishes and fancy add-ons, then be stunned when you’re presented with a quote that’s way over what you wanted to spend.
Having a budget in mind, and being honest about it, will allow the artist to manage your expectations and suggest alternatives where your requests will push you out of your budget range. And this is a great process! Because it will give you greater insight into how your money can be best spent.
For example, you might request that you want all of your envelopes on handmade paper in bespoke coloured ink. Most of the time, a handmade paper envelope will need to be prepared by the calligrapher before inking or else the ink will bleed. This extra step takes time, and that means a larger bill for you. The calligrapher can suggest alternative options in this instance that will still provide a luxury effect but be kinder to your budget.
5. Are there any special requests?
Looking at a calligraphers gallery you might see a specific style of calligraphy that you love or a colour of ink that’s just perfect, or admire a layout. Let the calligrapher know! This will help them flesh out your initial summary of the project, and get closer to achieving your desired outcome.
Things you should not do!
6. Do not ask a calligrapher to copy another calligrapher's style
It’s just not cool to copy, and a good calligrapher will not do it. If you like a specific calligrapher's style so much, you should be asking them to work on your project.
7. Do not ask for a discount
When you receive a quote from your calligrapher, they’d have already given thought to your project and committed time to resources and scheduling. Calligraphy is not just sitting down and writing stuff out, it’s a much more considered process. This is why you must have a budget in mind, and that you work with your artist to find a way to make your project meet your budget.
Things you should do!
8. Do provide visual references and doodles
There’s an important distinction between being inspired by something and copying it. Taking inspiration from colours and layouts and different papers is ok. This can lead to beautiful new ideas that will make your project specifically your own and totally unique.
9. Do give honest feedback at the proofing stage
Is the layout not doing it for you? Are the colours not quite what you have hoped for? When you get your quote from your calligrapher and have paid your deposit, you’ll then be bound by the terms of a contract, and that contract will usually allow for a proof with a specific number of amendments allowed for.
If you’re not happy about something, proofing is the time to speak up about it! Once you’ve approved the proof that’s the green light for your artist to go ahead and make the final copy. And that final copy is just that, final. Unless there’s been some terrible mistake regarding spelling (for example), it’s the last step to having your unique piece of calligraphy to gift or keep for yourself.
And there you have it. Nine things to take you from an initial desire for a piece of art to it taking pride of place in a home to be admired for many years to come, or a delightful find in a mailbox one morning.
Need some inspiration for your own project? Take a look at my calligraphy gallery or my place card gallery to get those brain waves vibing!