Blog

  • About

    After 48 years of living in and around New York City, I struck out with my family for northern parts and now live happily in Saranac Lake, New York, 9 miles north of Lake Placid in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. Here I draw inspiration from the natural beauty that is all around me.

    I have been a graphic designer for 40 years and a professional calligrapher for 25 years. Creating a thing of beauty that others delight in brings me great joy. My love of the alphabet and hand calligraphy has led me to produce art with a wide range of applications, from lettering on the side of a canoe, to tattoos, to silk prayer flags and beyond. In an increasingly disconnected world, the art of hand lettering is a reminder that not everything is created in a nano second. With time, skill and love, a lasting piece of beauty can be a part of your life and your appreciation of that art says a lot about you as a person. I thank you for recognizing that beauty!

    What can I create for you? I am always happy to speak with you about your vision and will work with you to make it come true.

  • Gail Brill Design business card finally designed!

    Gail's card

  • The John Henry of Calligraphers

    32_cent_stap_john_henryOddly enough, I am going to start this blog post talking about an American Folk hero named John Henry. When I was a kid, my parents read to us about Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox named Babe, Johnny Appleseed and John Henry. John Henry “was a steel drivin’ man” who used a hammer to lay railroad tracks. One day he was pitted against a steam powered hammer that could do the job better than a man. John Henry took up the challenge to compete with the machine and in the end, John Henry won, but it didn’t end well. He died with his hammer in his hand.

    I mention all this because around the time my first Macintosh SE computer came into my life, the world changed for hand calligraphers. That was the year the Inscribe machine came into the world. From that day forward, the world of wedding envelopes was a race between the machine and the hand. As a “quill drivin’ ” women, I have heard so many times, “What’s the point of using a calligrapher when a machine can do it just as well?” I am always a little taken aback. At that moment I am filled with gratitude for all my clients that understand the difference and who choose me over the machine!

     

    I see calligraphy as a living art. There is life in the letters drawn by a hand calligrapher. My style changes slightly from day to day too, depending on many factors. I believe the letters reflect the joy I am feeling that particular day. Some days they dance, some days they don’t. Some days it’s best just to walk away. I love the days when…well, if you go to my website, you will see on my homepage how I feel about those magic days.

    There are so many ways to engage a professional calligrapher and I say professional for several reasons. There are many hobbyist calligraphers out there. Aunt Mabel has a set of pens, your Mother’s friend down the street addressed her daughter’s envelopes, but a person who has chosen to make a career as a Calligrapher is a different thing. It falls into the “you get what you pay for” category. So what can a professional calligrapher do for you? Want a love poem written for your sweetheart or a monogram for your baby niece? How about some coupons for kisses or a change of address card? Some personal thank you notes? A logo?  It’s a long list…but today I am going to talk weddings and all that a professional calligrapher can do for you. It’s a lot more than just addressing envelopes!

    Most professional calligraphers can work with you to design all the printed material for your wedding. I call the complete spectrum a “stationery trousseau”. Here’s a list of ideas that may inspire you to use a calligrapher for your wedding; Save the Date cards with custom calligraphic postage stamps through Razzle, the invitation (or maybe you want your monogram printed on the tissue paper that sits on top), your ceremony program, seating chart or escort cards, place cards (remember, escort cards tell your guests what table to sit at and place cards tell them what chair to sit in once they arrive at the table) Menu cards? Or menu cards that have a blank space at the top where your calligrapher can write the guests name, that way they double as a place card.

     Menu Cards

    I admit that working with a hand calligrapher can be costly, but there are ways to have that hand calligraphic element in you stationery trousseau without breaking the bank!

    Many professional calligraphers have amazing handwriting and they often charge considerably less for that style then the more formal styles. If your wedding is more casual and nontraditional, you may want to employ a calligrapher with great handwriting to design your wedding stationery trousseau. Even having just your names in calligraphy on the invitation can be beautiful and inexpensive!

    I love making maps! I want a bird’s eye view of the world wherever I go! I think the addition of a hand drawn map with the invitation really sets a welcoming and unique touch to the wedding. It builds anticipation!

    maps

    You might not realize this, but bookbinders, bookmakers and calligraphers are linked often through friendship, but also through their crafts. One often depends on the other.

    Guest Box with color

    On of my favorite wedding projects is to work with a bride to design a keepsake box of the wedding day. It can be small enough to simply hold notes from the guests, in place of a guest book, or big enough to hold the veil, all the pieces from the stationery trousseau, random photos, travel keepsakes from the honeymoon. It’s a wonderful way to relive your wedding on your anniversary every year.

    So there you have it. What a quill-driving scribe can do for your wedding day and more than any machine can do! Thank you for supporting your professional calligrapher. I would be happy to speak with you at anytime to discuss what I can do to make your wedding trousseau or everyday stationery trousseau a unique reflection of you. Call me at 518-586-1063!

  • If you have a name, you have a monogram.

    I love monograms. To me they are the lyrical coupling of beautiful letter shapes. They can be style specific, like Art Deco or Romantic, they can be simple and stark or elaborate with iconography and symbols. Unlike a family crest they are totally accessible and available to anyone. Everybody that has a name has one. Monograms are evocative of a time when manners mattered and social stationery was essential.

    Alphabet monogramThis monogram of the alphabet was drawn by JM Berling around 1908. He was a great monogram designer and lettering artist.

    Now don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of ugly monograms out there. I spent some time doing a little research and there seems to be a lot of folks that think sliding 3 letters from a font together makes a monogram. That might be true in a very literal way, but it isn’t a thing of beauty. It is NOT a melodic coupling of beautiful letters, at least not in my (humble) opinion. Making a monogram by hand allows you to coax the letters together; you can find the space between the letters that feels right and bring them all together in the most harmonious way.

    As a hand lettering artist and calligrapher, creating a monogram is one of my favorite things to create. An individual’s monogram is lined up like this: first name initial first, last name initial next, middle name initial last. Married monograms can be the first initials of your first names only, or if you are a bride taking your spouse’s name; your first name initial, the initial of you new married last name and the initial of your maiden or middle name. If you are taking your spouse’s last name, your joint monogram could be your first initial, your spouse’s last name initial and your spouse’s first name initial.

    I’ve been working on a monogram for Lynn Butler (www.lynnbutler.com) and wanted to share the process with you. Step one is about getting a feel for the letter shapes together and how they can “embrace” each other. This is really the most crucial step and often involves a lot of erasing and redoing. In the following steps I use the light box. The light box lets me work off of the previous design. Moving to the calligraphy pen in the final rendering allows those graceful thicks and thins to emerge.

    Layout 1

    So now that you have a monogram, what’s next? There are so many things you can do with a monogram. Let’s talk about weddings first! Tradition says that the brides’ monogram should appear on the invitation, not the married monogram. It’s considered bad luck to have the married monogram on the invitation before the wedding, but fine for the menu card and of course, the thank you cards.

    Bebe's monogram

    Silverman program

    Where else can you use a monogram at your wedding? Menu cards are a perfect spot to drop in your monogram!

    2 menus

    They can also be used on the wedding cakes and more. Here is a collection of monograms I designed that were incorporated into various items. All these images were seen in Martha Stewart Weddings.

    monogram cake 2Monogram cake


    Monogram unbrella

    For several clients, I have created a monogram for each one of their children. I converted the monograms into rubber stamps, so as the children grow older, they could have fun with their very own logos!

    baby monogram

    I’ve painted monograms on silk for pillows, designed a monogram tattoo, painted a large monogram on a seven foot banner and have several current projects that I will reveal shortly that are all about the monogram! So stay tuned and if you want to talk monograms with me, I’d love to hear from you!

  • My Epiphany

    I am not sure of the exact date, but I think it was around March of 1987. I had been working for Ellen Weldon, an invitation designer in New York City (she’s the daughter of Sylvia Weinstock, the Cake Lady). I was hired by Ellen because I had good handwriting and my skill was put to use addressing envelopes for clients like Dior and others. I had never done calligraphy and had never taken a calligraphy class when Ellen hired me. Ellen encouraged me to take classes, so I did.

    calligraphy crtiique

    An early practice sheet with corrections by
    Jeanyee and myself.

    On that day in March, I was at my first of many calligraphy workshops to come. That was the day that I saw my friend Lisa Niccolini’s Copperplate script on an envelope.  I was left breathless. It was a thing of beauty like I had never seen. That was my moment of epiphany. I knew what I was going to do with my life, I knew that I would do whatever I could to learn how to create those beautiful letter shapes. Then I set about doing just that. I feel so lucky to have had that moment of clarity, that moment when all rockets were firing and I could feel myself lifting off to my goal. Everyday, I am deeply grateful.

    Zanerian manual

     Lisa was my inspiration and my guide as I embarked down the path, lending me antique nibs to try out,  critiquing me on my slant, my pressure on the nib, encouraging me to learn. Next came Jeanyee Wong, a true legend in the world of calligraphy. Jeanyee taught me to see. From Jeanyee I learn what differentiated beautiful calligraphy from mediocre calligraphy. Through Jeanyee’s guidance, I trained my eye to see the harmony and extraordinary beauty in the letter shapes. Once I started to learn that mental skill, then I could train my hand to do as my brain instructed. I know to some, this may sound kind of wacky, but this is how I learned the art of calligraphy.

    art by Raphael Boguslav

    art by Raphael Boguslav

    It was the Zanerian Manual that pushed me to the next level.  This is aquirky, sexist, but extremely useful how-to guide for creating, what many calligraphers feel, is the most beautiful kind of pointed pen calligraphy. Written in 1895 to train bookkeepers and certificate designers, (also known as Engrossers) it’s simple illustrated instructions are unparalleled.

    I would read the book a small amount at a time right before bed. Then I would close my eyes, see my nib in my pen holder, dip it into the ink, feel the nib hit the surface of the paper and mentally get to work practicing the strokes I had just learned in the book. I could see in my minds eye, my hand making the right shapes, keeping my lines parallel, using the right amount of pressure on the nib to get the same thick and thin lines, creating a thing of beauty. I really do think I trained my hand to do what my brain was telling it to do using this technique. The next day, when I picked up my pen, I was that much better. Like any learned skill, it’s about the practice and repetition that takes you to perfection.

    I was humbled by a workshop with Raphael Boguslav. He has left his mark on the world in so many ways. To this day, I am amazed by his talent.

    Twenty six years after that calligraphic epiphany in 1987, I still have much to learn.GBDStyleSheet