Calligraphy in Jammies: The Basic Steps to Writing Pretty for Money

I just knew good handwriting would pay off in the end. Sure, I was terrible at algebra, but gosh-darn, did my homework look nice! Now, some years after A+ in handwriting on report cards, I’m learning to use that little trick to my financial advantage. I’ve started a little calligraphy business to earn some extra money on the side, as well as do something creative in my spare time.

Working from home has great advantages. You can make your own hours, work when you feel the most energetic, and you can work in your jammies! You can offer calligraphy services for addressing all manner of invitations, seating charts, place cards, menus, and filling in documents like family trees.

The Latin word calligraphy literally means “beautiful writing.” Before the printing press was invented some 500 years ago, calligraphy was the way books were made. Each copy was handwritten. Calligraphy was done with quill and ink onto materials like vellum or parchment. Calligraphy materials now are cheap, easy to obtain, and easy to work with.

Here are some steps to getting a calligraphy business of your own started.

1. Learn the skill. If you don’t already know how to do calligraphy, first you have to learn! There are tons of resources out there for you. Craft and art supply stores have all sorts of pens, inks, and instructional manuals to get you started relatively inexpensively. A beginner pen set with different sized nibs, ink cartridges, and an instruction guide will run anywhere from $10 to $20. Your local library will have books and magazines for you to use for learning technique and style. Later on in your career, if you decide to continue, I recommend investing in The Calligrapher’s Bible : 100 Complete Alphabets and How to Draw Them by David Harris. A new copy will run about $25, used for about $15. It shows you how to draw 100 different sets of letters, and includes information about materials, history, and technique. You might also discover many colored inks, application techniques, and wonderful papers to use in calligraphy, too.

2. Practice. My first calligraphy job was in college. I worked in the office of the college president, mostly doing clerical work, but I also did calligraphy for the president’s Christmas cards, invitations to college functions, and place cards for dinners and special events. That was three years worth of practice for me! When my friends started to get married, I offered to do the calligraphy on their invitations for free as a wedding gift. More practice, and that gave me references to use later! We both got something out of the deal.

3. Work up a price list. Spend some time researching prices on the Internet. What to charge really depends on three things: skill level, complexity of the job, and geography. Larger more complicated jobs in more difficult scripts – like handwriting a menu for a wedding banquet – are more expensive than smaller easier jobs – place cards, for example. In general, in larger, cosmopolitan cities, calligraphers can command higher prices. Look online for people who seem to be at the same level you are and see what they’re charging. There are tons of wedding-related websites that explore the cost and quality of calligraphy, like

4. Get the word out. You can get business cards to pass out to people, you could build a website, or you can just rely on word of mouth. Word of mouth is great because people are much more inclined to employ someone recommended by a friend, or even a friend-of-a-friend. Tell everybody what you do and what you’ll charge (which you already know, if you’ve been following along!). If you overhear people talking about an event, suggest some place cards for the tables or beautiful writing for the programs. They might say no, but they might say yes or they might refer you later on down the line. Planting the seeds now means reaping the fruit later.

5. Other places to get the word out. Go to your local stationery store and ask if they ever give customers names of calligraphers, and ask if they would add your name to the list. It helps to have some samples that you can leave at the store so the proprietor can show them to your potential customers. There are lots of places on the Internet that don’t charge for a line or two of advertising. Tack your business cards up on public bulletin boards, post price lists at the office, and hand out your information to friends and family to have on hand. My mother happened to meet an event planner that was looking for a calligrapher, so she gave the woman my name. You just never know when something’s going to pop up!

6. Other things to consider. You could work up an information sheet that lists the client’s name, the event, and the details of the project. Put your prices on the sheet, and have the client fill it out as he or she goes through the project with you. This will be helpful for you for keeping track of projects and saves you from calling them with questions later and the client can see exactly what he or she is asking for. Save all your receipts and paperwork – they might come in handy come tax time!

For a reasonable price, and some good old sales tactics, you can get started doing calligraphy in your pajamas in no time!

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