Have you noticed how calligraphy is surging in popularity at the moment? Not heavy, antiquated script, but a beautifully fresh, modern take that works on everything from wedding invitations to business cards.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a beginners’ workshop with talented London-based calligrapher Megan Riera (whose work I’ve admired ever since she collaborated on a series of bouquets with my friend Kirstie from Ruby & The Wolf), and it’s safe to say I’m now hooked too. There’s something incredibly relaxing about putting pen to paper, and the hours flew by.
After the workshop, I chatted to Megan to find out how she got started and how others can do the same…
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
“I’m half Canadian and half Catalan, and I come from a very creative family – my father is a potter in a tiny Spanish village, my mom is always dabbling in one craft or another, and my 102-year-old grandfather is an incredibly talented painter. I feel like I was always destined to do something creative myself. During my teens, I was obsessed with fashion – I designed and sewed all of my own clothes. When I moved to Europe, I started a degree in Animation and then changed to Design for Moving Image. I then worked as a motion designer for several years, in some really lovely boutique agencies such as Airside and This is Real Art.”
How did your passion for calligraphy begin?
“I was really interested in typography and found myself doing quite a bit of title-sequence design. One day a particular job came through and I thought calligraphy would really suit it. I went out and bought supplies, sat down to have a go, and quickly realised it was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I didn’t use calligraphy for that project in the end, but I persevered and, after a LOT of practice, another suitable job came through. I pitched my concept, and you can see my first attempts at calligraphy in the title sequence for feature film Another Me.
“After that, I was addicted. I did calligraphy as much as I could, and over time it started to take over. Eventually I decided to take the plunge and go freelance. To my surprise – and delight – it took off, and I’ve been quite busy. I can honestly say that I love my job, and although I would never have predicted that this is what I’d end up doing, I’m so glad it turned out this way.”
What kind of work do you do?
“My work is pretty varied. I do a lot of bespoke wedding and event calligraphy, as well as logos and branding for small businesses, which I absolutely love. I also teach calligraphy at Quill London, and I do quite a bit of event work through them – I was at London Fashion week, customising hand-held mirrors for a MAC x Charlotte Olympia party, and I’ve worked at press shows for M&S. On top of that, I create customised products such as address stamps and laser-cut name signs, and I did the lettering for the title sequence of BBC series The Casual Vacancy.”
How would you describe your style?
“It’s quite loose and organic. I love calligraphy that has character and isn’t ‘perfect’. I don’t necessarily write in straight lines and my letters tend to be different sizes! I’m a bit unconventional in that I often write quite fast – I don’t have a lot of control over my hand when I work this way, but I like the results I get!”
What inspires you?
“I’m inspired by amazing female talent, including graphic designer Jessica Walsh, whose approach is really fresh and thought-provoking, and Australian typographer Mrs Eaves. The body of incredible work she produces is mind-boggling.”
Which projects have you most enjoyed?
“The events – the adrenaline kicks in when you have to get hundreds of names done by a certain time and the guest list is constantly changing!”
Why do you think calligraphy is becoming so popular?
“Traditional crafts are making a comeback in new and really interesting ways, and I think the huge rise in calligraphy’s popularity is in part down to people reaching their ‘digital peak’. They want to step away from their screens and do something creative using their hands. The word I hear the most in my workshops is ‘therapeutic’. Students get absorbed in what they’re doing and often forget to look at their phones for a couple of hours, which can only be a good thing!”
Speaking of your workshops, could you tell us a bit more about them?
“At the moment I teach ‘Modern Calligraphy for Beginners’, as well as an intermediate workshop where we work with coloured and metallic inks. In the beginners’ class, I show students how to use the nib, pen and ink properly, and we practice warm-ups and letters. By the end of the class, most people are starting to write words in different styles. I do warn my students that it’s harder than it looks, but also highly addictive!”
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone looking to have a go at calligraphy?
“I’d recommend taking one of the workshops, and then it’s all down to practice and developing your own unique style. There are some great books, including Molly Suber Thorpe’s Modern Calligraphy and Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy, as well as tonnes of videos on Skillshare and YouTube.”
Head over to Megan’s website for more information on her work, or visit Quill London to book a place on one of her workshops. And, if you want to try modern calligraphy yourself, I’ve added a selection of equipment to my shop to help you get started.
Bouquet image by Ruby & The Wolf; all others by Megan Riera