Lovely Lettering: A Q&A with calligrapher Alyssa Kiefer

Lovely Lettering: A Q&A with calligrapher Alyssa Kiefer

When we come across an envelope addressed with beautiful calligraphy, or a dinner menu written out by hand, adorned with authentic, hand-drawn flourishes, we probably all have a similar thought: wow, I wish I could write like that! We tapped one of our very favorite calligraphers to get the scoop: how does one get started with calligraphy? Or just make one’s handwriting a little less...messy? Alyssa Kiefer, of Hudson, Ink., walks us through the basics, and dishes on how she turned her favorite creative hobby into a thriving business. 

Dear Annabelle: How did you first get into calligraphy? Did you have to take a class or are you self taught? 

Alyssa Kiefer: I’m mostly self taught. I have loved the art of handwriting since I was really young. I used to change up my handwriting every couple of months by mimicking styles that I saw. To date myself, I got the Baby-Sitters Club Chain Letter book at a book fair in elementary school and wore those pages thin. It had fun pop-up and pull-out letters and I tried to copy each of their handwriting styles. I’m also a lover of history, and I have always been drawn to the romanticism of beautifully handwritten old letters and documents; this led me to try and perfect more traditional styles. Youtube was definitely helpful for tips as the materials can feel overwhelming at first. In addition, I took a couple of in-person classes over the years with more experienced calligraphers, but for the most part I admit to winging it. 

DA: How did you turn your passion for calligraphy into a business? What tips do you have for artists or makers who want to turn what they make into their job? 

AK: It was definitely a happy accident. My parents have always been supportive of all of my interests, but because no one in my family had worked in the creative industry before, art just always seemed like more of a hobby than a career path. I worked in hospitality marketing for years which I loved, but found myself gravitating towards creative side projects. A couple of event and wedding projects for friends led to more and before long I realized I could work for myself. So my tip for aspiring artists and makers would be to just go for it. You may think a market is too saturated, or that you don’t have enough experience  (the imposter syndrome is real), but there is always room for your work and I assure you that behind every curated Instagram feed is an artist just like you who is kind of making it up as they go. (Well at least behind my Instagram that is the case.) 

DA: What are some trends you’re seeing in the calligraphy / lettering world right now? 

AK: I offer traditional calligraphy as well as my signature brush calligraphy, but over the last two years my clients have gravitated almost exclusively to the latter. It’s the perfect complement to watercolor illustrations and can elevate an event without feeling too traditional or stuffy. I’ve seen this trend across the industry and think it helps allow you to insert your own personality to your event. I think in general, given the adjustments people have had to make to events over the last year, a lot of tradition is out the window and people are feeling more free to do what works for them. 

DA: How can people who don’t know calligraphy beautify their handwriting? Any quick tips? 

AK: Don’t be intimidated and just slow down. No matter what kind of handwriting you have, I promise you that you can do calligraphy. You’d probably be surprised by my quick and messy every day writing. All it takes is some patience and practice. 

DA: For those who are interested in learning the art of calligraphy, how would you recommend going about it? Can we learn from youtube? Or do we need to take classes? What supplies do we need? 

AK: Just start! In person classes are definitely helpful to get immediate feedback on where you can improve, but not at all necessary. There are plenty of online resources to get you started. Youtube and Skillshare are great resources for beginner tips and you can find a lot of calligraphy guide books on Etsy as well to keep your practice going. As for materials, all you need to get started is some heavier printer paper, a basic pen holder, black Sumi ink, and I recommend the Nikko G as a good nib for beginners. 

DA: You make such beautiful menus for dinner parties, weddings, and events! What was your favorite menu to design? 

AK: Thank you! It is always such an honor (and still a little unbelievable to me) when people trust me with such important life events. Menus are my favorite item to design and have been fortunate to create so many unique ones. But one favorite that comes to mind was a menu for a bachelorette party. The vision was an elevated pizza party for the carb-loving bride Ashley. I think placemat style menus are really fun and not often seen. They were the perfect addition to this table to keep the event chic without feeling too formal. 

DA: What about your favorite party invite? 

AK: I designed a wedding suite recently for a Napa wedding which took place in early July. The destination is obviously breathtaking and the bride, Alexis, was just so laid back. Her only requests were to include the view from the venue and to incorporate the local “oreo cows” she had loved as a child. I especially loved the fun accordion insert we designed which allowed guests to have all the information for the weekend’s events and a map of the venue all in one spot for easy access. We were then able to carry elements of the invitation suite throughout the celebration including dinner and bar menus - and the cows of course made an appearance on her weekend insert and thank you notes! 

DA: What’s your favorite Dear Annabelle design and why? 

AK: I’m a big snail mail person. I know how much it still means to me to get a card in the mail and love giving that feeling to friends and loved ones, especially when you might not have the right words but want someone to know you are thinking of them. I love the classic simplicity of the ‘Gratitude’ notecards; those come in handy often. But I also have really loved my ‘Flirty’ set because they are perfect for so many occasions and just-saying-hi notes. I usually mix and match the notecards with the different envelope liners and always get compliments.