This post is part of a series in which we interview successful creatives about how they built their business. Today we are interviewing calligraphy artist, Katherine Ross.
Katherine is the Founder of Script Merchant, which specializes in creating unique personalized invitations for special events. She earned her BA in Anthropology from The University of the South before spending two years at the London School of Dramatic Art. Ross launched her calligraphy business in 2010 as a way to monetize her creative passions.
We hosted this interview in celebration of Katherine’s upcoming online workshop, Monetizing Your Handlettering Skills.
What is the name of your business? And what does it do?
I call “myself” Script Merchant, but my business is now Script Mercantile. Script Merchant does custom work for weddings and logo clients, while Script Mercantile sells art prints and stationery templates both utilizing my handlettering
When did you get started with calligraphy?
I actually first got the handlettering itch as a kid! I asked for a calligraphy set for Christmas around age 10. It didn’t go anywhere then, of course, but the interest has been there for a long time. I got back into it in 2012.
What inspired you to learn calligraphy?
I saw a friend getting into it, and I remembered how obsessed I was as a kid. I’ve always been artistically inclined, so I figured it would be something I could pick up if I worked hard enough. And that maybe I could make a little side money, too.
I didn’t know what I was doing at all at first. That friend I mentioned took a course, but I couldn’t afford a $300 course at the time, so I stumbled in the dark for a little too long. I didn’t understand how different nibs gave you different results. I didn’t even know how to find and purchase the right tools! I found some calligraphy tutorial videos on YouTube and finally, it clicked.
When did you realize this could become a business?
A wedding planner I had worked with encouraged me to push myself further than just addressing jobs, and it became a thrill to book bigger and more complex jobs based on my lettering portfolio.
How did you find your first few customers?
I started with some local wedding planners, but after realizing the power of social media, Instagram helped me to build a wider customer base. Especially since my customers don’t need to live in the same city as me!
What are the different ways that you have monetized your calligraphy skills?
The first step for a lot of people with my style and skillset is, of course, envelope addressing. It can be grueling, especially for a beginner, but it really helps to improve your skills while also making money.
Then art prints and wedding invitations came next. Now I’m onto creating greeting cards so that I can put a little bit more of my own personality into my work! I have a not-so-secret desire to make people laugh, and wedding work isn’t really the right platform for that. 😉
What type of customers who hire you?
Once you put yourself out there and you have a portfolio that speaks to your skills, you’d be so surprised how many different types of customers find you. I’ve done a ton of high end wedding work for clients across the globe, but magazines like Country Living and Southern Living have found me for interesting print projects. And I’ve done a logo for an art & design magazine, Hue Journal, which is probably my proudest work to date. It’s embossed on the cover of a thick, glossy magazine, and that’s pretty neat.
What is your best advice for people who want to build a calligraphy business?
Put yourself out there. Share, share, share. Try to get published on a lettering blog or a stationery blog who takes submissions. And don’t be afraid to research what’s working for other people and use that as inspiration. I don’t mean “copy” but there are tried and true marketing techniques that you will notice and can apply to your own work.
Lastly – diversify! You may not always want to do more than one thing, but you can find your specialty if you branch out.
What resources do you recommend for people just getting started with calligraphy?
Paper and Ink Arts and John Neal Bookseller are the treasure trove websites for calligraphy and handlettering. There are tools for sale you didn’t know you needed, and they tend to be fairly affordable. Calligraphy is a low-overhead hobby and business, so use that to your advantage!
Who are three calligraphy artists that inspire you?
David Grimes (@masgrimes) is the be all end all for pure technique and skill. It’s something to behold.
Fozzy Castro-Dayrit (@thefozzybook) knows her Spencerian, but also isn’t afraid to get messy and wild like I love to do.
Lastly, I have a low-key colleague crush on Tyler Blair (@extratyler) because he does very tailored work but leaves it intentionally a little messy (again, my weakness). It’s approachable and fun.
Are you interested in learning more about how Katherine built her hand lettering business? You won’t want to miss our three-day live online workshop, Monetizing Your Handlettering Skills. See the full schedule and reserve your spot here. Class starts March 1st!