I'm very lucky to be a full time calligrapher - it's a pleasure to be doing what I love as my job.
When I started out, I was not aware of how hard it can sometimes be to make time for actual lettering - there are so many other elements of the business that need attention, and sometimes the writing just gets pushed to the back of the queue (particularly if I've no commissions with pressing deadlines).
It's been particularly bad this last few weeks - I've been working hard on an area of my website (news on this soon) and I can't just dip into it - I have to really concentrate on web stuff.
Missed part 1 of the process? It's here.
So the customer and I have agreed everything we can think of, and they're sitting drinking Pina Colada while I head off to the studio.....
Creating the tree
Having agreed the rough size of the finished piece, and knowing which generation has the most names in it, I make an informed guess on how big the lettering will be for the final piece. Using a calligraphy pen of that size, I write out every name (including middle names and surnames) for the whole tree, using the style of lettering we think is the one we want.
I rule a border onto a piece of paper that is the proposed size of the finished piece. I then cut out every name, and arrange them on the sheet. And rearrange, and fiddle, and rearrange. And leave it and come back to it. And maybe rewrite some or all of the names in a different size. And so on, until it's heading in the right direction.
What I'm trying to do is to create something that (a) looks great and (b) is clear to follow. That includes ending up with a balanced piece (so it looks good across the room, before you're even close enough to read it) with the lettering as large as it can reasonably be. If at all possible I try and keep the whole of one generation on one horizontal line - but sometimes this isn't the best answer. I'm also imagining where all the connecting lines will go - I want to avoid them crossing (nearly always possible) and having too many bends in them.
Eventually I solve all the challenges I can think of, and the names lie in the right place on the paper. I then glue them down (to protect them from breezes and passing cats!) and this becomes my blueprint for the next stage.
Next stage is to create the first full rough of the piece. I work on a good paper, but usually not something as expensive as the final piece I'll use. I rule up all the lines - literally 2 lines for every piece of writing that's going to appear on the tree (titles, names, places, dates, marriages etc.). This is very meticulous but is NOT an exciting task and can take a long time - interesting stuff on the radio is important at this stage.
Then using the colours/styles/sizes I think are right, I write out the whole tree.
(I tend not to share with the customer at this stage, because in my experience they sometimes feel "obliged' to suggest changes. They're paying me to create a good looking finished piece, so that's what I think I should do.)
Eventually I am satisfied that everything is working.
Now to start the final piece!
Creating "the one"
I often work on papers I'm familiar with - Saunders Waterford or Fabriano. If for some reason I'm using a different paper, I need to trial all the materials I want to use, to make sure they work on the paper we're using.
Now I rule up the final piece. One of the techniques for decreasing the anxiety about the final piece is to identically rule up 2 sheets of paper - although everything has to be done twice, you can trick your brain into always believing that the "other" piece is the real one! (If I'm asked for more than one hand written copy of the same tree then I always rule up a spare.)
I try not to put lines where there won't be writing - partly because rubbing out lines is tedious, but more importantly there's a risk that the indents in the paper will show in the final piece.
I also have to make sure that the paper doesn't get marked or dented, so all other projects get cleared away while I'm at this stage, and the piece is kept on my drawing board, under a cover sheet if I'm not working on it.
Now for the lettering! My preference is to start with the thing that scares me most - which would usually be the title - but actually this is best left to the end, so I can make sure it's absolutely centred. So off I go with the lettering. If I can, I like to do all the work of one size/colour in one sitting, so I might do all the first/middle names for all the generations in one go, then do all the surnames in a different session.
I work from top to bottom, but it might surprise you to learn that I sometimes do the names from right to left. (I'm left handed, and it decreases the chances of getting my hand into wet ink.)
I will have several rough versions of the tree pinned around me at this stage, but I always copy the details from the spreadsheet we agreed - otherwise I might accidentally copy a mistake I made previously.
The more lettering that's on there, the greater the jeopardy if something goes wrong - so I've all sorts of tricks up my sleeve for correcting - that's a whole other story!
The final stage is usually the ruling of the connecting lines - I use a ruling pen which is a wonderful tool and can hold paint of any colour - although lines are generally black or gold. (I did a tree where the principal family line was in red - that looked good.)
And then the title - the nail biting writing of those prominent letters that will ruin the piece if they're wrong - no pressure then!
Finally all the work is done, and the task of rubbing out the lines can begin. I wait for at least 24 hours before doing this - just in case. It takes a LONG time to remove all the pencil, and even when you think it's all gone, there's always more. I now do my final check using a magnifying head visor, working from name to name to name.
Packing it to send
Despite having checked, checked and checked again, even as it's going in the tissue paper and into the postal tube there's a nagging voice in my head telling me there's something wrong.....! But it's off to the Post Office with the tube, and then a few nail biting days until I hear that it's arrived, and hopefully also that it's much loved.
After that, customers often drop me a note to show me the piece in its frame, or to let me know that the recipient of the gift was delighted - which I really value. Best of all is if I hear that it's generated conversations with people who didn't know their family history - I think that's the piece doing the job that it should.
Value for money
I do get requests for family trees where people are astonished at the price I charge. I hope that having read the process you'll be aware that there's a lot goes on be hid the scenes to create that piece of paper, and while it's not affordable to everyone, I hope I've at least helped you understand a little more of what the costs cover.
(I am always very happy to work with a customer to find an affordable way - sometimes the right answer is to use my design skills and knowledge of family trees tI have even delivered trees without using any calligraphy at all, but that's another story for another day!)
I LOVE writing out family trees. It's not every calligrapher's cup of tea, but the nerdy design and measuring appeals to me, and there's such satisfaction in creating something which means so much to the commissioner.
There's no "usual way" for family trees - the relationship with the customer varies a great deal, as does the outcome.
I thought I'd talk about the rough stages we go through, to give you an idea (and maybe even inspire you to get your tree done.)
I seem to have a lot to say (!) so I've split it into 2 parts - second part will be published soon so please check back.
I've done a few trees where the family has asked someone (a genealogist or a PA to a family member) to get the tree done - this is absolutely fine, but I wonder if we miss the chance to make it as personal as possible.
Usually the person I'm talking to will be right there on the finished piece - and I like that!
We talk (usually on email) about the information to be included, the format it's currently in, who the tree is for, when it's needed and a whole host of other things.
It's very helpful if I can see the information about the family - I'll almost always create a diagram of how it could look to help the conversation along.
Information can be in a spreadsheet, a word document, a printed tree diagram, hand written tree diagrams or by giving me access to your research in Ancestry or similar - all are fine.
(In my early days before I knew better I agreed to work from a GedCom file which was something like 120 pages of text, and I had to pick my way through finding out how the family relationships worked - I wouldn't do that again.)
As early as I can in the conversation I come up with a price. This is simply "Time to design/complete the piece" plus "time to write out 1 person" multiplied by number of family members.
If it's very complex or includes decorative elements such as a crest, I include that time in the "Time to design/complete" estimate.
In nearly all cases this is the price paid at the end - I've only ever altered the quote (up and down) if the number of family members changes.
Refining the content
Once we're agreed on price and a deposit has been paid, we continue to work on refining the content of the tree. This can happen really quickly, or can take a few emails.
I'll often refine the little diagram, so that we remain clear what the piece will look like, and there'll be a spreadsheet containing the tree details. Sometimes I create this, sometimes the customer, but its important moment comes when I ask the customer to sign off that its contents are 100% accurate - and mistake I make after that is my issue to fix, but if the information was wrong, that's not my issue.
(In truth it's almost never an issue - of course my customers take great care to provide the right information. I did have one early customer who pointed out the misspelling of a place name on the piece once it was delivered, despite it having been wrong in the information we'd been sharing for weeks. Because of that, I'm now a bit more "fierce" with signing off the content.)
This is now the point at which it all goes quiet for the customer - it's even possible they won't see anything until the final piece arrives in the post.
Part 2 coming soon - please check back!
One of my great pleasures is teaching people who are taking their first steps in calligraphy. There's something great about seeing their faces when they realise that the pen in their hand that they're controlling is making letters - and beautiful letters too!
(Yes, of course there are some ink splats and strange shapes too - that's part of the deal!)
So I'm really hoping I'm going to get a few more people signed up for my First Steps in Calligraphy course on 13/14 September.
The course takes place at the Trecastell Hotel in Bull Bay, Anglesey. I realise that Anglesey's not on the doorstep for many people, so I've chosen somewhere that's delightful and a real "treat" venue for a weekend - I can guarantee sea views, gorgeous food, fun tuition, and I'm fairly sure I can offer sunshine too.
The course details are available on the website HERE and I've attached the main brochure below.
I'd love to think you might be tempted, or might know someone who is - please forward these details if you can think of anyone.
VOUCHERS : I'd be very happy to create a (hand written of course!) voucher of any value that you could give as a present if you wanted to make a part payment for a friend or relation - do please CONTACT ME if that's of interest.
I'm Janet Smith, a calligrapher who loves to experiment with lettering and calligraphy.