In light of the release of the new lettering book; Modern Calligraphy Workshop on the 6th April 2017, we thought you'd like to know more about the background of the author herself, Imogen Owen. Take a look below for an inspiring read into how Imogen's career in modern calligraphy started out and discover all her useful tips and advice for people just starting off on their calligraphy path and for the budding professionals out there.
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU START SPECIALISING IN CALLIGRAPHY / WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I’ve always been interested in calligraphy, but I guess I’d just overlooked it for while. When I was a child I used to love it, I had all the kits, and spent ages learning very traditional italic or Gothic style lettering. I had ink in every hue and used to love it. It just went the way of many of the crafts I liked as a child, relegated to a drawer somewhere whilst I found other things to do…
Having studied Graphic Design at Camberwell, I’d been focusing more on type and letterpress, and after meandering through my twenties trying to decide on what exactly I’d like to do, I then rekindled my love of letterpress and set up my stationery business in 2013. Now back designing and making stationery, I wanted my work to stand out and be different, and I had seen lots of beautiful lettering and calligraphy work in the United States so I spent more and more time looking at US letterers and calligraphers, like Molly Jacques, Betsy Dunlap and Antiquaria's Bailey Amon Rivera. Then the competitive part of me took over and I wanted to do what they were doing…So I bought several penholders, every copperplate nib I could find, and a range of different black inks. I looked online and set about teaching myself, as there was nowhere to learn it in the UK and bought some books on calligraphy too. It was great - so relaxing! I spent hours trying different nibs and working on my minuscules and majuscules.
When I thought I was really good (I look back now and think how on Earth could I have thought that!!) I posted my work on Instagram, and after a few hours I’d had two people asking me if I’d teach a workshop. It was just crazy! Having already built up a fair bit of teaching experience, I set about devising a workshop, and teaching the UK’s first Modern Calligraphy workshops. After teaching the first one for Abigail Warner, I then started working with Lucy at Quill London who wanted to host my workshops. From then on calligraphy became a huge part of my life, and I was in London teaching most weekends for over 2 years, although now I’ve stopped teaching as many workshops, modern calligraphy is a huge part of my work life.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CALLIGRAPHY STYLE & YOUR FAVOURITE TOOL?
I've the utmost respect for anyone who practices traditional copperplate or Spencerian script, and I appreciate how beautiful it is and am entranced watching people who are incredibly talented at it, but for me, it still feels very formal, and it’s the reason that I was drawn to the modern styles of calligraphy that are rooted in copperplate. I love working in a more free and fluid way, this is probably partly because I’m incredibly impatient, I want to do something loose and free, and altogether more haphazard.
I love to play with my lettering styles, just making little alterations and seeing how that changes the feeling of my lettering. This, I guess, stems from my design and typographic background. I’m fascinated by the construction of letterforms, how just by changing the balance of the counter of a letter or the angle of the crossbar, it takes on a whole new look. Modern calligraphy allows me to play with letters in a much more free way and that’s what I enjoy about it most.
I’m an incredibly fickle person when it comes to tools. I fall in and out of love with tools frequently, I love the Japanese G pen nibs, the Nikko G, and Zebra G and always come back to these, but I’m also currently using a Leonardt EF. It’s the same with penholders, I love Tom’s Studio’s incredibly beautiful penholders, but I do have a large stash of cork gripped black ones, with various degrees of ink staining and all well loved!
WHAT KIND OF CLIENTS DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT DO THEY ASK FOR MORE OFTEN?
I have a real range of clients from brands I work with on projects, to wedding clients. Mostly my clients just want to bring a taste of modern calligraphy to what they do so it can vary, from creating a workshop to suit or personalising a productWedding-wise things are very trend driven so at the moment it tends to be lots of lettering on watercolour papers with torn edges or khadi papers.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
I'm proud of my book ‘Modern Calligraphy Workshop’. I was first approached about a book a couple of years ago, and it took a while to develop it, but after all of the work it’s now published here and in the US in April. I'm THE most critical person about my own work, so I am never entirely happy as I’m always thinking about how I can improve something, but that’s what drives me, if I was content with everything I did, I’d never push myself to do more. I feel like I’ve put my heart and soul into this project though.I’m a very passionate person, and teaching workshops has been an awesome experience, I’ve loved meeting so many amazing people, getting to know them, and share something I love, and watch them starting to love it too, and I wanted to put all that into my book. So I really hope that comes across, and people will read the book and get bitten by the calligraphy bug too! I’ve tried to write a book that I would have wanted to read when I was starting to teach myself. I just hope that it inspires people to pick up a pen and try it and fall in love with letters as I have.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON and what are your FUTURE projects?
Most of my future plans are top secret, but in the short term I’m off to the National Stationery Show in NY in May, where I’ll be exhibiting, and also promoting my book which is published in the US in April too. I’ve got lots of new product ranges to work on, as well as weddings that are coming in thick and fast too. There are so many things I want to do this year, it’s just a matter of working out what. I’ll certainly be teaching more workshops so watch out for those.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WANTING TO BECOME PROFESSIONAL CALLIGRAPHERS
I’d say calligraphy is a wonderful skill to have and to learn. I would also point out that there is a difference between doing something you love for fun, and doing it for a job. Sometimes it’s nice to have something that is just for you, something you can enjoy doing to relax and de-stress with, when you do it for a job, although it’s amazing that you can get paid to do something you love, it’s not quite the same. I never envisaged using my calligraphy skills for anything more than being incorporated into my card designs, and it was something that I just loved doing and did to relax, now I’m having to find new craft to do as my relaxation!Never think that because people want to pay you for your work that you no longer need to practice, because you are always learning, you can always improve and develop your skill.
WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO CALLIGRAPHY BEGINNERS?
My book! Joking aside, it’s aimed at beginners and will give you lots of tips on how to get started and give you inspiration and information on tools and equipment. I always tell people that come on my workshops to keep what they’ve done, some days you don’t feel like you’re progressing but if you look at the first letter you’ve written on a sheet, and then the last, you’ll always see a difference. Practice, practice, practice, there is no shortcut for this, no quickly Googled fix, it’s all about practice, to get confident with the shapes you are creating and to make smoother strokes, and finesse your technique.One thing I always recommend is to look critically at your work, find the weakest part, and work on it, and then this will soon become the best bit! This will really help you to progress. With modern calligraphy because it seems much freer than traditional forms of script people have a tendency to just slip into their own handwriting, so I always advocate looking at the letters as shapes not letters, in order to work on creating the basic shapes that are used to create the letters, and perfecting those.
If you want to get hold of Imogen's new book you can click HERE to purchase through Amazon or click HERE to view online at Waterstones. For more information on the book you can view the press release or to learn more about services offered you can visit Imogen's wesbite.