Boy, you are in for a real treat today! I had the honor of conducting a one-on-one with Molly Suber Thorpe of Plurabelle Calligraphy, and there are more than a few reasons why I've fallen head over heels with this Los Angeles-based calligrapher. Insanely gifted in designing elegant and clean lettering styles that truly deserve their own typefaces, she creates one-of-a-kind wedding invitations, greeting cards, manuscripts and envelopes. She has generously taken the time to share with us some of her background, quirky habits, and practical tips, so read on fellow readers, to see what this super cool gal is all about.
How did you get into the art of calligraphy?
When I was in graphic design school I took a calligraphy class as an art elective. The class was on broad-tip, italic lettering — far from the calligraphy I do today — but it sparked my passion and from there I taught myself pointed-pen techniques and developed my own script styles. Calligraphy and weddings go together like cake and ice cream, so it was only natural that most of my first clients were brides-to-be. When I was invited to be a featured vendor at Hitched: A Curated Wedding Event (since renamed The Cream), my connection with the wedding industry took off. While many of the jobs I still do today are for weddings, many others are for individuals, small businesses, websites and magazines.
I am inspired by thoughtful, beautiful design of all kinds, from product design to graphic art. Great design serves its purpose clearly and elegantly, and I strive for that in my own work. I’m also inspired by lettering artists young and old, from digital lettering designer Jessica Hische to chalkboard artist Dana Tanamachi to the late calligrapher and font designer Doyald Young.
Can you describe to us what your studio looks like?
I work from home so I’ve converted a large chunk of my two-bedroom Los Angeles apartment into a studio. I have two large, wood desks — one for handmade work, one for digital — and a whole wall of storage containers for all my art supplies and stationery. My “handmade” desk, where I do all my calligraphy, is under a large window (natural light is very important when working with color!) and it’s generally covered in ink jars, paint tubes, strips of artist tape, millions of eraser shavings, and more pens and pencils than I can count right now. On my “digital” desk I have my baby (a 27”, lightening fast iMac) and a number of vintage desk supplies including a mail scale and the most beautiful 50s-era green stapler. There’s lots of art on my walls as well as a board where I pin lots of inspiration.
What's a common misconception that people have about calligraphy?
This is a great question. People are often very surprised to discover that I’m a calligrapher, that I could make a living doing something they’ve always considered an “ancient” or obsolete art form. I, like nearly every other calligrapher, do my calligraphy with a steel dip pen, a tool that was invented in about 1800, and I often use inks like iron gaul and walnut ink, both of which have been around since the Middle Ages. But old tools don’t have to make outdated art. The fact is that today calligraphy is undergoing a renaissance. Contemporary calligraphers are sprouting up all over the world, bringing new life to the same lettering tools that have been around for centuries, and bringing a fresh, modern point of view to the art. We’re seeing lots of bold colors, experimental letterforms, and unconventional media. I find it all really exciting!
Do you have any tips for the couple who is looking to hire a wedding calligrapher?
- Book your calligrapher early! I feel awful doing it but I have to turn down clients all the time who come to me when their deadline is only a month or less away. All my calligrapher friends and I say this — if you’re even thinking of incorporating calligraphy into your wedding, start looking for a calligrapher early, find out his/her schedule and try to get penciled in. I often book clients 5 to 6 months out, so when people come to me with rush orders, it’s unusual that I can squeeze them in. Remember: you don’t need your stationery printed and address list complete before you start making inquiries!
- Calligraphy is not inexpensive and a calligrapher’s prices are based on an hourly rate they have set for themselves based on how many envelopes they can do in an hour, how long it takes to design an invitation, etc. Keep this in mind when comparing prices — we all work at different paces and may even use different supplies, which will make our prices vary. If you’re on a budget, you can still incorporate calligraphic elements. Look into items like a custom rubber stamp made with your return address or a monogram to print on your wedding stationery. These little touches will still add a handmade element to otherwise digital designs.
What quirky habits do you have, and what are your simple joys in life?
I had to defer to my friend on this one since it’s hard to analyze oneself like this. He finds it crazy that I keep drinking my coffee even after it’s room temperature, brush my teeth for a full 10 minutes a day ( I’ve never had a cavity!), and can’t turn off my car without turning off the radio first (I hate turning on my car and being shocked by the radio!). My simple joys are flourless chocolate cake (if it’s super moist), a great cup of coffee (like, really great...I’m kind of a freak about my coffee), reading all day long with said coffee by my side, wrapping presents and tying bows (nothing is more relaxing), and fresh-out-of-the-oven bread (preferably homemade).
Like me, if you can't seem to get enough of Molly, you can watch this watercolor + calligraphy place cards video, follow her blog, and stop by her Etsy store to browse and purchase some rather neat items, like this:
Cheers to the magic of the handwritten word!