Question: Nearly anyone in the UK who has an interest in calligraphy or drawing has heard of or ordered from Scribblers. Your stock is vast! When and why did you start Scribblers, and what was the main item (or items) that you sold?
Scribblers actually began in around 1998 in our spare bedroom! At that time, we were living in a small house in Lowestoft, and I taught calligraphy classes in the evening. The main items we sold back then were nibs, pen-holders and inks for traditional calligraphy. Those products made sense because they complemented my curriculum.
Our mission at Scribblers is ‘To share our passion of the lettering arts and inspire our customers by providing them expertise, resources and the best choice of calligraphy equipment and materials whilst, at the same time, working in a fair and sustainable way’. I formed the business not only to meet that mission statement, but also to give me the opportunity of fulfilling my personal ambition. I endeavored to turn the hobby I was so passionate about into a full-time career.
Simon the Calligrapher
Question: It’s my understanding that you are a calligrapher yourself. How did you get started with calligraphy?
My interest in calligraphy started in the early ’80s, when I was working as a cartographer for a survey company. In those days, all the hydrographic charts were produced by hand. For the lettering we used Letraset, a dry rub-down instant lettering product that was used to transfer words and sentences onto drawing films.
One day, whilst looking through the Letraset catalogue, I saw a style called ‘Palace Script’, which looks a bit like Copperplate. I thought how great it would be to be able to write in this style, so I photocopied the page from the catalogue. Then, I got some paper and a pencil and started to practise the lettering. By using a soft pencil and varying the pressure, I found I could produce lines of slightly different thicknesses.
For my birthday that year, my parents bought me The Craft of Calligraphy. This book really ignited my interest in calligraphy. One day, my mother saw an advert in a magazine for calligraphy correspondence courses, developed by Gaynor Goffe at the Roehampton Institute. I immediately called the number and signed up!
Goffe’s courses were utterly brilliant! After completing them, I began to pick up commissions, mostly through the people I worked with. These were usually wedding invitations or the occasional bit of verse or poetry. Things were going well until just a few days before the birth of our first child. Unexpectedly, I lost my job, and the whole company folded a few weeks later. Around this time, our local college was advertising for tutors with various skills to develop their Adult Education evening classes. I contacted them, and I was offered the chance to teach a series of beginner calligraphy classes.
The X-Height Calculator and Measuring Discs
Once my students learned how to make calligraphy guidelines, they quickly found it a chore to do. After all, it was taking up a lot of time. To save time — and reduce boredom — I started to write down the heights. That way, I could shout out measurements as an alternative to the student making nib marks on the paper and figuring out the x-height from those marks. During one of the classes, I wondered how this scrappy bit of paper with all the different combinations of nib sizes and widths could be better presented. It was then I had the idea for the X-Height Calculator and Measuring Discs. After much effort and refinement, I made a batch of Calculators and Discs.
I had an insert placed in a copy of the CLAS Edge magazine and we began to sell these ruling-up aids. Things gradually progressed and about a year later, I had a website made. On this website, we began selling a very small range of nibs and inks. That was when Scribblers began!
Question: What’s your motivation behind creating calligraphy, and how often do you get to exercise your skills? Can you share a photo of one of your favorite pieces with us?
My main motivation behind creating calligraphy is the visual impact and as a way of being creative. My enthusiasm for calligraphy has definitely helped me to run Scribblers. We only sell what I myself would use. How often I get to exercise my skills really depends on what projects pop up. I have recently been learning how to do chalkboard writing. I’m also experimenting with writing on other surfaces, such as stones from our local beach. My eldest daughter got married last summer, so I had plenty of opportunity to exercise both of my news skills!
Question: As I mentioned, Scribblers stocks a vast array of items! Let’s get theoretical for a moment, though: you’re marooned on an island (where all of your basic needs are met). What five Scribblers items would you want to have with you?
1. A jar of Rousy ink. Rousy ink works in both fountain pens and dips pens. It flows really nicely and is just an all-round great, general purpose ink. I personally use it everyday in my Waterman Fountain Pen.
2. Archie’s Copperplate Paper. It’s my favorite practice paper. I tend to use the blank paper, although it is available with printed guidelines.
3. A selection of nibs — including a few vintage nibs. Picking one nib would be too tricky as they all do such different jobs and have such a wide variety of qualities!
4. A cork-tipped pen holder. This versatile, comfortable pen holder accommodates a wide range of nibs.
5. My vintage automatic pencil. I always like to plan out my work in pencil and would be pretty lost without it!
Question: At the moment, the world is being rocked by the COVID-19 crisis. What are you doing, personally, to keep up your spirits during this time of social distancing?
Of course, running Scribblers always has a positive impact on my spirits. Stanley (our Cavapoo) and I are still able to walk to the business centre each day where Scribblers is located. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve begun to create chalkboard writing, and I have recently signed up for an Islamic patterns course.
At this time, Scribblers is still taking orders and shipping to countries all around the world. I honestly think lots of people are in need of calligraphy to keep their spirits up. I’m just really hopeful that learning and creating calligraphy can be one of the positives to come out of all the difficulties the world is facing at the moment. As they say, ‘Keep Calm and Do Calligraphy’!
Thanks very much to Simon for taking the time to answer my questions for this post! Please let me know if you like interview-type posts like this, and I’ll pursue doing more of them. I have a natural curiosity about people, so this post was a fun one to write. 🙂
Thanks you for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!