Calligraphy, once a male-dominated field, now boasts many talented female calligraphers. For today’s article, I reached out to twelve influential women of calligraphy with a question: “What’s your proudest accomplishment, and what did it take for you to get there?” You’re bound to feel inspired by what they had to say!
This is part one of a two part article. You can find the second part here. Please note that the interviews appear in alphabetical order.
1. Pat Blair
Lindsey, your question caused me to reflect on all my experiences through the course of my career, and I came up with so many. It made me realize how very lucky I am! I never dreamed when I was addressing envelopes, back when my children were running around in diapers, that I would end up where I did. I enjoyed that period actually very much (except maybe for the time when a ball bounced off my work table into a pan of ink)!
But I realized that I loved everything about letters. I became involved in the calligraphy community by taking tons of classes, joining and becoming President of our local guild, attending and teaching (and directing) calligraphy conferences, and immersing myself in the field. My contacts were building up, and a series of fortunate events led to my becoming Director of the Calligraphy Office at The White House in Washington, DC. My experiences there have been a treasure. As Chief Calligrapher, I oversaw all the calligraphy and printing involved with events, the invitations, menus, programs, place cards, escort cards, even plywood signs! And along with calligraphy, we also needed to know typography, watercolor painting, illustration and graphic design … plus protocol and White House history! We became experts at handling deadlines.
The list of memorable moments is long. I am proud to think that the work of the Calligraphy Office has been set before world leaders and heads of state and royalty, representing the United States. There are a few moments, though, that particularly stand out. I remember standing in one of the upstairs dining rooms setting up for a luncheon during the Queen of England’s visit. I happened to glance out on the South Lawn at the Arrival Ceremony and saw the backs of the heads of the President and the Queen as they stood at the podium. The thought occurred to me: “I am only one of a few people that is actually seeing this event from this view. How awesome!” I have seen Paul McCartney in jeans rehearsing for an event. I worked on the design of Presidential China, and I watched as the Pope drove by waving to our staff. Probably my fondest memory was when I sat with my daughter, as guests, at a Mother’s Day Tea hosted by Michelle Obama. There, we chatted with the granddaughters of President Eisenhower. I could go on, and that is why I feel so lucky. Meeting so many like-minded calligraphers over the years is the icing on the cake, knowing that we can share our experiences and enjoy this fine craft together.
For nearly 13 years, Pat Blair was Chief Calligrapher at the White House in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in the Calligrapher’s Engagement Calendar, Letter Arts Review, Top 100 New York Calligraphers, Grolier Club Calligraphy Revival, and Martha Stewart Weddings, among others. She has taught at the Loudoun Academy of the Arts in Virginia, and she has been on the faculty of over ten International Calligraphy Conferences. She has been awarded the title Master Penman by the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH) for her work. You can find her at her website or on Instagram.
2. Katrina Centeno-Nguyen
I have been a professional calligrapher for almost 14 years now. I consider myself truly honored that even after all these years, I am still able to make and share art that not only can I be proud of, but people can appreciate and learn from. My wish is to continue creating more to leave a legacy for my children to enjoy.
What did it take? There’s an abundance of inspiration so be prepared and be open to evolve and learn, but never forget your personal style.
In 2007, Katrina Centeno-Nguyen started Calligraphy Katrina. Her skills quickly caught the eye of Los Angeles’ luxury wedding industry, museums, and the world’s top fashion houses including Vogue, Dior, Ferragamo, Chanel, Burberry, Vanity Fair, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Calligraphy Katrina continues to work with top-name clients today, and she inspires countless calligraphers around the world on Instagram.
3. Shinah Chang
My proudest accomplishment is quitting a safe, but unhappy, career in law to go after the creative life I always wanted for myself! I grew up thinking that the only way to be secure and “successful” was to be a perfect student, go to the best college, and get a prestigious job like doctor or lawyer. But I literally did all of that – straight As, Harvard University, lawyer at a huge corporate law firm. And I was climbing the ladder and making money, but I also dreaded waking up each day.
It was so terrifying to say goodbye to my paycheck and my identity as a smart, successful attorney. But now, 8 years later, it’s the best decision I ever made! I now get to do calligraphy every day, employ 4 awesome moms all around the country, and teach so many students how to get over their critical self-talk and finally learn how to do beautiful, confident calligraphy. If you’re feeling unhappy and stuck, I just want you to know that you’re capable of SO MUCH MORE than you think. There is a delicious world of possibility out there – and following that little creative nudge inside of you is the first step to discovering that bright new world!
Shinah is a former corporate lawyer turned sweary calligrapher and calligraphy teacher. You can follow her on Instagram or take a free workshop with her at FreeCalligraphyWorkshop.com.
4. Younghae Chung
My proudest accomplishment so far has been hosting my own online courses since 2017. I took part in a collaborative online summit before, but having to start from the ground up from finding the right videographer, curating the structure of the curriculum, building out the homework assignments/handouts, to figuring out all the technical things was a whole new level that took a lot of perseverance, courage, and faith. I love and enjoy connecting with people in real life, but I would get massive butterflies when it comes to talking in front of a camera.
After opening doors for the first group of students, those butterflies quickly dissipated as I realized what an amazing experience it was to build an online community of calligraphers and friends from all over the world – connecting and sharing in our love for letters! The only reason why I would be hesitant to call it an “accomplishment” is because I don’t see this as a one-time project being “completed” or “finished”. It has been an ongoing journey of learning and growing as both a student myself and an instructor. The lessons I’ve learned in perseverance and faith have also impacted other areas in my character and how I view my small business. I am so grateful to all who have supported me in this endeavor and passion of mine. ❤️
Younghae Chung is a classically trained left-handed calligrapher and teacher based in southern California. You can follow along in her journey as a calligramom + creative entrepreneur at her website and/or on Instagram.
5. Becca Courtice
My proudest accomplishment is the charitable donation I am able to make to the MS Society of Canada on a recurring basis because of my online courses. In 2018, I was diagnosed with MS myself. Having multiple sclerosis can mean different things for everyone– but for me, one of the most terrifying is the thought of someday losing the function of my hands and my ability to create calligraphy and art. So since my diagnosis, I have been donating a portion of all sales of my online courses to the MS Society of Canada to support the amazing work they do in supporting people like myself.
To date, because of the support of my students and their dedication to learning calligraphy and hand lettering, I’ve been able to donate over $44,000. I am incredibly proud and humbled by that fact, and I’m unbelievably grateful to my amazing students. I am also grateful to myself for my hard work and determination in building this wonderful community who help me rally around such an important cause.
Becca is a modern calligrapher, hand letterer and instructor based in Ottawa, Canada. You can find her on Instagram, Youtube at thehappyevercrafter.tv, or her website and courses at thehappyevercrafter.com.
6. Suzanne Cunningham
I have two accomplishments in my calligraphy journey that tie as being my proudest. First, is being asked to teach at IAMPETH (International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting) in 2018 by Debi Zeinert. Since then, I have taught every year and am slated to teach in 2021 in Omaha, NE and 2022 in Atlanta, GA. I was so grateful for my best friend and roommate, Cherilon Stevens, (whom I met through calligraphy) for praying me through that day and calming my nerves!
My second proud accomplishment is being asked by Kelley Braun to be a co-editor of the 25th edition of the Speedball Textbook. I will never forget reading her email and wondering if she sent it to me by mistake! The Speedball Textbook was my first calligraphy resource and where I fell in love with the art. I studied my mother’s 19th edition for hours trying to reproduce the beautiful letters. The fact that I got to contribute to the latest edition is such an honor for me! I believe my mom approved and smiled down from Heaven on me.
Suzanne Cunningham is a professional calligrapher with over 27 years of experience. She is an international instructor and a co-editor of the 25th edition Speedball Textbook. Some of her favorite work includes creating wedding invitation suites and addressing wedding envelopes. You can find her work on Instagram.
Thanks very (very) much to Pat, Katrina, Shinah, Younghae, Becca, and Suzanne for answering my questions and allowing me to showcase their photos! Part II continues this interview series with photos and input from Karla Lim, Kathy Milici, Schin Loong, Phyllis Macaluso, Amanda Reid, and Maureen Vickery.
Happy Women’s History Month!