Have you ever lost yourself in a calligraphy gif? Been totally mesmerised in the smooth flowing of the pen, the satisfying way the ink absorbs into the paper and the neatness of the finished word? Could be that you're a closet calligrapher! We sat down with calligrapher and hand letterer, Sandra Fernando, to find out more about the art, how you can give it a go, and how to turn it into a business.
Hello, Sandra! Tell us a little bit about yourself—who are you and what do you do?
Hello! I'm Sandra and I'm a modern calligrapher, hand letterer and graphic designer based in London. I use my skills to provide a unique, authentic and personal service for weddings and special events in the UK and abroad—from place cards to hand written mirror table plans and large event signage on wood or acrylic.
I am always open to trying something new and pushing boundaries to produce items that are rare, unique and truly mean something to my clients. I want them to feel like their wedding/special event day is perfectly tailored to them by providing them with the little details and personal touches that I know will make them feel like their event is an true extension of themselves and their tastes, personality and interests.
What is it about calligraphy that you love so much?
For me, there is nothing better than a handwritten....well, anything! I love that nostalgic and special feeling you get from seeing your own name written down beautifully. Simply put, I love the feeling calligraphy gives me and being able to provide a service where items have been lovingly handwritten.
The people I work with are fully aware and appreciate that it's a labour of love and they respect the time and efforts to create something so unique and personal to them. Not only is calligraphy immensely pleasing to the eye but it is an incredibly satisfying process. This is evident from all the calligraphy time-lapse videos we all love to watch over and over again on social media! It's a very calming process and I enjoy the slower pace involved when taking time to respect each letter and its form. Unlike normal handwriting, calligraphy is more like 'drawing' where each letter, word and sentence are written slowly, with care and most importantly with love.
You offer both services and products on your site, how important is a diverse product offering in an industry like yours?
I have a small online shop on my website which I am planning to keep adding products to and expanding over time. Sandra Fernando Calligraphy is still predominately a service-based company but I think it's really important to have off-the-shelf products that your followers can get excited about and purchase quickly because they love your brand style and it's a great way that they can have a piece of what you do to themselves. Because let's face it—not everyone needs a custom order on a regular basis or has a special event happening all the time.
Having beautifully designed and unique products in my personal brand style available in my online shop allows me to build connections with more people who appreciate the work I do and that is really important to me.
Do you think that social media plays an important role in helping to develop and grow a creative business?
Yes, massively! I initially started a Facebook page many years ago which I continue to use but I have found Instagram to be my most effective platform for engaging with new clients and growing my business. Instagram is visually focused so I have found that it works best for me in terms of showcasing my work.
I have found that posting consistently at a specific time each day helps as people know when to expect your new post and also not to be selfish—see what others in your industry and complementary industries are posting about and get involved in the talk! For example the calligraphy services I provide can be used for many things but I market them for weddings and special events so I regularly engage with wedding photographers, event planners, florists, bridal boutiques, cake specialists and many more calligraphers like myself. Liking and commenting on their posts, building relationships and engaging with them means that I am able to attract more of my 'ideal client' while at the same time getting to know like-minded and creative individuals who, like myself, are doing something that they are truly passionate about.
You built your business on a self-taught skill—how did you keep yourself motivated and driven during the early days?
As a creative this wasn't really an issue for me. When you find something you 'know' you'll love because of your natural and organic progression towards it—and then end up ACTUALLY IN REAL LIFE loving it, it takes very little effort and motivation to drive yourself to practice.
I spent many evenings after work writing sheets and sheets of letters, As Bs Cs...and I loved every minute of it. The more you practice the more you develop your own style and if you have to force yourself at the start then maybe it's not the one for you.
Practising letters repeatedly also builds up your muscle memory which is really important when it comes to writing words, names and whole sentences later on. For me it's very relaxing and enjoyable so I never had to force myself to start , only to stop (hand cramp is not so fun, guys).
Your passion really kick-started when you attended a Quill London workshop in early 2015, is this what inspired you to start your own calligraphy workshops?
My passion for calligraphy actually stems from handwriting. I have personally always enjoyed the simple act of writing things down. I keep a daily journal and I have been making handwritten cards, writing letters and sacred to-do lists for years (no joke—I can't live without my to-do lists).
For me, choosing to write comes naturally. It's pen and paper any day! I have also enjoyed observing the handwriting of others and their quirks since I was very young. Nerd alert: I remember being in primary school and glancing around my table at my friend’s handwriting, feeling intrigued about the different yet comfortingly familiar way that each of their handwritten styles reflected their own personality in some small way. I practiced my own handwriting obsessively when I was young and have been complimented throughout my life by others who thought that I had 'really nice handwriting'.
My interest expanded when I attended Shillington College and studied Graphic Design. Typography in particular drew me in and I began experimenting by making posters and quotes in various hand drawn fonts and styles. As time went on I noticed that my own personal style and what my eye kept on being drawn to aesthetically was traditional copperplate calligraphy and even more so freehand modern calligraphy. I began creating artwork and typographic pieces in the "faux calligraphy" style before I had ever picked up a nib and pen holder! I even bought my first pen holder and nib before I attended a Quill London workshop and began practising and teaching myself as soon as I could because I was far too impatient to wait to learn it. Then, when the workshop finally came around I had the opportunity to get even more stuck in with useful help and tips. Afterwards I practised near enough every night to push myself to get better and better. Since then I haven't looked back. I still get excited every time I pick up my calligraphy pen and open a bottle of ink. You never really stop learning and experimenting so it never gets boring!
The reason I decided to organise and run my own calligraphy workshops is to pass on the important things I have learnt to others looking to start out as well as hopefully reigniting in them the love of writing. It can be tough to learn something so specialised all on your own, especially as you first begin , and it's certainly very helpful to attend a class where you can get helpful tips early on, to kick start you on your way properly and without making too many mistakes in relation to equipment and technique . Yes it takes a lot of time and personal practise after the workshop is completed but attending a class gives you the best start and is really satisfying to feel you've tried something new! And it gives you a chance to meet new people, too!
What’s the main thing you want people to take away from your workshop?
I'd love people to leave my workshop feeling inspired and uplifted by coming along and taking part in something different to what they might usually do in their day to day lives. As mentioned before, I would love to reignite in them their connection to writing which I believe is really inside all of us—I just think some of us may have forgotten along the way because it's so easy to text and email these days.
I want to let people feel the pleasure of writing something beautifully and even using that skill to make their own tags, cards, wrapping paper, artwork, posters—anything! It's a great way to really impress your family and friends.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about turning their hobby into a business?
If it's the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think about at night and if you have that 'itch' to do something with your talents for a while now then I'd say the first step is to make a conscious decision to dedicate more time to your hobby whatever it may be and work harder on it from right now. Consistency is key so try not to allow yourself to go through a quiet patch where you don't work on this particular hobby for a while unless there is a good enough reason. If it's your passion it won't feel like work anyway!
Don't worry about being 'ready'. If you wait for that, you may end up waiting for a very long time! My best advice would be to just start. Create things you like and are proud of and start to share your work online. There is no right way to start a business and I'm sure if you spoke to ten different business owners they would tell you ten different stories about how they got to where they were. But the first thing they all did at the very beginning was to make a conscious decision to GO FOR IT! Be dedicated, be consistent, be hard working and most of all love what you do.
Do you have any upcoming workshops that people can get involved in?
Yes! I will be hosting workshops in both Brighton and London in December and January. All the details you need about the class dates, times, locations and other workshop information can be found on my website: www.sandrafernando.com/workshops
Visit www.sandrafernando.com/blog to see what Sandra's been up to!
Christmas workshop photographs come courtesy of Philippa Sian Photography