All About Calligraphy

Carla Hagan of Carla’s Calligraphy has been involved with the writing art for more than 25 years. She is a member of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting and has studied with Master Penman Michael Sull, former White House calligrapher and founder of the Spenserian Saga. What began as a childhood hobby has turned into a family business based in Palm Beach Gardens, and today the company has partnerships with Twig & Fig, Checkerboard, Polka Dot Pear, Boatman Geller, Carlton Craft, Paper Orchid, and Kate Aspen Studios.

Here, Hagan shares her knowledge of calligraphy, including what skills to look for in a penman and how early to order your wedding invitations.


Your wedding invitation is your first opportunity to establish an atmosphere of celebration and elegance, and invite your guests not just to a ceremony, but to be witness a new beginning in your life. Incorporating calligraphy into your event will help to bring your invitation to life. A calligrapher can be hired to simply scribe your envelopes, place cards, and the like, or incorporated throughout your event with custom invitation designs, wedding scrolls, menus, place cards, and programs.

As prominent and personal as a wedding is, a handwritten invitation proves to be much more compatible with your occasion than the computer printed variety. Your wedding guests will await your event with much more anticipation, and will appreciate the keepsake that your otherwise simple piece of paper has now become. I have also found that invitations written in calligraphy (versus uniform, mass produced invites) induce a feeling of warmth in your guests. Receiving an invitation that has been painstakingly inscribed will make the most distant relatives feel like you consider them an important part of your sacrament.

Calligraphy is an expression of your heart, head and hands. Most often associated with writing done by scribes during the Renaissance, the allure of calligraphy lives on, embedded in the rich traditions surrounding weddings and special events. The decision to use a calligrapher to address or design your invitations is an important one that must be made in conjunction with your invitation purchase, not as an afterthought. It is vitally important to purchase envelopes and supporting stationery made of quality paper which will be ink-friendly, as not all paper is. If you have any doubts, ask your calligrapher to test the paper with the ink they will be using to design your work.

Once you have decided to incorporate calligraphy into your wedding, you need to find a skilled penman that can bring elegance and beauty to your event. Calligraphy is grounds for perfection. The slightest slant can make the difference between looking elegant and looking tacky, and a skill like this can only come from years of experience.  The calligrapher you choose should be dedicated to her art and continually striving to improve her status amongst fellow penmen. Involvement in an internationally recognized guild or association (such as the International Association of Master Penmen and Engrossers, or the International Calligraphy Guild) is also a sign of both integrity and skill. While there are plenty of people on the Internet who advertise themselves as calligraphers, truly dedicated artists are rare.

The professional calligrapher is well versed on etiquette, and can advise on the proper way to formally address invitations in unusual situations. Proper etiquette cannot be overlooked with a formal event such as a wedding, and finding the proper solution to unusual pairings can be difficult. The professional calligrapher will either immediately know the proper etiquette or have access to a vast amount of resources to locate the correct answer. I know that when I am stumped, I turn to the White House Office of the Social Secretary for the answer.

When hiring a calligrapher, I would recommend meeting with several penmen and asking to view pen and ink samples of their work. Bring a sample of your envelopes or place cards with you and ask the artist to provide you a sample of her work on your stationery. This will provide you the most honest representation of the work likely to be produced by the calligrapher, and give you sample artwork which you can later compare with the work of other prospective calligraphers when deciding who to hire. Once you select a calligrapher, be sure to get the details of your agreement in writing. The most important aspects include: who is responsible for errors, when the finished job will be complete, a sample of the script to be used, and how many additions are allowed once the bulk of your job is complete.

Remember that calligraphy is done by hand, so you must allow sufficient time to pen your order. Typically 10 – 14 days will be required to inscribe 100 invitation sets. You must allow for errors and provide about 20 percent additional envelopes or stationery to account for these.
Wedding etiquette requires that invitations be mailed out eight weeks before your event. Should you find yourself pressed for time, speak to your stationer about having your envelopes delivered early. This allows for your envelopes to be addressed and returned to you by the time your invitations arrive. Along with most of the wedding planning system, hiring a calligrapher is a process in itself. But when the decisions have been made, the artistry of calligraphy will surely contribute to making your once-in-a-lifetime event a lifelong memory.

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