Looking back at 2018

Back in July I cheerfully told you that every month I’d be here telling you about what I’d been up to. It’s December now so clearly that didn’t happen ha! I’m officially terrible at sticking to things like that. Instagram challenges, lettering challenges, the lot. If something requires me to create work/write/whatever at regular intervals I just…fail. It’s not in my blood. I’m not like that with actual work though (I excel at deadlines <smugface>) and I think that’s what really counts!

So here I am on the last day of my working year! I’ve not taken a proper holiday all year so I’m signing off for two whole weeks for the festive period and I’m SUPER excited about it. Luckily in my line of work no one tends to need me at this time so I get to sit in my pajamas guilt-free. But before I dive head-first into the tub of Roses I thought I’d reflect back at my second full year of freelancing. It feels like things really started to happen this year so I’m looking forward to going back through the calendar with you!

January & February

Things started off quietly (as they always do) so I mostly concentrated on designing my own cards ranges to licence out. I currently only have my card ranges on Moonpig.com but I’m going to look into additional retailers in 2019 as it would be amazing to be on the high street as well! Licensing is actually quite a large part of my business but I don’t tend to talk about it a lot as it’s just me beavering away in the background mostly! You’ll find me working on ranges pretty much every month as there are deadlines for all the different occasions dotted throughout the year. I’m also working on general design freelancing for Moonpig most months as well. This work doesn’t go into my portfolio as I’m usually working on licensed brands (Disney, Warner Bros, etc) which doesn’t jive with the lettering so well ha! But if you look through their catalogue of Disney Princess cards you’ll probably notice some familiar calligraphy ;)

I also had a bit of wedding work in the form of envelopes, place cards, etc as well as teaching calligraphy at Quill London to change things up a little which is always good!

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March

March started with an event for Glamour Magazine. I was sat customising make up bags for the guests which was fun and busy! It’s a bit strange to see videos and pictures of yourself all over people’s instagram stories but good for the follower count! I think my being left handed thwarted a lots of “in progress” videos (shown in the picture) which is frustrating. The event was when London was hit by loads of snow suddenly so I had been worried that a) I wouldn’t make it and b) no one would show up, but everything ended up being fine and it was super busy. God knows how many make up bags I wrote on in the end!

The month also brought me some exciting lettering projects for both Penguin Random House and Little, Brown (a few excited squeals may have been heard) which kept me busy! I actually went to visit the design team at Little, Brown which was super fun. I love getting out and about, especially when it means geeking out over lettering with other creatives! The team were so friendly and welcoming which was lovely. It’s easy to give in to impostor syndrome in moments like these but the joy of spreading pages and pages of lettering out in front of them soon takes over! I won’t lie, having meetings in my calendar also makes me feel all important :D

I had a quick little project for the agency Mr President this month too. I wrote about it here. March was also the start of my prep for the Northern Craft fair I was selling at in May. Lots of prep was needed.

My photoshoot with Nikki van der Molen in April was a definite highlight!

My photoshoot with Nikki van der Molen in April was a definite highlight!

April

April was mostly full of background work such as freelancing for Moonpig, working on my card ranges and teaching calligraphy. The most exciting thing that happened this month was the photoshoot I had with the fabulous Nikki van der Molen! For a while I’d needed to get some professional head shots done to snazz up my website, etc and fortune found me when Nikki and I met at a meet-up for wedding suppliers. On the day I was absolutely knackered from teaching until late the night before (yay eyebags!) and it was unbelievably hot in Shoreditch but I had the most fun! I felt a little bit silly posing against walls and stuff at first - clearly I’m no model and have a resting bitch face to boot - but Nikki had me so at ease within no time! Also, it was Shoreditch and there’s ALWAYS someone posing for something for instagram or doing something a bit mad so we blended right in.

I finished up the month doing some calligraphy for Revolution Beauty, a company I was thrilled to work with since I love make up and beauty.

May

I’ll be honest; May wasn’t a great month for me. It began with lots (and lots) of rushing about trying to get everything together for my stand at Northern Craft. Booking hotels, printing cards and banners and buying card racks and storage… money was flying! Then a couple of days before the arrangements with my helper fell through and suddenly I was having to buy a super expensive train ticket to Leeds (instead of driving) and figuring out how to lug 2 massive (and extremely heavy) suitcases by myself. That was quite a feat and I’m really glad I left weights at the gym! Nonetheless I was EXCITED. Everyone at the fair was so lovely and I got to meet a few people I’ve known for a while through social media. Great stuff! Except….. hardly anyone bought anything from me.

I’ve questioned whether to actually put this out there because, frankly, I’m embarrassed, but I really think we all need to be talking about our failures when they happen because life isn’t insta-perfect. If you follow me on instagram you may have noticed that before the fair I was talking on my stories, all excited and then afterwards…nothing. My ego took a serious bashing that day. It wasn’t the fair’s fault! Everyone around me was doing a booming trade! Which really poured salt in the wound. It was clearly me. On reflection I don’t think my products give off the “crafty” air that other sellers’ did. The average person would probably just assume the calligraphy on the greetings cards is just a nice font. Sigh. All in all I don’t think I fit the craft scene. At least I know now! It was worth a punt.

To make matters even worse, the day of the fair I started feeling really quite ill. Everyone was complaining of being hot whilst I was shivering in my cardigan and my throat was killing me by the afternoon. Back in the hotel after a little cry I had a look and discovered that I had tonsillitis for the first ever time in my life! What an amazing time. Imagine having to drag two supremely heavy and awkward suitcases from Leeds to London with tonsillitis. Not something I want to repeat. But I made it home and I was pretty much out of commission for the rest of the month. It was the first time I’d been properly ill whilst freelance. Missing out on money was a difficult pill to swallow! Especially with shitty tonsils…

June & July

You’ll be glad to know that things got waaaay better after all that. After a bit of a quiet start to June, by the end of the month it was the start of being busy pretty much all the time :D I think the universe owed me.

I completed a MASSIVE lettering project for the lovely folks at Gingerray which hasn’t been released into the world yet, but next year I should be able to show you the project in all it’s glory.

To give you an idea of my messed up timelines I also starting development for Valentine’s Day around this time. Occasions have no meaning to me after a decade in the greetings card industry - they can happen at ANY time. Christmas in March? Fine. Father’s Day in December? Cool beans.

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The end of June and much of July brought the most exciting project of the year: Buzzfeed! The squeal I let out when that email landed could be heard throughout the country! I go into detail about the project in this blog post. When a big company like Buzzfeed takes an interest in your work it does wonders for the confidence! I felt so excited and lucky to call this my job. I mean…I pay my mortgage by drawing pretty words. That’s crazy when you think about it.

I also had a couple of quick projects for Penguin Random House again. I believe the lettering was for book concepts but who knows what will be on the shelves come 2019!

August to December

I’m going to blend the rest of the year together as it was full of smaller projects I was dipping in and out of over larger spans of time and you’ll probably get bored of me saying that I was working on freelance design stuff for Moonpig or on my own card ranges. To be honest I didn’t come up for air so time has no meaning. Just werk werk werk.

During this time I had a couple more little projects with Penguin and then I was contacted by Walker Books for two book jackets. This year was definitely the start of my career in publishing! I went from no books to four books and maybe a few others with Penguin along the line. Unfortunately books take forever to come to market so I’ll only be able to show them to the world at some point in 2019. We’ll be waiting a while folks!

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I was contacted by Project Calm magazine to create some special edition prints for their November issue. It was a super quick turnaround project but I rather like a bit of pressure! Seeing my work in print never gets old. I was looking at the issue on the shelf in Waitrose and wanted to stop everyone walking past and show them :D I’m sure they would’ve cared…

In the latter part of the year I also had an exciting meeting (how many times have I said “exciting” in this post? Clearly it’s been an overwhelming year!). Sadly, I can’t actually talk about - ever - but hopefully it’ll lead to a lot of work next year and beyond. I won’t be able to talk about the work either (sorry!) but honestly, anyone who knows my style will easily be able to spot the work when out and about if they happen to go into a certain store. I think it’s important to have projects in the background that make steady money. Don’t worry too much if you can’t talk about something - there will be plenty of stuff you can shout about and, frankly, keeping the lights on is more important.

So what’s in store for 2019?

Over the year I’ve done a lot of thinking and refining of my business and what I want it to be. Trying things and finding they just don’t sit right has been quite the theme this year. I’ve been learning to listen to my gut instinct and set things aside to allow me to concentrate on the stuff I actually want to do and what I want Letters by Julia to be. It’s also been a year of growth so I’ve found that I simply don’t have time for certain things anymore as they get in the way of other projects which I’m either more passionate about or, frankly, earn me more money.

I’m sure no one actually noticed but a couple of months back I took down the wedding section of my website and replaced it with Events. Honestly, the wedding section was the area of highest traffic on my website, but it just didn’t translate into anything for me. The vast majority of enquiries (probably 99%) disappeared once a quote was given and it just brought me no joy. Don’t get me wrong, when someone commissions me to create their place cards or on the day signage, I really enjoy it! A few hours of quiet calligraphy is quite lovely. But the process of breaking stationery down and quoting and organising was filling me with dread. Someone would ask about a stationery suite and all the gubbins, I’d spend over an hour figuring everything out and pricing it up and trying to sort how it would fit into my calendar and then…nothing. Quite rude if you ask me and I just don’t have time for it. I wanted to be focussing on my commercial projects as that’s what truly excited me! So I took the plunge and took it down. I’m totally on board if you would like me to create beautiful things for your wedding, but you’ll just need to come straight to me for a bespoke project.

The HUGE change for 2019 is that I’ve decided to stop teaching. At least for now (who knows what the future will bring!) Leaving behind my calligraphy family at Quill makes me so very sad, but teaching regularly just doesn’t fit into my business right now. When I started 3 years ago I always said I’d stop once I could manage without it or it interfered with the rest of my work and now that time has come. Also, not going to lie, working evening and weekends isn’t the most fun. There’s never time to compensate by taking a weekday off so it’s just on top of a normal working week!

I’m hoping to start doing talks and university visits/portfolio reviews next year. I really want to get out there and meet people! University wasn’t a great time for me and I think I really would’ve appreciated someone who wasn’t an untouchable “design superstar” coming to talk to me about the realities of life in design and learning about how a wonky path can lead to amazing things. I already have a talk scheduled for March and I’m in discussion with a couple of lecturers so hopefully I’m on my way! If you teach or are part of a design team and you’d like me to come and witter about pens please get in touch.

Phew! I think that’s everything I wanted to say. Thank you so much if you’ve been following along with my journey on Instagram, etc. I appreciate your support. I promise to still keeping ranting on my stories in 2019 :D I’ve heard that it’s the third year of a business when things really start kicking off so here’s hoping!

Merry Christmas!

-Julia

In the Letters by Julia studio - July

In a bid to blog more and to give a better idea of what happens in my lair made of pens I thought I'd do monthly round ups of what projects I've been working on (if I can talk about them) and general musings from the past month. This has been on my to-do list since Aug 1st so we're doing well already ha! Never mind. Please note I'm doing all of this purely by looking back at my calendar so loads will probably get missed out but hey ho. You expect me to remember months?!

So July! It actually proved to be an exciting month after the grey bleakness of June. Wow that was quiet (it happens, self-employment and all that...) but in the last week of June a brilliant ray of sunshine called Buzzfeed brightened my inbox with a super exciting project that was turned around and released in only a few weeks! I love when that happens as waiting to talk about work is the worst. In case you haven't seen it on my social media I was asked by Buzzfeed UK to create a series of lettering pieces based on "8 important things about sex people say they know but don't always do" for their collaboration with the Home Office's "Disrespect Nobody" campaign. I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to work on this project because, for one, flipping BUZZFEED and for two it's a super important topic that needs to be talked about more. I feel like these messages should be made into billboards and splashed across the country so no one is under any illusions about consent. It seems obvious to you or I (I hope!) but there are some gross scumbags out there.

You can see the article with all the pieces here.

That project took up a lot of my time during July. The style of lettering I used is quite labour intensive as it involves sketching, more sketching, drawing it all up in procreate (yay for my ipad pro!) and then colouring in Photoshop. I prefer to do all colouring on my desktop as the monitor has better colour calibration than my various gadgets. There was also a week mid-July spent making edits to all the pieces as the initial colours used were deemed a bit too light. I'm a fan of bright colours on darker backgrounds so that was some feedback I could get on board with! This project as a whole just summed up why I love doing this for a living. The work was inspiring, I was allowed a fair amount of creative freedom (being hired due to MY style) and the people I was working with were lovely to talk to. I felt good.

In between the Buzzfeed work I did a couple of quick turnaround lettering bits for Penguin Random House which I do every now and then. Not stuff for actual books (at the moment) but for what I'm assuming are pitches and the initial stages of book jacket design. I've done a fair amount during the past year so I'll have to whack it in the portfolio en masse at some point. I do love a quick mini project to keep me on my toes! It sends my brain into "organise calendar" mode and I start looking into the matrix and swapping things around and squeezing extra bits of time. Makes me feel alive hah!

Towards the end of the month I squeezed in a quick project for Moonpig. I still design a fair amount of cards for them but as they all tend to be licensed designs they don't go into my portfolio. This time it was a very quick Little Mermaid card for Valentine's Day next year. Yes, I have a ridiculous job, but I LOVE it. Oh the variation. On an unsettling note I was informed that next year is the Little Mermaid's 30th anniversary. I was sure they were mistaken because I remember seeing it in the cinema. Nope. Oh dear *tucks white hair out of sight*.

In all the in-between bits of these projects I was beavering away working on my own greetings card ranges which I license out to Moonpig (and hopefully more companies in the future!). I have an increasingly massive back catalogue of card designs now and I really need to find a way to display them on my website. I'll find a way at some point!

So as you can see, Letters by Julia is about a lot more than calligraphy and the stuff I show on instagram. I did have a wedding place card job somewhere in the mix but that work in general seems to be on the downturn for me as I'm focusing more on the commercial side of my business. It's a balance I'm happy with.

I hope you enjoyed a little insight into my studio! Let me know if you enjoyed it and want to be a regular thing.

-Julia

Tools of the Trade Part 2

Today we’re looking at my favourite tool - the Pentel Aquash Pen.

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I LOVE this pen. I cannot be without it. It’s what I use for basically all of my brush lettering (unless I need something way bigger or smaller) and my pen drawer is FULL of them, all in various sizes.

Now, this pen is supposed to be used by watercolour artists. The idea is that you store water in the barrel and just squeeze it when you dip into your paints. Perfect for on the go. However, I'm not a watercolour artist so I use it however I damn well please!

These days I just use them as a dip brush (I love a chunky handle and these are perfect for grip - I can’t stand anything too thin or dainty) but at first I would fill the barrel (intended for water) with ink. This worked nicely for a time but pretty soon the ink would dry and clog the tubes rendering them useless (unless I dipped). So nowadays I don’t put anything in the barrel.

I love them so much I even mark my current faves (sometimes I accidentally mess up the bristles or I just want to use my newest one) so I can easily reach for it in my drawer. That's what the copper tape on the broad tipped pen and the inked end on the medium tipped pen is about.

So if you're interesting in trying brush lettering, I definitely recommend giving them a try. As always, this is just *MY* experience and opinion. If you try them and don't like them, that's fine. Find what works for you! And don't blame me.

Tools of the Trade: A Series

I get asked a lot of questions about what I do, but the most frequent topic is about what I'm using to create my lettering. Now, I'm a strong believer in it NOT being about the tools (give me a shitty pencil and a scrap piece of paper and I'll still do my thing) but since there is so much interest I decided to photograph everything I have and take everyone through it. This may take a while! Just please remember: just because I have these things, doesn't mean they will work for you or that you should run out and buy them. I have an extensive pen collection that has been built up over a number of years through experimentation. My best advice is just to get out there, find things that take your interest and give them a go!

Anyway...on to part one: Calligraphy Pens!

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The Speedball holder is the calligraphy pen I learned with (and teach with). It may not look fancy but the shape is fantastic and it provides such an affordable way to dive into calligraphy. I still use one to this day as I really can't fault it. I even put some copper tape on the end so that I can keep track of my own one when I teach (that's MY pen dammit).

The holder with a cork tip is a lovely, substantial holder that some find more comfortable as it's softer on the fingers during a calligraphy marathon. Whilst I do like the hold of it, I find the cork just absorbs too much ink which gets everywhere. Now, I'm a messy calligrapher at the best of times but this really takes the cake. You can see how black the formally cork-coloured end is - my fingers looked exactly the same.

When you follow experienced calligraphers on Instagram, etc, you'll most likely see them using an oblique holder. For a while you also saw me use one! It took me forever to get the hang of as I'm left handed, but dammit I was a calligrapher and I needed to use the same pen all the other calligraphers were using! Or so I thought anyway. What a mook. The oblique holder, identified by a flange (pause for giggle) which holds the nib off to the side, is basically so that right handed people can write in an italic manner. Now, as a leftie I can simply do this by changing the angle of my hand (italics always lean to the right so I just angle my hand 'inwards'). To use an oblique holder as a leftie means I have to angle my hand unnaturally off to the left which is quite uncomfortable. Finally, after quite a lot of work using this position, my wrist started complaining quite seriously at me. When I made the connection between my pain and my calligraphy I panicked thinking I was soon to be out of a job. MY HANDS WERE RUINED! No they weren't, calm down. I was simply using the wrong tool for me all for the sake of being like everyone else. Even though in reality plenty of right handed calligraphers use a straight holder. I was just being an idiot. The moral of that ramble is: probably don't use an oblique holder if you're left handed and value the use of your wrists. You can get left handed obliques (with the flange on the other side) but wow that did not work for me. Waste of money that was!

Once I decided to head back to straight-holder-ville, I thought I should treat myself to a fancy one. The calligraphy thing was most definitely a major part of my career and wasn't going away. I also wanted to celebrate making the move to full time freelance and being able to keep a roof over my head with lettering so I decided to commission the amazing Tom's Studio to make me a swanky one-of-a-kind holder just for me. It doesn't really show on the photo, but the white part of the holder has a subtle grey marbling which is just dreamy! It's made from resin but actually has marble dust in it so it feels like stone to the touch. It's just so comfortable to use when I'm at my desk for hours working on a commission. I'm tempted to commission another one that's black with gold marbling.... maybe for my birthday (pretty pens like this don't come cheap!)

So those are my holders. I don't just have these four, I have several of each kind (apart from my Tom's Studio one). You could call me a pen hoarder. You'd probably be right.

That leaves us with nibs! A much simpler affair. I'm sure plenty of calligraphers use all kinds of nib but I just get by with two. 

The Nikki G is the nib I learned with (and teach with along with the Speedball holder) and is such a lovely nib that I use it for most work when I can. It's a Japanese drawing nib that has such delicate thin strokes but it capable of creating quite chunky thicks if needs be. It's beautiful and lasts really well.

The Brause 361 (also known as a 'Blue Pumpkin') is a softer nib that creates thicker lines overall, although with a light touch your calligraphy doesn't have to be a chunk-fest. I only tend to use this nib when I'm using thicker inks. That generally means metallic and acrylic-based ones. I find the Nikki G doesn't deal well with thin strokes with these inks as it's too thin so the thicker nature of the Brause is a better choice. The only thing I will say though is that I find it wears out quite quickly. I have a huge graveyard of them on my desk!

So there we have it! Calligraphy stuff! I'll tackle inks another day. This has gone on quite long enough.

Stay tuned!

Cotton Bureau

I create so much random lettering for social media, for fun, for whatever, so I decided to join Cotton Bureau to see if I could turn some of it into cool t-shirts and, hopefully, some cash. Expect to see a lot of t-shirt ideas that I pretty much just want to own myself ha!

Lucky little me had my first design approved with no hassle which was a nice pick-me-up. I assumed as it was my first rodeo they'd have some tweaks or advice for "next time" (a nice thing about CB is that they're very hands on). I suppose I was just referencing back to my ill-fated attempts at designing for Threadless waaaaaay back in the day when I was still trying to be an illustrator. But "Gym Goth" was accepted and is now available to purchase! If 12 are bought within the next 2 weeks the shirt will go into production. Here's hoping! I really want the vest so I can proudly wear it at the gym. I'd be much obliged if you went and had a look!

Welcome and Mr President

Holy cow, I've finally decided to jump on this blog bandwagon thing! I hope you're excited. I can't promise that I'll update it often, but when I do it'll be because something interesting happened. Don't expect it to be polished either! Brain dumps will probably occur. I'll probably use it to talk about big projects or projects that aren't quite suitable for my portfolio, speaking of which....

MR. PRESIDENT

Back in March I was approached by the agency Mr President to do a piece of calligraphy for an installation created to develop a new positioning for the area of St James's, London. I produced 3 versions of the same quote by hand, one of which would feature.

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Today I actually went to go and visit the installation to see which piece was picked!

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It's so bizarre to just happen across a piece of my lettering just chilling in the street in London!