I’m excited to introduce you to the life force behind the strikingly elegant yet humble Instagram feed @Calligraphellie, my lovely friend, Ellie Camp.
Ellie and I met a couple of years ago through shared friendships and Bible study and I’ve always been in awe of her raw, artistic talent, her heart for bringing justice to others, and how she readily gives her whole self to her work. I pray you find encouragement in the honesty of her words.
Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started doing calligraphy:
Right now I am a stay-at-home mom with 2 terrific daughters, but before that I was a high school history teacher for 8 years. I started doing calligraphy after my first child was born. The short story is that my first kid was about a year old, I had just turned 30, and I wanted a new hobby. The longer story is that I had actually been doing hand lettering since high school in the margins of all of my notebooks all the way through grad school. I had no idea that what I was doing was a “thing” or something you could make a career out of. When I graduated I no longer had a reason to be doodling in margins, so I stopped. Then years later when I was looking for a new hobby, I was at a church meeting doodling letters on the side of my paper and a friend saw me and said, “Hey! That looks like calligraphy!” And I thought “It does? Maybe I should try it out as my new hobby!”. So I went home and looked up videos online and checked out books from the library and stalked other calligraphers online to learn whatever I could, and now here I am.
What excites you about calligraphing?
It is exciting to have something I have so much fun doing and feel like I am good at. Also, it’s nice to have something that is just mine to do by myself. There’s isn’t much of my life that isn’t overrun by my kids, so doing calligraphy is often something I do to get away and have my own space. There’s something about writing letters and words over and over that I find to be oddly fulfilling and really fits my personality in a strange way. I always feel like calligraphy is a big blessing that God plopped down into my lap.
Do you consider yourself an artist? (Why or why not) And how does it make you feel to think of yourself as one?
I’m not sure, it’s not something I think a lot about. I am always supremely flattered when people call me an artist or say that I’m talented, but I always hear it as if they’re talking about someone else. It’s kind of like when Beyonce says she has this performer alter ego “Sasha Fierce”. I think of it like I have this Calligraphellie alter ego and she’s really confident and artistic with a good eye. But when I think about just regular Ellie, I’m just a hobbyist that has a lot to learn.
Describe for me your artistic process; how you decide what to work on and how do you execute the projects. (walk me through the steps of how you practice or create a piece, I’m insanely curious about your everyday working habits!)
Right now I pretty much do a project if I have time to do it, which is not a lot these days. I’m still in a place where I’m wanting to learn as much as possible and am really open to trying new mediums and tools to help me figure out what I like and don’t like. In terms of process, I usually start with what type of tool I’m working with. A dip pen, marker, chalk, brush…each tool lends to different types of writing styles. Then I just see what kind of mood I’m in, or what mood my client wants to communicate, and try to get the style to match it. Then I look at the words and letters I’m working with. At this point it’s helpful to look at letters more like shapes than actual letters. The shapes of different letters and words have different possibilities for flourishing and creativity. As a matter of taste, I like things to look balanced, but not symmetrical. I’m also a real stickler for readability. Abstract or fine art is a different case, but calligraphy is meant to communicate words and it drives me nuts when you can’t actually read the calligraphy
As a fellow artist-momma, I know it can sometimes be a struggle to make time for creating, tell me a little bit about how you make time for being creative?
What a great question. In the beginning I was practicing anytime the kids were sleeping. Nap times, after bedtime in the evenings. Anytime my husband had something going on in the evening I would practice while he was out. Also, I would find mundane reasons to practice writing. Labeling things in my house (I never labelled until I started doing calligraphy.), writing lists. When I owe a friend money now I just mail them a check so I have an excuse to make a pretty envelope, even if I know I’ll see them the next day. I also freely admit that I let my kids watch extra tv so I can get in some time if I really need it.
However, I would add that I’ve had to get used to the idea of saying no to calligraphy a lot and I’m still waiting for the right time to officially open a business. I remember when I started seriously thinking I could start a business, and I read a blog post by another calligrapher with young kids and how she found herself up in the middle of the night finishing calligraphy orders instead of sleeping. I knew I didn’t want that to be me. I cherish my sleep too much. So part of balancing being a mom is saying no to a lot of opportunity and trusting and waiting on God for the right season. And as much as I love calligraphy, I’ve always wanted to raise a family, so I’ve needed to get comfortable with the idea that even if the calligraphy thing never really happens, I would regret it more if I went full force with calligraphy but didn’t spend the time raising my kids the way I wanted. I learning to hold my calligraphy hopes loosely and trust that if being a successful calligrapher is really in the cards for me, God can make opportunity reappear when the time is right.
What would you consider your biggest struggle as a creative person and your biggest success or victory?
It’s hard not compare myself with other calligraphers I follow online, especially when they have time to practice a lot and I can see them improving. It’s frustrating to not have the time you want to practice and improve and feel like other people are passing you by, or that my skill will go away.
I consider it a victory anytime I create something that when I step back and look at it, I think, “Wow did I make that? That’s really good!”. Usually I see all the flaws in my work, but it’s nice when you impress yourself once in awhile.
Any parting words of wisdom for fellow creatives and/or specifically calligraphers:
Something I’ve really appreciated about the calligraphy community is how generous and gracious everyone is. I honestly feel that calligraphers are among the kindest people I’ve ever interacted with. Most people are happy to answer questions and share advice and just be encouraging. This taught me early on not to be possessive or stingy with my calligraphy, and I try to honor and act out of the same spirit of generosity.