February 6th, 2013 No Comments

introducing our february wedding contributor gail brill: hand calligraphy and the printing process

Thank you Lynn for allowing me this space to do a little talking about my craft. I started working with Lynn when she was at Martha Stewart Living many moons ago. We have worked together on various projects since. In fact, you can see my hand lettering throughout Lynn’s blog template!

I often joke that my career as a calligrapher began in 3rd grade when I had to write 500 times “I will make an effort to improve my conduct in the cafeteria” and it was an exercise I loved doing! The reason for why I had to write those lines I will save for a future blog post on my site. But at 8 years old, I had no idea that I could make a career out of that skill. I spent many years working in New York City working in advertising, casting, film production and ultimately as an assist to another calligrapher and invitation designer.

Then I had an epiphany in March of 1987. I saw an envelope addressed by Lisa Niccolini, at that time a seasoned calligrapher. I was breathless. I became driven to learn and embarked down a path that has brought me great joy and pleasure. Lisa, a neighbor and friend, guided and encouraged me. She lent me antique calligraphy nibs to try out and she honestly critiqued my work. I went on to learn from one of the greats, Jeanyee Wong, who I studied with through the Society of Scribes in Manhattan.

One of my regular gigs as a calligrapher at that time was with Lord & Taylor department store in Manhattan.

gail brill at desk.001

During Christmas and Valentine’s Day I would do hand calligraphed gift tags for customers at no cost. A calligrapher’s work is a solitary one and I so loved being out in front of people practicing my craft, making them happy, hearing the “oohhs and ahhs” with each flourish! I remember some people asking me “can I try that pen?” as if the art was coming from the pen. Ah, the mystery of calligraphy!

gail brill's ink well.001

My cherished inkwell with our family motto, “Tyde What May”

Just the other day when I was showing a bride one of my invitations she asked, do you do each one by hand? I get that question a lot. And of course, the answer is no. I want to take this opportunity to pull back the curtain and explain the process. I’ll use the example of a wedding invitation.

I will meet with a bride (and groom), listen to their story…who they are, how they met each other, what is their vision is for the wedding day and more. Being an invitation designer is part social worker, therapist and mystic. Most professional calligraphers have a style sheet that shows clients a range of styles. Most professional calligraphers can do any style, the sheet usually is just a sampling of the most requested styles.

gail brill handwriting styles.001

Once the couple decides on a calligraphy style, a layout is done. I usually do a layout on the computer first, before putting pen to paper, this way adjustments can be made to the layout that might include line spacing or wording changes. When final approval is given, I start the hand calligraphy. Once I complete the hand calligraphy, I scan it into my computer, clean it up in Photoshop if necessary, scale it down to the size at which it will be printed and send it back to my client for final approval. Once I get a “thumbs up”, I email it in a digital format to either my letterpress printer, engraver or offset printer, depending on what type of invitation my client wants. Letterpress printing debosses the image into the paper, with engraving, the image is raised and the impression of the plate is on the back of the card and offset printing is flat on the surface of the paper. Thermography is an offset process where plastic powder is dropped onto the wet ink after it comes off the press and it runs under a heater to melt. It is an alternative that attempts to mirror engraving.

In all three cases, a plate is made. Offset printers use a thick plastic sheet onto which the image has been transferred. Modern letterpress printers make a polymer plate of the art and engravers etch a copper plate of the image. Here is an image of a return address  engraved in a copper plate.

gail brill invitation plate.001

If you choose to have engraved invitations, please know that you own the copper plates when the job is finished and can request them from your designer. They make a beautiful keepsake of your wedding day.

That is the story of the printing process from conception to final invitation. Of course the envelopes are each addressed by hand. When your guests receive an invitation that is addressed in beautiful hand calligraphy, they know you care about beauty and that you support the work of a professional calligrapher! I thank you for that support! Let me know if I can help you with your calligraphy needs. Give me a call at 518-586-1063. – Gail Brill of Gail Brill Design