Creative Lives — Calligrapher Angelo Meola on keeping an ancient craft alive
Specialist analogue crafts might be a rarer pursuit in a world dominated by digital technology, but calligrapher Angelo Meola tells us that the demand for this kind of skilled work remains high. With the convenience and speed offered by laptops and keyboards, writing by hand is fast going from being a daily convention to a specialism. In the age of clean, sharp, graphic typefaces, people still appreciate the traditional artistry of hand-scribed text. Angelo talks to us about how he came to learn the ancient technique of calligraphy, as well as giving us some insight into his projects, his ambitions and the therapeutic benefits of carrying out intricate handiwork.
Apprentice to a Master Calligrapher
How would you describe your job?
As a calligrapher, I am normally commissioned to create a hand-scribed piece of artwork. It may be a wedding invitation, a poem or a certificate. To do this, I apply ink to paper using a particular type of script ranging from something like a delicate flourished script to a more formal traditional script.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
I am based in a studio in Islington, where I can carry out my work with zero distractions from the outside world. I’m usually in the studio from 9am to 5pm, and my day is made up of producing commissions for clients, admin and emails as well as meeting with clients and discussing ideas for new projects. From time to time I do on-site jobs, which could be going to private events to be on hand to finalise additional menus or place cards, or going to a department store for a promotional event.
“My work needs to feel personal and handwritten and not look like a font.”
How collaborative is your role?
I work on a lot of independent projects, however I do sometimes deal with commissions were there is input from a graphic designer. The relationship here is interesting as we are both individually trained to view lettering from a different perspective. A graphic designer may design letters from a technical perspective, while I strongly believe that the slight imperfections are what make calligraphy so appealing – my work needs to feel personal and handwritten and not look like a font.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The worst part (which I often get asked about) is when you make a mistake. As the artwork is handwritten this is sometimes inevitable, however it is very rare and I accept that it happens from time to time – I just start again. I still very much enjoy seeing a client reaction, and the smile my work can put on someone’s face. The content of a text is sometimes very personal and special to the client, so it is always nice to be a part of that journey.
What has been your most exciting or interesting recent project?
I did a project recently involving an aspect of cartography, which I particularly enjoyed. The project also paid homage to an event in British history – unfortunately I am often asked to sign confidentiality agreements, so I cannot go into much more detail than this!
What skills are essential to your craft?
Patience, a willingness to focus and a desire to improve. Being attentive to detail and having a good eye goes a long way.
“Stress is the last thing I would associate with calligraphy – there is a spiritual and relaxing aspect to it, and it often helps to clear the mind.”
Work for Chloé
Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by work, and if so, how do you manage stress?
Not often, however breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces always helps. Stress is the last thing I would associate with calligraphy – there is a spiritual and relaxing aspect to it, and it often helps to clear the mind as you can focus on just making your marks on the paper.
Calligraphy seems like quite a niche area of work – have you found it difficult to make a living from? And have you taken on additional work to support it?
I am a full time calligrapher and fortunately I can make a modest living from something I love doing. However, it has taken a good period of time to get here. Even though we are in a time where we are more reliant on digital technology, folks also seem to have more of an appreciation for crafts like calligraphy than ever before.
Work in progress
What would you say is the most unexpected thing about your job?
I would say that the demand for this small craft still surprises me, considering most of us know how to use a pen. People are always in awe when I demonstrate a few words of calligraphy in person.
How does self-promotion come into your work?
Let your work promote you and not vice versa. The majority of my work is via referrals, recommendations and returning clients. This is the best form of advertising – and it doesn’t cost a penny!
What tools do you use when you are working?
I use mostly simple tools such as quills, dip pens and hand-mixed ink. I do also use my laptop every day.
Work for weddings
Work for Gucci
How I Got Here
Do you remember what you wanted to be growing up?
I wanted to be a pilot, but I much prefer that I am a freelance calligrapher!
Do you feel that your upbringing has had much impact on your choice of career?
Very much so – from a young age I had a natural attraction to creative fields and expressing myself through art and design.
Did you do a degree? And if so has it been useful to your current work?
No – as it’s an ancient craft, you can no longer study calligraphy and heraldry at university. While I believe that learning on the job is very beneficial, if a course was available then I would have completed it. Saying that, as an apprentice I learnt the business side of running a studio!
“Folks also seem to have more of an appreciation for crafts like calligraphy than ever before.”
How did you get into calligraphy and when did you decide it was going to be your focus?
I met a master calligrapher and saw him scribe my name – it was very much from that instance that I was drawn in.
Was there a particular project, person or occurrence that helped you to develop as a calligrapher?
Learning calligraphy requires a lot of patience, and you sometimes hit roadblocks along the way. I learnt that there is more than one way to learn something, so meeting other practicing calligraphers really opened my eyes and excelled my progress.
Would you say that calligraphy is a competitive area to get into?
Yes it is. I have noticed a recent surge of interest in modern calligraphy, and my advice to anyone looking to take up the craft is to explore traditional scripts, as this provides a fundamental basis for going on to learn more expressive scripts.
What would you like to do next?
I think it’s important to share any knowledge you have of a skill like calligraphy in order for the practice of such crafts to continue in the future. Calligraphy is an ancient profession but so is teaching – I would like to combine both.
Words of Wisdom
What advice or recommendations would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Work on traditional scripts, as there are tonnes of examples and books on this. Get in contact with other calligraphers and get to know the community. Most people are happy to share their knowledge.
If you could recommend one resource from which to learn or to be inspired by, what would it be?
F.W. Tamblyn’s book, Home Instructor in Penmanship.