Artist shares passion for art of calligraphy



BLUE HILL — Script is ensconced in popular culture from tattoos to jewelry to images on the digital pinboard Pinterest.

A seasonal Brooksville resident has capitalized on that trend with her book: “Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy,” which is now in its fourth printing by St. Martin’s Griffin.

“I think that all of this ties into this handmade revolution,” said author Molly Suber Thorpe, whose work has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, Style Me Pretty Weddings, Country Living and other publications.

Suber Thorpe runs Plurabelle Calligraphy + Design Studio. Among her recent graphic design projects: Spanish fashion designer Luciano is developing a line of perfume for which she is designing the packaging.

She also teaches the art of hand lettering that dates back thousands of years. “I think there’s somewhat of a backlash happening against everything being digital and manufactured.”

“We’re human. We still crave that handmade aspect,” Suber Thorpe said. “We got to this point in our culture where so much was done on the computer and regulated that people so appreciated things made by hand.”

“That’s one reason calligraphy has taken off to such a degree,” she said. “People like to think things are unique to them and not one of a million of the same products,” she said. “A personal human element” in an “iPhone culture” is attractive.

St. Martin’s has sold over 20,000 copies of her book.

“I have just signed a contract to have it translated into Chinese,” she said.

“Modern Calligraphy” had been the best-selling calligraphy book on Amazon for 13 months in a row until dropping to No. 2 in December.

Suber Thorpe recently taught a calligraphy workshop at The Meadow. The Main Street store, specializing in fine gifts and home furnishings, carries her book.

“I love that it [calligraphy] is an intersection of art and design,” she reflected. “The difference is that design solves a problem, has a purpose that is very specific…art is beautiful unto itself. I think calligraphy is this great intersection for the two. It’s a great decorative means of solving a problem.”

Suber Thorpe studied art history, comparative literature and creative writing at The American University of Paris. Her experience there as the editor and layout designer of the school’s bilingual arts and literary magazine, Paris/Atlantic, sparked her interest in graphic design.

She later fell in love with calligraphy while taking it as an elective class while studying graphic design at the University of California-Los Angeles. Her concentration was in typography.

The calligraphy class was about a “gothic, thick old-fashioned” form of the lettering technique.

Suber Thorpe, though, wanted to put her own stamp on calligraphy.

“I wanted to be able to write smaller, more flourished lettering,” she said. “I got the art supplies and I taught myself all the rest. Initially, it was a hobby I did in the evenings. I randomly started getting calligraphy business.”

Calligraphy has many of the same aspects of graphic design. It requires understanding of layout design and logo design “but you have more creative freedom because it’s by hand and it’s different every single time. I mostly like the creative freedom it allows me.”

Until last year, Suber Thorpe had been based in Los Angeles, where she developed a following for her script.

“It took a little while for my business to take off. But once it did, lots of people asked me if I taught,” she said.

Suber Thorpe started offering private lessons in her home studio. Eventually, a stationer asked her to teach monthly calligraphy workshops.

“I started to realize I really liked the workshops,” especially the energy and creativity that students get from each other, she said.

“Classes are three to four hours each,” she said. “I think I give people a really good start to learning the lower case alphabet.”

“Calligraphy is really forgiving,” she said. “Even if it looks a little bit amateurish still, a lot of people like that. That kind of amateur look is kind of sought after. It’s kind of the luck of the draw how your beginner style looks.”

“After three or four months of consistent practice, a calligrapher could advertise services,” she said.

The book came about, in part, due to Suber Thorpe’s blog: plurabellecalligraphy.com. Click on blog in the upper right corner.

Suber Thorpe said she has a friend who had written an embroidery craft book who mentioned her calligraphy work and blog to her agent.

The agent liked the site and Suber Thorpe’s writing. Said agent is now nagging her to send her a proposal for a second book.

“I feel pretty confident I’m going to write a second book but I don’t have the full concept in my head,” she said. The artist would like to cover things that didn’t fit in her first book — topics that haven’t been written about by other authors.

“The book [“Modern Calligraphy] is geared to absolute beginners,” Suber Thorpe said. “But if you do have experience with calligraphy you’ll still get a lot out of it.”

There is an index of required supplies for beginners as well as fun tools to add.

“Then I cover absolutely everything with how to get started to write,” she said. That includes how to hold your arm when you write and how to apply pressure on the pen.

There also are 14 pages of letter specimens, which is a big draw for many calligraphers.

“That is the reason they buy the book, for those 14 pages,” she said. Different letters offer inspiration for calligraphers to do their own designs.

The book also has a section on intermediate lettering and lettering with paint as well as different ink choices.

“Modern Calligraphy” contains a section on envelope addressing because that’s one of the primary applications. It also has an extensive resource guide including websites for stationery and making your own rubber stamp.

“I have lists of other people’s work I find really inspiring,” Suber Thorpe said.

Learn calligraphy yourself

“Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy” can be purchased at The Meadow of Blue Hill, 140 Main St. Tel: 374-3785, www.themeadowofbluehill.com.

Molly Suber Thorpe teaches workshops around the country including Maine. To learn more, visit www.plurabellecalligraphy.com.

She also offers instructional videos available online such as this one on Vimeo at http://vimeo.com/61477520.