Modern Calligrapher | Tara Spencer September Letters

Tara Spencer | September Letters Interview via

Tara Spencer of September Letters was recommended by photographer Meg Fish and I gasped with delight when I clicked over to view her work. I think it’s very fitting for this week’s gestural theme, as Spencer’s hand has a very loose and organic flow to it, it’s near impossible to replicate and it distinguishes her amongst the many talented lettering artists out there.


Where are you located?

I am based in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. I love everything about the city – the overcast skies, the coffee culture, the mountains. We live two blocks from the sea and as a prairie girl, I’m constantly pinching myself.

How did you get started in lettering?

I wanted to address my own wedding invitations a couple years ago. My style has definitely changed since then, but I fell in love with the process. It’s such an unnecessary, time-consuming thing, and that appealed to me for some reason; it’s so different from most things we encounter day-to-day. I had a romanticized idea of what it might mean to be a calligrapher, but some of it did hold true. I love that a critical aspect of my work is going for long walks, dreaming up ideas. I love that I get to constantly evolve and recreate my aesthetic, and try to learn and improve.

What are some of your favorite supplies?

I am always discovering new materials, and I don’t have much loyalty to anything in particular. I’m obsessed with exotic papers; there’s incredible options from Japan, India, and Italy, of course. I also love discovering artists a bit closer to home who are making handmade surfaces – Stef Marieh from SHare Studios makes some delicious deep blue sheets, and Signora e Mare’s delicate papers are a dream! Papeterie St-Armand makes really wonderful papers in Quebec as well. When I’m working on something to be digitized, I usually use bristol.

Higgins Eternal is a good solid black ink that everyone recommends, but I’ve moved to using a lot more Sumi ink of late.. I love its rich quality, and it seems to sit a bit better on handmade papers, without being absorbed. I also love J. Herbin inks, especially their gold. I haven’t gotten into a lot of brush-lettering, but I use Grumbacher brushes for my watercolor work. There’s a revolving door situation with my nibs (I’m pretty rough with them), but currently I’m liking a Brause 66EE nib. It’s very delicate and creates a beautiful fine line. Another two I keep coming back to are Hunt 56 School and Brause No. 65.

Can you name some of your inspirations?

My background is in contemporary art, and I did some studio painting and exhibiting for a short time. That’s still a part of who I want to be as an artist in the future, but I enjoy the tactile, artisanal nature of hand-lettering. It was a struggle to make that transition initially – to move from making ‘serious’ work, and needing a conceptual justification for what I was making, to doing something for the beauty and experience of it. Now I think the two complement each other.

I love reading as well, especially French thinkers like Sartre and Camus and more ancient art, like cave-paintings and Italian frescoes. I’m drawn to the flatness of medieval art, because it’s so different from how we portray the world. But as a calligrapher I’ve really come around to Cy Twombly; I never cared for the lettering in his paintings until I started with lettering myself, but now I go back to it for inspiration all the time. Julie Mehretu is another artist whose drawings have influenced me, and I’m also inspired by a lot of floral design and photography.

Can you go a little into your process of how you work on a project?

My art background has probably influenced my process quite a bit; I think of calligraphy in terms of color and composition a lot more than in strokes and letters. I’ll usually start with an idea for the flow of the page; my preparation sketches look a lot more like scribbles and waves and lines – I’m trying to think more about where I want a cluster, or where the letters should be more spread out..

I like to start with a mood-board as part of an initial project proposal, because it guides the process from start to finish. Then I tend to spend a lot of time alone or in cafes, sketching a lot and experimenting with styles. Most of it ends up in the trash, but I’ll cut up little pieces that I love (ask my husband, they’re everywhere…), and then I’ll be ready to actually put pen to paper. Other times, I’ll just sit down, and it will be right the first time – it really depends on the project.

Any tips for newbies on how to develop their own style?

I think the right answer here is to learn the basics – master the skills, and then learn to break them, and I’m definitely believer in that. For me though, I stumbled into it, and I’m just adding those foundational skills now. In a lot of ways, I think that’s kept my lettering fresh.

The best advice is probably just to have fun with it, and experiment with things that aren’t letters. Don’t just write the same words over and over – take a poem you love and use the shapes of the words to create a picture.

An awful exercise from back in art school is contour drawings. It’s the most agonizing thing, but it helps you appreciate lines for their own sake, and to realize how interesting they can be when you’re not controlling them too much. You take an object – maybe a flower or a piece of fabric,  – and then you draw as slowly as you possibly can, without ever looking down at the page. You focus only on the shapes and outlines of the object, and follow all its tiniest, most subtle changes without ever lifting your pen. When your eyes reach a darker area, you press down your nib, and lighten up for softer spots. You end up with a completely unrecognizable mess of wobbly lines.

Any recommendations of books or classes for lettering enthusiasts to further their studies?

There are associations in most cities that put on classes, and Iampeth has some incredible online resources for learning Spencerian, Copperplate, and others. They have great information about supplies, and really helpful articles about traditional calligraphy techniques.

Do you have some favorite projects you would like me to mention?

I absolutely love working with brides; weddings are such beautiful, joyful times! At the moment, I’m enjoying all the brand work I’m doing from all over the world; from florists and photographers, to blogs and charcuterie, I love how much passion goes into creative businesses. It’s such an exciting process to take someone’s vision, and help shape and define it into something tangible.

Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?

Maybe just to not rush through projects – look at things that inspire you and get your juices flowing before you begin. And don’t compare yourself to others! It’s exhausting and completely crippling!

Name one random talent you have that people may not know?

I already mentioned my painting, but maybe the fact that I’m into philosophy – I took it in my undergrad and the interest has really stuck.

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the co-creator of the world’s best + easiest product photography editing tool-Foto Rx | Shopkeeper’s Helper and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.

Modern Calligraphy Social Media Photoshop Brushes

hand lettered social media photoshop brushes

I mentioned that I have been inspired lately by an artist to break out my nibs and I wanted to share some of the fruits of my labor with you. The lettering isn’t anything like hers (although I wish my hand could do such wondrous, effortless movements), her lettering got me inspired to break out the ink and paper, something that I haven’t done in a little bit. I created this little hand-lettered Photoshop brush set to use on your blog or site (for personal use only please and thank you), the set includes the words: Tweet, Pin it, Intsa, Contact and Email.  I made them brushes so you can easily adjust the size and stamp them in any color your heart desires. I hope you enjoy them and let us know if you have any questions! You can download here.

P.S. Of course I cleaned up the lettering and created the Photoshop brushes using none other than our Vitamin L25 | Paper to Pixel Photoshop set. Yup, there’s even an action that will turn your lettering into a brush in one click!  It’s how I got the ‘tweet’ on my post image!

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the co-creator of the world’s best + easiest product photography editing tool-Foto Rx | Shopkeeper’s Helper and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.

A Fabulous Fete Lettering and Giveaway

Oscar Wilde quote by a Fabulous Fete via Besotted Blog

I love this quote that Lauren Saylor from A Fabulous Fete lettered (the lettering was cleaned up and made into a Photoshop brush with our Vitamin L25). I love Lauren’s easy breezy style and her blog is filled to the brim with some pretty amazing lettering. Lauren has started teaching watercolor lettering workshops and I so wish she was closer so I could participate! Speaking of participating, Lauren is generously hosting a giveaway of the L25 | Paper to Pixel set and a spot in our Photoshop for Lettering Artists Class. If you have been trying to win a set or take the class this could be your lucky chance, visit Lauren’s blog for details. We made a super quick video of us cleaning the artwork so you can see in real time how quickly you can get your lettering clean and web ready, see it here.

Tomorrow we have another Photoshop tutorial coming up, which we hope you will love and find opens another world of creative possibilities for you!

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the co-creator of the world’s best + easiest product photography editing tool-Foto Rx | Shopkeeper’s Helper and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.

Maybelle Luxe Lettering Kit Winner!

She believed she could by Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls

And the winner is…Caroline Diaz! I do apologize for the delay on announcing the winner, when you have a toddler your best laid plans are pretty laughable. Toddlers are a mercurial lot and sometimes sleep for both parents and toddler are non-existent and mama may or may not walk around in a heavy fog with eyelids heavy and brain so drained that writing a post seems the equivalent of scaling Everest. Better late than never? Thank you to everyone that participated, we loved each and every one of your quotes so very much, what an inspiring collection we have amassed now! The winning quote resonated with all of us, especially Maybelle, she wanted you to see her first calligraphy efforts (brave woman), because she wants you all to know that if you believe in yourself crazy, impossible, magical things can happen…Read More

Around here…

Besotted with Maybelle Luxe Lettering Kit Giveaway

What a week! All my week’s feel like whirlwinds, maybe that’s part and parcel of having a toddler, or getting older (or drinking too much cold brew), but whatever the reason I can’t believe it’s Friday already. Since I work for myself I don’t get a traditional weekend, so Friday’s don’t feel much like Friday’s anymore, but I do remember savoring that feeling of closing time when I was working at an office (actually it was their storage closest) but still. With that lovely feeling in mind of it being time to head out for the weekend I will leave you a few things that are happening around here, happy weekend!

You still have time to enter Maybelle’s exquisite giveaway, remember to leave your comment here and make sure you regram or pin the images with the hashtag #lovemaybelle. We have been loving all your quotes, we are duly moved and inspired.

I have mentioned Maskcara before, I adore her, but this makeover was just outstanding!

I am a huge fan of the artist Carson Ellis, her collaborative project with her husband, Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists ) the book series ‘The Wildwood Chronicles’ is wildly imaginative and would not be the same without her illustrative genius. I am really relishing each chapter. This is a fun interview with Carson, if you interested in probing further and seeing more of her fine work.

Speaking of beautiful illustrations, my daughter is currently on a huge mermaid kick thanks to a stunningly beautiful double page mermaid spread in Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin. E. won’t even let me finish the story anymore and wants to cut straight to the mermaids, I love reading to her so I was in search of book with a mermaid focus and found The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G.Campbell, the story is sweet and original and the illustrations are equally as gorgeous.

Michelle and I recently figured out something close to magic in Photoshop, a new (and easier) way to do a task for the next Foto Rx set we are creating. I love the thrill of discovery and being able to experiment with our new found skills! Speaking of that wonderful program Photoshop we will be having some simple + easy Photoshop tutorials up on the site next week!

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the co-creator of the world’s best + easiest product photography editing tool-Foto Rx | Shopkeeper’s Helper and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.

photo by michelle p.