Elizabeth Messina MAYBELLE besottedblog3

I feel so very lucky always that calligraphers and lettering artists that I admire have been generous enough with their time and knowledge to do these interviews for us. I am especially grateful for Maybelle’s interview as I feel (and I think most will agree) that she is the grand dame of modern calligraphy, she has been a favorite of Martha Stewart, art directors, brides, the blogosphere, etc. Maybelle was a pioneer in sharing her creative genius with the world and bringing in the modern calligraphy workshops which has spawned a whole industry making calligraphy/lettering accessible to us mere mortals.  I love her dedication and passion for her craft and her endless creativity to whatever project she is working on. If you are interested in this medium then you must try to take one of her classes, I think you will be blown away by her talent, her enthusiasm and her sunny disposition. I have never met anyone this talented and successful and so humble (except for maybe Elizabeth Messina). I hope you enjoy the first part of her interview and stay with us this week for the second part, more photos and a giveaway!

Where are you located?

Oakland, California

How did you get started in lettering?

My background is in Graphic Design and Ceramics. In school we learned create entire alphabets by hand. I have always enjoyed this much attention to detail.  After college, I didn’t take the usual path that a graphic designer would, instead I was hired as a flight attendant for a major US airline. I lived abroad and would send letters to my family and friends back in Hawaii. Like most designers I collect anything and everything with type, in particular anything written in script. I love it all.  I fell in love with a hand written menu at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. It was unlike anything I had seen before. It wasn’t classic, or perfect copperplate calligraphy that I was used to seeing. It was expressive and it had a lot of soul. You could tell immediately, it was written by hand. I found out that it was done by Lauren McIntosh, an artist and painter, who is self taught. I learned that she co-owns a beautiful shop called “Tail of the Yak” and that she offered classes in her studio.  My husband purchased a series of classes with Lauren as a Christmas gift one year. Soon after, I sent samples of my invitation designs to Martha Stewart Weddings, the designs did not include any work in calligraphy but I did follow up a week later and sent them a letter, one of the editors noticed my lettering and asked me if I was a calligrapher, and that’s when I became a professional calligrapher. Her wedding was featured as an 8 page story in their beautiful magazine. The rest as they say is history.

Elizabeth Messina MAYBELLE besottedblog4

What are some of your favorite supplies?

I love Onion skin paper you can find them at antiques markets, or on ebay, but I just found some here.  I love Clairfontaine or Rhodia paper. They are basically the same paper, except the Clairfontaine paper has gold foiled cover (swoon!) This pen was the one Lauren gave me in her class. I used it for many years until  I started offering workshops and realized that its not ideal for beginners.  For my workshops, I use Nikko G and a straight pen holder. I love Dr. Ph. Martins Matte Star black and Sumi ink,  Moon Palace No. 170 to be exact. My new favorite pen and nib.

Can you name some of your inspirations?

I love to travel. I ditch guidebooks and spend lots of time in stationery stores, drug and grocery stores. Artists that inspire me: Calligrapher Bernard Maisner, Sabine Pick, Stephanie Fishwick, Magpie Paperworks. Also: Edward Gorey, Sara Midda, Maira Kalman, Cy Twombly, Eliott Puckette, Elvis Swift, Isamu Noguchi, Louise Bourgeois.

To be continued….

I know there’s many links that you will want to be exploring so I will conclude the interview tomorrow, remember if you have questions for Maybelle please leave them in the comments!

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the proprietress of Besotted Brand and the writer of this delightful blog. She recently re-located to sunny Seattle with her handsome husband and two pups, they just welcomed to the world a baby girl. 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.


  1. Thanks so much for this, Tristan! I will be going to Maybelle’s first-ever workshop here in Singapore (and my first ever, too!) and this is building up my excitement even more. I’m bursting!

  2. I had the plasure of meeting Maybelle in person and soon one of her workshop will be offered at my studio. Thank you for posting the interview, so interesrting to elarn a bit more of her history and inspiration!

  3. Thank you so much for this interview. Living in France and deciding to pick up calligraphy has been a challenge. Having online resources has been a life saver!
    Maybelle is an inspiration and the first work I found after becoming addicted to some Bernard Maisner images I saw in NY.
    As always Tristan…..great interview.

  4. This is a lovely article and I was so excited whilst reading it. My daughter, who is almost 9, loves nib pens. She often retreats to her bedroom and writes love notes, fortunes or constitution-like work. Thank you so much for an amazing interview, beautiful examples and your love of the classics in design!

  5. Maybelle will teach a workshop in our Studio Carta, in Brookline, MA on April 12th, 2014. I’m very excited and can’t wait for the workshop to begin. Let me know if you are interested in further information and to join our mailing list. The class will launch in early March and I know it will fill up right away! Thank you Tristan!

    1. Yes please Angela, I am going to put up a list of workshops this week for Maybelle and any info would be much appreciated!!!

      P.S. I am SO envious YOU & MAYBELLE??!!! What a delight!!1

    1. Stephanie and she is so humble! I am getting excited for YOUR interview next. I know Maybelle is going to love it as she loves your work:)

  6. Thanks so much for this. I purchased on of Maybelle’s kits myself and have really enjoyed the time I’ve spent on it. Even more, tapping into such an amazing community of creatives willing to teach and share has been particularly inspiring.

    I have two questions that I’d love her thoughts on:
    First, I often hear one should learn Copperplate first before one “breaks the rules” and creates a unique style. Did she go down that road? Or was Lauren her first real calligraphy teacher, in which case I’d imagine traditional Copperplate was not on the menu.

    Second, any advice on how to make my lines not wiggly on the delicate upstroke is most appreciated!

    1. Hi Heather! Thanks for purchasing my kit! I didn’t take any formal copperplate classes until 3 or 4 years doing this professionally. In some ways it helped, but I miss the early days when my style looked a little more rough, if you know what I mean. I find that when I study copperplate it inhibits some of my creativity.

  7. Hi sweet Tristan,
    Thank you so much for this feature! I am literally boarding my flight to Tokyo as I write this. I am happy to answer all questions and will check in soon! Thanks everyone! xoxo M

  8. Such a great interview! I love that Maybelle, such an accomplished caligrapher, learned through someone who was self-taught. Her story of how she because a professional calligrapher is so inspiring to a beginner! I am excited to try Maybelle’s suggested ink and nibs.
    Maybelle, I do have a question for you – do you have any plans of workshops in Canada? Specifically, Toronto? :)

    1. That would be amazing!! We have a strong art / design community here, I don’t think you would have a problem filling up your workshop. I would be happy to help spread the word too!

  9. Thank you so much Maybelle for adding me to your list of inspirations!!! It is I who is truly inspired by you! Thank you also Tristan for another wondrous interview. Always a joy to read about my favourite subject – lettering and calligraphy! xxxx

    1. Hope, I got it from master penman Michael Sull. You can google “Spencerian” and his name will come up. He taught at IAMPETH last year and sells the pens there too. This one in particular suits my grip best. He suggests that you choose them with your eyes closed, choosing by the way it feels in your hand.

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