Modern Calligrapher Interview | Janis Anzalone

Janis Anzalone Interview via Besotted Blog

I can’t even believe it’s the end of the week and the end of our week of up & coming lettering artists– sigh.  It has been such a treat for me to be able to read all of them, I feel very fortunate that these artists were willing to share their love of lettering, resources and advice with us (not to mention their quotes). These interviews always feel like a good sit down with the calligrapher, I hope that they read the same way for you. You are always welcome to add to the conversation by asking your own questions in the comments, all the interviewee’s are very forthcoming with their knowledge. I know it’s hard to make time to comment these days but I promise you that a little ‘hello’ goes a long way to thanking the artists for their precious time and enabling us the opportunity to continue to invite other modern calligrapher’s/lettering artist to participate in this series.

Michelle and I are very excited to present Janis Anzalone] today. You may have spotted Janis on Instagram where she also shares her gorgeous illustrations. We hope that you find her as thoroughly interesting and inspiring as we have. Without further ado…

I can only recommend what to do, and that is to have fun and practice.

Where are you located?

San Anselmo, California, 17 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

How did you get started in lettering?

Calligraphy was not even on my radar until I noticed the beautiful hand lettering of Lauren MacIntosh (Tail of the Yak) and Wendy Cook (Bell’occhio) back in the mid 90’s. It may sound strange but seeing their calligraphy had a transporting effect, like being at an opera or a good foreign film. Enchanting! I wanted that skill. So I searched books on calligraphy and soon discovered copperplate was the style I needed to learn. With my books as a reference, I began teaching myself and practicing everyday obsessively. At the time I was working as a textile designer, commuting to San Francisco. The moment I’d get home from work I would make a bee-line to my drawing table and start practicing. Combining calligraphy with my illustration skills was how I imagined my future business.

What are some of your favorite supplies?

After looking at other interviews it seems I’m pretty simple as far as my calligraphy supplies go. My top favorite and indispensable calligraphy supply is a tiny box of vintage R. Esterbrook nibs I found at Addison Endpapers in Berkeley. I never heard of the nib before but wanted to try it. So glad I did! The nib is perfect for me, not too flexible and not too stiff, just right. As far as brushes and pencils, no particular brand, they just need to be sharp.

Can you name some of your inspirations?

I’m inspired by vintage calligraphy written by ordinary hands. Historical documents, vintage letters, the captions on the back of old photographs, hand lettered Victorian diagrams, lettering on botanical posters, and the hand painted shop signs and number addresses you see on buildings in the UK and Europe.

Artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Basquiat (to name just a few) who used lettering as part of their artwork are very inspiring. I’m inspired by music as well, though when I’m working I’m very particular about what is playing. The group Tin Hat is perfect for writing. Their music has a push and pull and a roundness like script.

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

Creating an inviting work environment for myself is very important. So first I clear the clutter and ready my table for the next project. Then I allow myself a little time to think about the assignment, to daydream, to do some research.  The next step is getting acquainted with the text, playing with the specific wording and lettering style, seeing how the words feel and fit together. Then it is just a matter of editing until it is as good as I can make it.

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

I would say try to learn the rules before breaking them in most cases. Have a good foundation then let go, have fun, experiment. A style of your own will eventually emerge through hours of playful experimentation and practice.

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

Find a workshop! Lauren MacIntosh teaches a wonderful calligraphy workshop from her home in Berkeley. I highly recommend it. Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls travels all over teaching a very popular calligraphy class as well. If you don’t have access to a workshop, then try your local library or bookstore and find a book on beginning calligraphy.

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

My favorite assignments are ones that allow me to combine my calligraphy and illustration. Currently I’m working on a seed packet for an organization based here in Marin county whose mission is earth-friendly and sustainable fiber dyeing methods.

Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?

I can only recommend what to do, and that is to have fun and practice.

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

I make a mean jar of jam. In fact, after finishing this interview I’ll be making my first batch of the season, apricot, my favorite. Oh, and the final touch will be the label – with calligraphy of course.

P.S. You must visit M.K. Sadler (love her work) she photographed Janis at home and the images are just gorgeous!


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