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Meet a calligrapher creating a business one letter at a time

By J.A. HaglFebruary 28, 2017

Vinage Farm house wedding
Vinage Farm house wedding Courtney Hanson

Sarah Ann Erickson used to print out scripts and trace over them. She would also recopy her middle school class notes until the handwriting was perfect. She learned about graphic design in high school and found a possible career path. Then she found her niche in college. Now, at 23-years-old, she's launching Sara Ann Design as a business.

J: When did your interest in calligraphy and design begin?

S: For the longest time, I've been enamored with letterform and design but I had no idea it could become a full-time career. I've always been a visual person,and took plenty of art classes throughout childhood. Design was the perfect combination of visual creativity and structure. When I walked into a typography class, the students were gathered around a beautiful letterform. "Look at the tail on that Q!" one of them said. "Isn't it gorgeous?!" I knew I had found my people.

J: How do you define your style?

S: My calligraphic script is loose and organic, typically incorporating a moving baseline and free-flowing letters. My work tends to fall into the "fine art calligraphy" category within the wedding industry. However, I love to explore a variety of styles—every couple's love story is unique, and that's what inspires the aesthetic for every invitation suite design.

Woodland Wedding
Woodland WeddingMeggie Taylor

J: Where do you draw inspiration from?

S: I love stories and heirlooms, things that get passed from one generation to the next. For example, I might create a custom envelope liner pattern based on her engagement ring cut, or incorporate a flower illustration inspired by his grandmother's bridal bouquet. In addition, I often draw inspiration from nature: organic botanical designs are a common thread.

J: What makes you different from the other calligraphers?

S: There are a lot of talented creatives in the wedding industry. I think my formal background in graphic design sets me apart from similar artists. While many calligraphers have a distinctive lettering style, very few are able to combine their calligraphy skills with a trained eye for graphic design.

J: How did you get your start?

S: I got my first internship at Doodle Dog Creative, a boutique design studio that creates brands and websites for small businesses. Since Doodle Dog only had a few employees, I gained a ton of hands-on experience at this internship—which eventually turned into full-time. A large portion of Doodle Dog's clientele was in the wedding industry. The feminine aesthetic of the brands we created appealed to me from the start. As for calligraphy specifically, the real jumping-off point was when I was invited to my first "styled shoot." My first styled shoot was accepted for publication by a popular wedding blog, and then featured a few more times after that—generating interest in my work.

 

I think it's good to maintain that curiosity no matter how long you've been in business.

J: What motivated you to make the jump to self-employed?

S: For awhile now, there has been an undeniable tug on my spirit to serve my own clients wholeheartedly. It was not a decision made lightly, but the possibility to pursue my own full-time career at Sarah Ann Design was an exciting opportunity I couldn’t let go.

J:  What's your favorite project to date?

S: Oh boy—tough call. They're all so different! I feel like it's a cop-out, but my own wedding invitations are still some of my favorite designs. I got to create everything to my exact liking. With letterpress printing, hand-dyed silk ribbons, and custom wax-seals with my calligraphed "E" monogram, they turned out beautifully.

J: What's your favorite part of your creative process?

S: I love the beginning stages: collecting inspiration, sketching thumbnails, imagining how the invitation suite might come together. And I love the very end: when the photographer sends back beautiful images of my work, showcased in its best light. But the middle—ugh. 

his beloved
his belovedAngela Sostarich Photography

J: How do you leverage social media in promoting your work? 

S: Instagram is huge in the wedding industry—maybe even a little too huge. It's an incredible resource and I actually have a fair number of client leads. Sometimes the best way for me to leverage social media is to turn it off. I tend to do better, more authentic creative work when I turn off my screens and seek inspiration elsewhere.

J: What are the challenges you face in running your business?

S: I'm in a major transition period right now. This is actually my first week working for myself full-time. While I'm confident in my creative ability, there's a lot to learn about entrepreneurship and running my own business. However, I think it's good to maintain that curiosity no matter how long you've been in business.

J: What's your plan for Sarah Ann design?

S: I'm just taking it one step at a time. Being able to take Sarah Ann Design full-time was an enormous goal for me, and I'm excited to achieve that milestone. I just want to enjoy that transition and focus on bringing my best creative work to existing and new clients.

 

If a critic or client asks "Why?" your answer should never, ever, ever be "I don't know." There should always be a "why" behind every component of your portfolio.

J: What is the biggest advice you would give to someone starting their own business?

S: Have a reason for every design decision you make. If a critic or client asks "Why?" your answer should never, ever, ever be "I don't know." There should always be a "why" behind every component of your portfolio. Learn to present yourself well. No matter where your career goes from here, you will find yourself presenting an idea to someone—and how you present yourself will easily make or break your career. Choose to constantly further your own education—through inspiration sites, design books, workshops, podcasts, internships, networking events, peer reviews, art galleries, and museum exhibits. Learn from the experts. Surround yourself with design, and be critical of it. 

Sarah Ann
Sarah AnnSarah Ann

J: How to you create the best work environment? 

S: I actually worked from home for about six months when I worked for Doodle Dog, so that was an ideal opportunity to see if working individually could be a good fit for me. Though it's not the case for everyone, I find my home office to be a highly productive workspace. I usually have to set timers to remind myself to take breaks, eat lunch, and walk around outside for a bit. I'm still searching for that magical "work/life balance" unicorn. Intentionally scheduling events with other people is definitely a priority for mental health and for business growth.

J: What's your biggest fear starting your own business at 23?

S: Whew, that could be a long list. Failure. As a creative, I've put a piece of my heart into every aspect of my business. In many ways, it's an extension of myself; to see it fail would be such a personal disappointment.