I have been trying to get this interview for over six months ... as soon as I began to think of industry professionals that I wanted to chat with, Ashley Rae Swann of Cygnus Studio was at the top of my list. She is so talented at her gift of calligraphy. Meeting Ashely Rae on a random Tuesday evening three years ago was one of the best gifts a client could have ever given me! When my client made a request to work with Ashley Rae, she came to my stationery boutique to pickup the client's envelopes. After chatting with her for five minutes, that quick exchange of envelopes turned into a two hour conversation ... and we have been a stationery tag team ever since!
Ashley Rae stays busy with clients requesting her to write on everything from sneakers to wooden slates! So nailing her down for this chat was a bit challenging but I am so excited to have her join the blog series.
NF: Thank you A- for joining me today! First question, have you always had great penmanship as a child?
ARS: Actually, I did! But that's all thanks to my mom, who when she was reviewing our homework if she did not like our handwriting we would have to do it all over again. Which Sucked horribly at the time, but it made me take great pride in my handwriting.
NF: Do you have to have great penmanship to be a good calligrapher?
ARS: Absolutely not, anyone can do calligraphy! Truly, it doesn't matter if you have very tiny neat writing, write in all block letters, half cursive half print, "doctor's handwriting" or super swoopy and basically illegible. Yup, that last one is a thing. Calligraphy is all about muscle memory and using your entire arm and sometimes your whole body to create the shapes and words.
NF: Do you think that handwriting, the art of penmanship, is missing in schools today?
ARS: One Hundred Percent. It most certainly is an art, but also a fundamental tool. I've gotten into more than one debate over the years, about how will our children know how to sign their names on legal documents? Marriage licenses, driver's license?? A fingerprint on a screen can only take us so far. Your handwriting is your own written fingerprint, that is unique and special to you and you alone. Add to that when doing research, how can they read historic ledgers and letters? There's something about reading a letter written hundreds of years ago and knowing that back then it was a privilege to know how to read and write and now it is something taken for granted.
NF: Do you feel that calligraphy will ever go out of style?
ARS: I don't think it has ever gone out of style, but I believe we have entered a renaissance of the forgotten arts and more and more people are picking up talents that have been long forgotten and breathing new life into them. From calligraphy, to woodworking, embroidery, crochet, knitting ... we have such amazing access to all of these fields of expression at the tip of our fingers. It is wonderful to see people picking up a new tool and learning how to wield it.
NF: If I wanted to learn to write in calligraphy or learn hand lettering, what suggestions do you have?
ARS: There are many avenues someone can take, for instance, I am a book learner so I buy pretty much every book I see on calligraphy styles by different people. "Modern" calligraphy style for one artist is never the same as another. There are also many many online courses and youtube videos. But also, a good old-fashioned in-person class is also a great tool. I offer classes throughout the year in modern calligraphy and hand lettering and have taken a few classes of calligraphers that I admire over the years.
NF: Do you have any Fall classes coming up?
ARS: Yes, I have a hand lettering class coming up in November. I will release the details on my instagram account the second week of October.
NF: How did your hobby/interest turn into a business?
ARS: You know when you are the "crafty friend" and all your friends and siblings and cousins get married all around the same time? Well, that's how I fell into it. I taught myself in high school, used it for random projects throughout college, and when my sister got engaged in 2012, I jumped at the chance to get to do all of the calligraphy and hand lettering for her wedding. And then my best friend got engaged just before my sister's wedding and when it came time to send out wedding invitations for her, I volunteered and that was my wedding gift to them. And boy was it a gift ... I addressed over 400 invitations in 12 hours like a crazy person thinking "oh, this won't take too long". Joke was on me! But I could not have been more proud to be entrusted with what I see as a sacred task. Calligraphy and your stationery to me, sets the tone of your wedding or event. And let's be real, EVERYONE loves a piece of mail that is NOT a bill.
NF: This is so true, I believe people love receiving mail that is beautifully addressed to them.
NF: What are the current trends of calligraphy?
ARS: Current trends waffle between traditional and modern depending on the location, event, couple and vibe of the event. But it has been amazing to see the new surfaces that artists are using to showcase their work and have their client's events stand apart from the crowd. Four of my favorite trends right now are doing calligraphy & handlettering on back-painted acrylic, agate or stone slices, wedding shoes, and leather or jean jackets. I've loved creating something unique for each client on each of these different surfaces. Each one is a challenge and such a huge reward once complete.
NF: I love the wedding shoes that you have adorned ... they are all very different and customized for the couples.
NF: What is Cygnus Studio known for?
ARS: I'd say Cygnus Studio is known for seeing the client's vision and working through every possibility to make it come to life. My acrylic signs, mirror seating charts and agate slice placecards are some of my best sellers.
NF: Who is your ideal client?
ARS: This is such a tricky question, because truthfully, I don't see myself having one. I like working with everyone. Each client, couple, gift, etc. is a new and exciting challenge for me. I think I like the clients that don't know what they want the most! Sadly, sometimes those clients are labeled as the "difficult" ones by others. But the challenge and opportunity to explore with them, expose them to new ideas or things they never thought were possible or available to them is incredibly rewarding. Hearing what a client doesn't like is just as informative if not more than hearing what they like. I have a range I tell my clients to use: "I love it", "Oh! that's cool", "nope!" and "this offends my soul" - helps me see where we fall on the scale of their opinion.
NF: That is so funny ... "this offends my soul!" ... I am sure you don't hear that too often! I am going to use that range meter with my clients!
NF: For those that might not know, can you explain the difference between calligraphy and computer calligraphy?
ARS: Calligraphy and "computer calligraphy" are 2 very different methods that yield different results. Traditional dip pen calligraphy is what I do, its what's been done for hundreds of years. It requires patience, practice, a really steady hand and a devotion to the craft. Calligraphy replicated on a computer is 1) either a type/font or 2) an artist has digitized their calligraphy to create a font for others to use. Both options have their merits and drawbacks. Traditional dip pen is usually more expensive, but has the texture, depth and character of someone's unique style of writing. But is also time consuming. Computer font calligraphy is much quicker, can be printed and mistakes corrected before its too late. But it can also sometimes look choppy or the transitions between letters is incomplete since the letters are often designed individually and it is difficult to anticipate all of the letter transitions you might need before putting the font into action on the computer.
NF: AshleyRae, I can't thank you enough for accepting the invitation to be apart of my blog series and sharing all about the Art of Calligraphy! It's always a pleasure hanging out with you! Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom that you would like to share? ARS: Thank you for having me, I really enjoyed this interview! My last thoughts: I like to use my calligraphy as a way to connect with people. Not everyone has an appreciation for the time, effort and yes, sometimes tears that go into pieces. But it is such a graceful art that transcends time, languages, continents, cultures, race, religion, everything - that it's certainly one that I intend on continuing my own education in. And I look forward to teaching or creating for anyone who comes along and wants to explore this wonderful art that I hold so dear to my heart.
Photo Courtesy to: Cygnus Studio Facebook photos.