A traditional southern skill is making its way up to the wild and wonderful.
Written by Tessa Bonnstetter
Light table? check. Calligraphy pen? Check. Sumi ink? Check. Way to both woo and treat your guests at your next special event? Check, check. Calligraphist Jen Bischof has an artful and thoughtful way to make a lasting impression on your guests through her growing business, Margaret Madeleine Calligraphy, based in Charleston.
Jen, a former interior designer and elementary school teacher, was first exposed to calligraphy during her college years in Mississippi. “It’s a huge industry in the south. For weddings, formal parties, or any sort of event, it is highly recommended to hire a calligraphist,” she says. One day almost two years ago, Jen’s friend came home from a beginner’s calligraphy class, and that is where her interest began. “She came back with the basic knowledge of calligraphy, so I asked her to teach me. I went out and bought a calligraphy bible and kit from Michaels so I could get started as soon as I could.” Since then Jen has worked on her craft very carefully. She now orders her supplies from specialty shops, researches for hours to stay caught up on current calligraphy trends, and practices often.
Her first gig was for her father’s 60th birthday. Looking back, her work has come a long way. Now she’s done weddings with more than 400 guests, along with miscellaneous parties, place cards, and other items that call for special attention. Her wedding count is 19, and the opportunities keep coming. “I’m working on writing out a poem for my friend as a birthday gift to her husband. It’s a poem he wrote for her many years ago, and she wants to surprise him with it.” Jen says calligraphy is the perfect way to individualize any gesture. “It’s art made especially for someone—no two pieces are alike. For special affairs you want your guests to feel unique and welcomed. Calligraphy does just that.”
Jen says calligraphy is a vanishing art in most parts of the country, but it’s making a comeback. “You’d never think there are as many social media and Etsy accounts dedicated to calligraphy as there are. I’m constantly checking up on other people’s work so I can keep up with what’s new. When I look at other people’s work, it might sound silly, but I’ll think, ‘Wow. That’s an amazing way to write a capital P!’ And I mean that. It inspires me. I am constantly learning and trying to better myself.”
Her clients find her through Etsy, Facebook, and Instagram, and also hear about her business by word of mouth. “Once I begin working on a project, I’ll send the bride or whoever I’m working with a picture of my work to make sure she likes what I’m doing. I think it’s important to always touch base and inform my clients where I am in the process. Knowing that the invitations for a wedding are one less thing for the couple to worry about makes me feel so good that I can relieve them of this task.”
She pays special attention to common trends: colored envelopes with white ink, black envelopes with gold or silver ink, different pairings of paper with envelopes, and even wooden signs reading, “Here comes your bride” carried by ring bearers. Calligraphy has become more modern and less stuffy. Jen says it can satisfy anyone’s taste.
In the future Jen hopes to expand her business and perhaps even teach introductory calligraphy classes. “People need to be more conscious of this beautiful art and all of the possibilities it holds. It’s really the perfect added touch to any scenario and shows a sincere gesture. There is a huge sense of accomplishment when I tie a ribbon on the final stack of invitations, step back, and see my final product.”