How I got started

I am often asked “how long have you been doing calligraphy?” or “where did you learn the art of calligraphy?”, so I thought I would share the story of how I became a full-time calligrapher. People also often ask if I have neat “regular writing,” and the answer is yes, I have always had neat, legible writing, and I have also always been fairly artistically inclined. My grandmother on my dad’s side was a painter and cartoonist for Hanna Barbera, and I used to do some painting in my younger years. At about 12 years old, my mom taught me broad edged calligraphy. I was interested in various art forms, and she thought I would like this calligraphy style.

In the meantime, I took a weekend job working at a booth in the Valley Indoor Swap Meet in Woodland Hills, CA. The company was called Cowboy Chuck, and I was hired to hand-write names, in broad edged calligraphy, on the caricature drawings that they sold in the booth. I loved working there and I’m pretty sure I must have considered myself an “expert” in handwriting. It’s also where I started gaining experience in centering, which would prove very useful later on.

From side hustle to full time

Fast forward to about 22 years old, when my best friend was getting married and I offered to address her wedding invitations. I can’t recall exactly what they looked like now, but my guess is nothing I would consider very good today. However, when my dad’s coworker’s daughter was getting married, my dad volunteered me to address the envelopes. Then my sister’s boss got married…and you know the drill. Lo and behold I was addressing as many envelopes as possible in my spare time mostly through referrals. I was getting paid about $1.15 per envelope {I do not recommend this no matter how much of a “beginner” you consider yourself to be!} until another local calligrapher emailed me and said that I was not charging enough. What she was really saying, in the nicest way possible, was that I was undercutting other calligraphers and also not properly valuing my own time. Please don’t make my mistake. It was completely unintentional on my part – I simply didn’t think I was “good enough” to charge more. But this hurts the industry as a whole and gives clients the wrong idea about what this beautifully time-consuming art is really worth. Industry standards run about $3-$5 per envelope depending on the artist’s experience, specific script, inks, etc.

In the meantime I had finished my Bachelor’s in Business with an emphasis in Management, and I was working at a mortgage company doing the standard 9-5. I knew that was not what I wanted to do, so I continued to do calligraphy on the side until I was able to calculate that I would have enough work to sustain a living. I fully appreciate that I was fortunate to get into this industry early on, both before it became as saturated as it is today, but also before I had increasing financial responsibilities. I only had myself to take care of and in my early 20s could do that on a much lower budget. I can’t recall how many hours a week I spent doing calligraphy back then, but there were a LOT of very late nights to get work done and in my mind I feel like I had to have been doing it every night {although that doesn’t seem possible in reality}. That work ethic has made all the difference to where I am now in my business.

I did any and every job I could just to gain experience, clients and a word-of-mouth reputation. I started working on stationery in addition to calligraphy, and in 2005, when I was 24 years old, I decided to leave the corporate world behind and take on Laura Hooper Calligraphy full-time!

I was living in an apartment in Northridge, CA but ran my “office” out of my old bedroom at my parent’s house {this was really great since all the mess stayed at their place!}. As the wedding industry evolved, calligraphy was becoming more and more popular in the sense that it was not simply an extra cost that your grandmother insisted upon for your invitations. Brides were and still are very excited to invest in calligraphy for their invitation suites. In turn my business continued to grow and finally in about 2009, I moved to Hermosa Beach with my then-boyfriend, Jeremy, and rented a studio space on Pier Avenue in downtown Hermosa where I worked until Jeremy {now husband} and I relocated to Northern Virginia/greater DC in 2013. That first studio in Hermosa Beach was somewhat of a glorified, over-sized closet. I had a desk and chair, a small space for my assistant and tons of stationery, collateral, wood boards, compasses, place cards, etc all over the place. The actual closet also had a restroom and I stored empty boxes in there as well. We’ll just say it was pretty cozy.

Expanding Laura Hooper Calligraphy

Since moving to Virginia, I have significantly expanded my business by bringing on my sister, Alyssa, full-time to run the day-to-day operations. That decision has brought LHC to where it is today. Never underestimate the power of hiring help as your business expands. We each bring a different set of skills which is optimal for growth. Not only has it been an incredibly wise investment to bring her on, but I now have someone to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of whenever things pop up. I used to let my wild ideas slide because I just didn’t have the time to make creative leaps with my business. With someone else to engage with me on big dreams for LHC, those dreams have actually become reality.

Our Shop + Workshops

The first addition to the online shop was party goods. Our family loves making the holidays feel like mini-parties, so adding napkins, coasters, stir sticks, greeting cards and other goodies featuring my calligraphy seemed like a natural step.

Next were calligraphy starter kits + workshops and those have had the largest impact on the business over the past three years. I kept receiving inquiries about how to get started with the art of pointed-pen so I curated the supplies for our starter kit and wrote out the instructional book.

My friends at Karson Butler Events had been encouraging me to hold a workshop in their DC design studio, and with the kits created, I now had a lesson plan. Plus I had Alyssa to help. Personally I am EXTREMELY shy and socially uncomfortable. I don’t do well with “networking” and small talk, etc so it was really wonderful to have Alyssa there to help calm my nerves plus she’s much more outgoing. Her background is in event planning, so it was a relatively smooth transition to taking the workshops to other cities. Our first year we went anywhere we could find a venue and it was a BLAST! We are now on year four and while we still love the workshops, we’ve streamlined to the larger cities to cut back on our own travel & allow for more personal time on the weekends.

In 2016, after two-and-a-half years working out of my home again after the cross-country move, we rented our current studio space. It’s been such a dream to have the space to store all of our shop goods as well as hold our DC area workshops. We also brought on additional staff to help manage the shop and open up more time for me to devote to the handwritten work as the shop orders have grown.

What’s next

Looking ahead, we are continuing with our workshops, expanding our calligraphy supply offerings and also cutting back a bit on my handwritten work. This will *hopefully* allow us to work on some new video courses and other ventures. We have a few collaborations coming out this year as well that we are excited to share more on later.

Great things take time

I’ve been in business for 15 years and I’m still learning about how I can better run my business and push myself artistically. We all have big goals at the start of a new year and want things to happen as soon as possible. Those same goals can quickly become overwhelming – especially when you look at people on social media and compare where they are to where you want to be. Jon Acoff has said “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” No truer words have been spoken when addressing the overwhelming pressures of comparison on social media. You are doing it right, no matter where you are on your calligraphy and/or business journey.