A teacher in elementary school wanted Abbey Gillette to learn cursive writing one letter at a time.
Gillette wanted to jump ahead
because she loved the way cursive
â€śI was like, Iâ€™m just going to learn cursive on my own,â€ť Gillette said. â€śI just want to write in cursive.â€ť
Every passion set its roots somewhere back in time.
More than two decades later, Gillette, 32, writes in cursive for a living.
Gillette started StoneFawx Studios out of her Scott Township, Lackawanna County, home two years ago centered on her specialty â€” calligraphy, a highly stylized version of cursive writing that dates back centuries.
Other stationery producers can offer products like wedding invitations with stylish lettering from computer programs.
Few produce them by hand, using the broad-tipped pens or writing instruments of calligraphers pretty similar to the ones the founders of the United States of America scratched across parchment to declare the new nationâ€™s independence.
In immersing and teaching herself calligraphy, the kind of handwriting on the Declaration of Independence, Gillette gained a certain freedom herself 240 years later.
â€śTo be very epic, yes,â€ť Gillette said. â€śIt just makes my blood pump, itâ€™s really the most exciting thing and most fun thing Iâ€™ve ever done.â€ť
Debi Zeinert, president of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting, a national organization that promotes calligraphy, said Gillette is part of a massive growth of interest in calligraphy fueled by the internet with â€śgazillionsâ€ť of modern calligraphers earning money across the country.
â€śThe popularity has never been greater than it is now,â€ť Zeinert said. â€śThereâ€™s many stories just like hers.â€ť
For as long as she can remember, Gillette felt artistic and her mom encouraged her. She studied dance â€” ballet, tap and jazz. Her mom drew so she drew as she grew up. At Valley View High School, most students took a single art class a year. When she could, Gillette took two, drawing in charcoal, painting, sculpting.
She also loved computers, and developed a knowledge that helped when she studied graphic design at Philadelphia University. Nowadays, computers rule graphic design.
After graduating, she designed advertising and promotional materials for Hollywood Tans and managed one of the tanning chainâ€™s salons. She also freelanced and planned to move to the West Coast. She came home to stay with her parents in Lackawanna County to prepare for the trip in 2011.
She never headed west.
She happened to reacquaint herself with Jayme Gillette, a childhood friend. They married in 2016 and their connection after she returned from Philadelphia and a general feeling that maybe California wasnâ€™t such a great idea led her to stay here.
â€śItâ€™s a big risk, thereâ€™s a lot of planning, a lot of money involved,â€ť Gillette said. â€śIt wasnâ€™t a priority any more.â€ť
Her love of computers led to a job at a local software company. Frustrated there, she joined a Wilkes-Barre company, Advertising Outsourcing, that designed advertising, which provided more of a creative outlet. She moved to Mac Sign Systems for two years after that, but the ultimate rush still eluded her.
â€śIt really wasnâ€™t my forever job,â€ť Gillette said. â€śI found that I wanted to do something else, I wanted to do something more hands on. More drawing, more pencil to paper type stuff.â€ť
The answer arrived as she planned her wedding. She wanted invitations that stood out.
She knew nothing about calligraphy, except that calligraphy intrigued her. She saw it on wedding invitations and while studying graphic design.
â€śIt was always gorgeous to me, but oh my God, I could never imagine myself doing that,â€ť she said.
For her wedding, she more than imagined it.
She designed her wedding invitations on a computer, but for the envelopes and the tags on potted plants that served as wedding favors, she turned to calligraphy. She never tried calligraphy before but taught herself using her artistic eye, tenacity and determination to make her wedding stand out. She practiced for months before actually addressing the invitation envelopes.
Wedding attendees asked her to do it for them. After she posted work on Instagram, strangers asked.
â€śI got to the point where I wanted to do something for myself and I (had) always told myself I never wanted a business, which is hilarious,â€ť she said.
She began producing custom art fashioned out of words written in calligraphy. She can also draw customized illustrations without calligraphy, but her calligraphic skills separate her from others locally, she said.
Her work does not come cheap. An average wedding can cost $3,000 to $5,000, depending on how elaborate someone wants to go.
â€śItâ€™s a luxury business,â€ť she said.
As expensive as it sounds, remember, Gillette hand-addresses each envelope, and sometimes the place cards and other aspects.
Her wedding dabbling has turned into a serious business. Gillette has joined the national calligraphers group, and plans to keep studying.
â€śThey have conferences, you go to them,â€ť she said.
With a small stainless steel lamp lighting a blank page and her face, she pressed a calligraphic pen to the paper to demonstrate her skills. She works out of a second-floor office behind a desk that adds the formality of a business. The office started in the basement, but she found that too depressing.
No one who meets her will find Abbey Gillette depressing.
She bubbles with energy as she explains her craft and the evolution of her business.
â€śItâ€™s more satisfying creatively,â€ť Gillette said. â€śThereâ€™s limitations (in computers) â€” and I donâ€™t mean like thereâ€™s limitations in terms of technology â€” but youâ€™re working with a program, itâ€™s still very mechanical.â€ť
Holding a pen to produce calligraphy feels more human.
â€śEverybody wants nice handwriting,â€ť Gillette said. â€śAnybody can write a letter to Santa with a Bic pen, but is it special?â€ť
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9147
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