For our next feature, I want to introduce Elecia from Dancing Pen & Press – she’s a calligrapher turned letterpress and watercolor artist. Learning from Morgan of Ladyfingers Letterpress, Elecia expanded her skill set to expand and appeal to her customer base. Her story is proof that with determination in teaching yourself and the powers of Google, you can learn and do anything. From selling on Etsy to having her own website and soon her own brick & mortar location, here is Elecia! – Megan
Hello, Oh So Beautiful Paper readers! My name is Elecia and I would love to share with you all a bit about us here at Dancing Pen & Press. It started with just a pen and a dream…literally. As a little girl I was obsessed with calligraphy. Going to grade school in New England in the ’80s while most kids had their “erasable” ballpoint pens (that never really erased, did they?), my love of calligraphy and art followed me throughout my teenage years. I started college as a Biology major, but I ended up graduating with a major in Textiles, Merchandising & Design and a minor in Fine Arts. The numerous color theory and color science classes I took did not go to waste. Mixing color is one of my favorite tasks here at Dancing Pen & Press, and we mix a LOT of color!
We custom mix all of our letterpress inks, watercolors, and calligraphy inks. I find it a personal challenge when a client gives me a swatch to get it exact. After working for a few years in corporate retail, I started Dancing Pen in 2008. I learned that there was a “new” type of calligraphy out there. It wasn’t new at all, actually. It was a form of calligraphy called copperplate, dating back to the 1700s. This type of calligraphy uses a pointed dip pen instead of a flat tip. Using pressure on the down stroke of the letterform creates the gorgeous thick and thin lines of this style of calligraphy. This opens the nib and allows more ink to flow through.
I ordered all of the supplies and instructional guides from the United Kingdom because they weren’t yet available here in the States. I didn’t have a website, and had not heard of Etsy, so I put up a listing on Craigslist of all places. Within 24 hours, I had my first job! It was 275 envelopes for a Bat Mitzvah in Boston. More and more jobs came my way, and a few short months later I started my Etsy shop.
For a few years, calligraphy was the bread and butter of Dancing Pen Calligraphy. We offered hand calligraphy envelopes, place cards, vows and simple marriage certificates. I would ask my clients to include one sample of their wedding invitation so I could get a feel for their aesthetic and carry that look to their envelopes. I remember getting my first letterpress invitation in my hands and just fell in love!! I didn’t even know what it was called, but I knew I had to learn how to create something with that type of depth, texture, and handcrafted yet luxurious feel.
After a few minutes on the Internet (Google did not fail me), I learned about the wonder that is letterpress printing. Lucky for me, AS220, a local community print shop offered three-day letterpress workshops. Morgan Calderini of Ladyfingers Letterpress (before there was a Ladyfingers Letterpress) taught the class. I quickly realized that this was a calling for me. I just adored the way that I could “marry” the hand calligraphy I have always loved, with my new crush – letterpress. I scoured local ads and found a Chandler & Price New Style letterpress for the deal of the century at $200. And this is when Dancing Pen Calligraphy, became Dancing Pen & Press.
In 2010, I packed my bags and moved from Rhode Island to sunny Houston, Texas. I wanted to expand my horizons with custom marriage certificates and add more flair to them besides hand calligraphy. My Chandler and Price letterpress isn’t large enough to print an 18×24″ certificate so I knew that I had to learn watercolor! Just like calligraphy, I purchased a book and taught myself that as well. I seriously LOVE the unpredictable nature of watercolor and plan to incorporate it more in letterpress wedding invitations in the near future.
Our business is busy all year long, but depending on the season product popularity ebbs and flows. Late winter to early summer we are humming right along with letterpress invitations, then mid-summer to early fall we are in marriage certificate season, followed by a huge Christmas/Holiday letterpress card season. I love all of the different aspects of what we do. They are all my babies and I could not pick my favorite!
In 2012, Allison joined the team. It was so nice to share some of the responsibilities of running a business. I am also a huge brainstormer, so it’s fantastic to have someone to bounce ideas off of. I have always thought of myself as having a keen eye for color. She helps with quality control, packing up letterpress goodies with care and scheduling.
At this point we were still running our business 100% off of Etsy. We shipped all over the world, but most clients came from Los Angeles, NYC, Australia (yes, Australia!), and the Southern Belle states. Allison and I launched our website exactly one year ago and our new Houston clientele immediately responded.
We like to joke that we should rebrand ourselves as “Swanky Letterpress”, because we are Southern (Allison), and Yankee (Elecia). Did I mention we are huge word dorks? We work well together since we are so different. I love traditional curly calligraphy or trendy gold foil on an invitation, while Allison leans more towards clean lines and a contemporary aesthetic.
We have been wanting to expand to a brick & mortar storefront for a while now. Envelopes, boxes of Crane Lettra paper, pads of watercolor paper, samples, ink cans, watercolor palettes, hot foil stamping machines, and the like have been overflowing to other parts of my not-so-huge house in the past year or two. We have been searching for the perfect location for Dancing Pen & Press to call home. We are THRILLED to announce that we have secured a location, and are in the process of renovating & will open doors the first week of November!! We will of course be posting a photo diary all along the way of our progress. Think dove grey painted wood floors and cabinetry, blush walls, gold…well, we won’t give it all away.
All photos courtesy of Dancing Pen & Press.
Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery column? Please send an email to Megan at megan[at]ohsobeautifulpaper.com for more information.