my calligraphy story
This month marks FOUR YEARS since I launched my business and I thought I’d share what these last four years (and a little earlier) have looked like to get here.
I’ve put together a little timeline of all the steps I’ve taken to get where I am today with photos to match, and at the end I might get a little too honest about the current state of my business. I guess you’ll have to scroll to see!
2007: lettering on the walls
Growing up, my bedroom never got renovated or even painted. I had boring white walls - so I thought I’d start to spruce things up and write out some favourite lyrics and quotes on the wall (with pencil). Unfortunately, since then its been painted over and I never got great photos of it. Using the really blurry, close-up photos my mom took of it all, I pieced together this recreation of my wall to give you an idea of what that looked like! I was 13 years old at the time and thought I was super cool for doing this.
2014: first course + fancy pens
For my 19th birthday, I decided to buy myself a $100 lettering course from seanwes. I wanted to learn more technical skills + learn some tips to make lettering a business and digitize my work. At this point, I can’t even remember if I learned much about lettering (I’m sure I did) but what it really gave me was the confidence to start putting more of my work out into the world and see what happens.
Some of my early work:
Dec 2014: calligraphy!
Until this point, I’d only ever used pens (like Microns!) and brush pens. As I slowly (slooooowwwlllyyy) figured out my lettering style, I decided that I’d like to specialize in script so starting to use calligraphy tools seemed like a logical next step! Yikes, nibs + ink have a bit of a learning curve.
2015: quitting school + starting jennifer bianca creative
All my life I’d planned to become a teacher, and in January of 2015 I started my first semester of university on my way to that goal. I quickly realized that 5 years of schooling didn’t seem that fun in comparison to this new dream I had to be self-employed as a calligrapher.
I felt like I had two options:
1) Be in school for 5 years, build up debt to do so, and come out of it with a serious and steady career.
2) Pursue my new passion + art and perhaps take 5 years to build up to a full-time income. And have no idea where it would end up.
So, I guess we know what I chose! It’s to be determined if I’ll be making a teacher’s salary by September of 2020 (which is likely when I would have started full time work), LOL.
I started Jennifer Bianca Creative in May of 2015, opened up an Etsy shop, started a blog and website, designed some prints, and worked part-time jobs while doing it.
Somewhere along the way, I chose to switch it to Jennifer Bianca Calligraphy - but this point in history is uncertain.
2016 - starting weddings
I started offering wedding work in 2016 because it just made sense! Not tons of calligraphers were in the area doing what I could do - so it felt like a sweet little gap in the world made just for me to fill. It started with some friend’s weddings + styled shoots, and slowly morphed into taking over my entire summer and the summers after!
2019 update? Still doing weddings! Another full summer is ahead of me. Seating charts are one of my favourite things to do.
january 2017 - let’s add some wedding stationery
I did my first wedding show in January, and at the same time I launched my semi-custom stationery line! After doing a summer full of wedding day calligraphy, stationery just felt like the right and logical next step. So I paid $1000 to have a booth at the Wonderful Wedding Show (which was and still is a lot of money). I’m glad I did it, but I learned that I never needed to do a wedding show again.
With the launch of semi-custom stationery, came requests for custom stationery so I started offering that too.
2019 update? I announced earlier this year that 2019 will be my last year doing wedding stationery, and as of this week I am printing my last suite! There’s a high probability I’ll make a few exceptions to this rule, and maybe one day I’ll change my mind - but for now, no more stationery. More details about this later.
april 2017 - workshops?!
In early 2017 I was offered the opportunity to teach calligraphy workshops at the Winnipeg Home Show and I figured, “Why the hell not?” so I jumped in by teaching 3 workshops in 1 day. I taught 30 people that day and it blew my mind, and then I just kept teaching!
2019 update? I’ve currently put workshops on hold for some other teaching ideas I have in mind! ;)
april 2017 - markets
Clearly, 2017 was a pretty big year. Wedding show, wedding stationery, workshops, and now markets got added to my life. I did a lot of markets in 2017, the most I’ve ever done since.
That fall, I went to Scattered Seeds and to Third + Bird once again, and then I took a risk and did two Make It markets. One in Calgary and one in Vancouver. THEY DID NOT PAY OFF. That winter, I learned that Winnipeg is the best and that I don’t need to bother with markets in other areas. In full transparency, my booths at those markets cost me around $1000 each, and I didn’t even make enough at those markets to cover my booth cost (let alone my travel expenses). BIG learning moment, lol.
2019 update? I’m only doing Third + Bird these days - it’s that great! (And markets are that exhausting.)
july 2017 - accidentally becoming full time
In September of 2016 I started working as a substitute Educational Assistant. I got a lot of consistent work from it and I really enjoyed it - and I could say no on days that I had deadlines to finish with calligraphy. Come June 2017, school ended for the summer and I had a full summer of weddings booked… and then I just never went back to a “regular” job.
2018 - business as usual
Through 2018, I kept doing all the things I’ve previously listed: selling prints online, wedding stationery, seating charts, workshops, and markets. I had dreams of accomplishing some other goals, but time slipped by with all the things I was already doing! 2018 was my best year yet with steady growth and steady income, and it felt so good.
jan 2019 - narrowing down my vision and purpose
Late 2018 I found myself wrestling with my purpose in what I was doing. I wasn’t enjoying doing wedding stationery and I wasn’t sure what the point to all of this was. So, I wrestled with my purpose and slowly began to find it. I want to help people share their authentic selves with the world using my calligraphy.
I did a big re-brand and completely re-did my website and the way I do my wedding stationery process. It was a lot of work.
After the re-brand, I realized it still didn’t feel quite right. I realized I needed to start removing things from my business. So, I decided to stop offering wedding stationery + logo work from my services. And it felt so freeing.
It probably warrants it’s own blog post about why I decided to remove wedding stationery from my services. To put it concisely, it was a matter of time and money. Stationery took a lot of time and didn’t make enough money. And that’s the tea. 🤷♀️
2019 - the current state of JBC
The current state of JBC sometimes feels like a mystery. The future of it feels a little scary. I have plans and goals - and often don’t feel like I have enough time to make any of them come to life.
Expect new and exciting things out of the future.
I just finished wedding season, my only spring market, and launched my newest line of prints + cards (along with opening my own shop outside of Etsy)! I’m already so quickly being ushered into wedding day season and am fully booked until the middle of July.
But here’s some truth…
The scariest thing is that, even though I work so much and try so hard, I do not bring in a full time income doing what I do. My business makes great money, but so much gets reinvested right back into it and I feel like I can’t contribute to our life in that capacity that I want to be able to. So, I’m currently trying to figure out how to sell more and make more money and spend less (because the need for this is simply a reality of life) while maintaining my values and staying true to myself. We’ll see!
I wanted to share that as a reminder to anyone who has dreams of taking their creative passion full-time, it takes so much work and time. And that if you thought I was living the dream - I’m not quite there yet. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes it isn’t happening even when it looks like it is from the outside.