Having unexpectedly discovered a gift for calligraphy, Danielle Rothman has made it her mission to bring the joyful craft of letterwork to the masses, offering workshops and classes as a part of her blossoming business, Rothbyrns Creative. In addition to selling her wares on Etsy and at various markets, Danielle creates custom work for every occasion, combining her sense of aesthetic with the needs and wants of her clients. We caught up with Danielle to hear about the road from the non-profit sector to full-time calligraphy, and what it really takes to overcome your handwriting
How long have you been doing calligraphy?
I’ve been doing calligraphy for a little over a year and a half.
What got you started?
My friend bought me a coloring book for the holidays back in 2015, and it took a little while to find the time to use it, but when I did – it was magic! I had always thought that I couldn’t be creative in this way, and that was wrong. It took a lot of the pressure off, so I started coloring and it was this wonderful, stress-relieving thing. I was using colored pencils, but I’d always been a markers girl, so I bought these markers. They were very expensive, so I kinda freaked out a little bit after I bought them, since they were an investment. I started Googling to see what else I could potentially do with the markers, and I found my first lettering video. I remember falling in love with lettering when I saw this video – it was a beautiful pink and green quote from Martin Luther King, and it used this weird paper, which of course now I use all the time. It was amazing, and I realized I need to be doing this. It took me a couple of months to get the hang of it – the first time I tried, I ended up throwing the marker across the room in frustration because it was so hard. Then I found a different marker which was a little easier to use – that was at the end of May, and that was it, by then I was hooked. By the end of July I finally felt confident enough to post some of my stuff online, and a friend from graduate school found me on Facebook and asked if I do wedding envelopes, and I said, sure! I officially started my business in September, because after you write 200 wedding enveloped for 22 hours you get pretty good at what you’re doing. That was great, and then I learned pointed pen, but I think the biggest turning point for me was when I started teaching in April. That’s really when it all came together for me, because I’ve always loved that connection, of teaching, helping people do something that looks really hard, and show them that it’s not, and that they can do it.
What do you love about calligraphy?
What I love about calligraphy is how colorful it is, and how it just combines all of these wonderful things that I’ve wanted to do in one package. I’ve always been interested in design, I’ve always loved quotes and colors, and I always wanted to bring these things together, but I never knew how to get started – calligraphy has been that window for me, a way to discover and find new things that I love. Beyond the writing, which is amazing and fun and fantastic, I love that calligraphy has enabled me to have my own business and teach, and do all of these things that I truly love doing. It’s super relaxing, it’s something that you can do anywhere. It’s also been really cool from a business standpoint – as great as the calligraphy itself is, what it’s enabled me to do is even better. I’ve always wanted to build a community, to be a resource for people, and being able to combine that into a job where I get to be my own boss and just run with it, has been really amazing. I really didn’t expect to be a calligrapher, but with all the different things that it’s enabled me to do – it just makes so much sense!
What’s been the toughest part of establishing yourself professionally?
The toughest part has been that it’s come out of left field for a lot of people around me. It was saying to people who haven’t seen me in a while that, yeah, I’m a calligrapher, and this is what I do now – trying to contextualize it for them. I come from the non-profit world, having worked at a non-profit for four years, so when I see someone from there, they assume I’m still a part of that world. The minute I tell them that I teach, they get it, like “oh, of course you teach! That makes so much sense.” So for me, it was about finding that confidence and realizing that what I’m doing is very different from what I thought I’d been doing. I’ve been really fortunate in that my family, my husband and friends have been extremely supportive from the beginning. No one around me thought I was crazy, or that this makes no sense for me to do.
Do you have any other creative hobbies or specialties?
One of the reasons calligraphy was such a surprise for me, was that growing up I had this weird idea that you could only be creative in one way, and I chose singing. I sang throughout my whole childhood, taking classes, and I was even in a chorus for a few years here in New York. It was always something really near and dear to me, but that was it. So when I started doing calligraphy, it was this sudden change, this new discovery that I can do this.
You write a lot of inspirational quotes – can you tell us one of your favorites? Maybe one that’s helped keep you motivated through your career.
One of my favorites is an Edna St. Vincent Millay quote: ‘My candle burns at both ends;It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light!‘
It’s one of my favorites since starting out, calligraphy was a side hustle for me, and I was just working all the time, and I thought it would end when I went full-time, but it didn’t. This idea of pushing yourself, that you can do much more than you think you can, really resonated with me.
What’s one tip you’d give someone who wants to start practicing calligraphy?
What I hear a lot from people when I tell them I’m a calligrapher is this knee-jerk reaction, of “Oh, I have such terrible handwriting, I could never do calligraphy!” So I would say, don’t let that stop you. You don’t have to have good handwriting – there’s a great day in April, National Handwriting Day, and all of my friends now post things like “This is my regular handwriting – even doctors couldn’t read it.” But they also post things like “This is my calligraphy handwriting, and it’s beautiful.” You can always find inspiration in the alphabet and make it your own. The number one thing I’d tell anyone who wants beautiful handwriting is to slow down – to go so slow that you get bored as you’re writing out words. To take it down a few notches, because that’s what works. I think we all usually want to go fast, especially in New York, so the act of slowing down, of being mindful in your writing, is a really big part of my class. Anyone can do that.
What’s one tip you’d give someone who’s wants to start a career in calligraphy?
For someone who wants to become a calligrapher professionally, and to start a business, or simply to take it to the next level, the number one piece of advice I’d give is to find your people – whether that’s in person or online as a part of Facebook groups, Instagram accounts you follow, or bloggers you can start a dialogue with. That’s really what’s going to help – finding the folks who have done this before. One of the things that has been so gratifying for me is finding these creative groups – whether it’s where I teach, or a group of Etsy sellers I’m a part of, it’s been incredibly amazing to build those relationships. That’ll also help you gain confidence and learn to navigate, because you’ll have your own board of advisors. It doesn’t have to be calligraphy – I have someone I go to for graphic design questions, another person for business and finance related questions, since that’s a big thing, too. It’s really about finding those folks to help you.
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