“Bees have been a part of my life forever."
This month, guest contributor Juliet Cornick talks to calligrapher and owner of Embellishing the Ordinary, Laura Gillingham, about handwriting, weddings, and how to artistically thrive in the world of calligraphy and beyond.
Laura’s getting married this month
She’s in one of those unfortunate couples who managed to get engaged just as the March 2020 lockdown started. “How come you don’t want to delay it”? I ask. She contemplates, but not much “We want to get on with our lives” she says. She’s thought this one through. And unsurprisingly too, since her business, Embellishing the Ordinary, relies on the wedding industry for a steady drumbeat of clients through the door.
Laura is a calligrapher. She has a swooping, modern style, with ts and rs and fs that launch themselves across the page, making elegant, curly patterns. “When did you know that you wanted to do this?”
“I had a disaster of a second year at university, studying wood and ceramics” she laughs. “So I moved into print and textiles. My tutor looked at my sketchbook and said that my handwriting was too lovely to go to waste, and encouraged me to go away and practice my writing and my style”
“So I went to a charity shop and bought this very book” She turns away from the camera in her artistically chaotic studio and produces a small, dusty looking volume, “The pocket German dictionary!” she beams.
“I basically wrote out the whole book. I don’t speak German, but I love how the German words write, especially with a calligraphy nib.” And there was me thinking that writing out the dictionary was reserved solely for Miss Trunchbull’s detentions in Matilda.
She doesn’t deny she was terrified at the thought of taking her side hustle to the next level. “I’d worked at a luxury stationery printer for a while. They were wonderful and helped me to build the confidence I needed to truly believe I could run my own business. Eventually, it was too much to manage Embellishing the Ordinary at the same time; so I had to quit.”
She’s not looked back. With the in-depth knowledge of the people and the industry, as well as a valuable set of contacts, the training wheels were officially off.
She draws inspiration from postcards and hotel guestbooks
“I love french postcards. The typography is really interesting. I once saw an ampersand while flicking through a hotel guestbook, and the style inspired the ampersand I now use across most of my work”
Perhaps it’s the rich and broad sources of inspiration which have helped fine-tune such a unique and relaxed style. “The hardest thing for young artists is finding their style, their niche. To be successful as an artist, you have to work out what you can do that no one else can and lean into it.” Her commitment to her own niche was made manifest after a meeting with Paul Antonio. Antonio is a master scribe and hugely influential in the calligraphy world. “We met in this vaulted cellar in Marylebone. He was looking for a studio assistant. But I had to walk away. It would have been world class training, but I would have lost my own personal style.”
Embellishing the Ordinary has now comfortably earned its place in the luxury stationery and handwriting sector
Wedding stationery has always been her bread and butter, but she does poetry and lyric scribing, maps, menus, large scale installations with illustrations, as well as cards. Her bestselling card shows an intricately painted image of a bee.
“Bees have been a part of my life forever. One of my first memories is my mum in a beekeeping outfit. She kept hives at the bottom of the garden”
“They’re such friendly creatures; but what they do for the environment is amazing, and essential. It makes for a rich creative territory” That’s why ten percent of all of her sales from the bee cards go to the British Beekeeper’s Association. “And how do you continue to expand on such a rich creative territory without the work becoming repetitive?”
The answer: collaboration. After meeting poet and actor Lizzie Bourne, the two decided to work together on a full bee artistic series. “She came up with the idea that I should draw three bee-inspired illustrations and give them to her, about which she would write three poems. And vice versa. She wrote three poems and I drew illustrations to match”
The beautiful, though provoking pieces reflect Laura’s movement towards illustration and watercolours; plentiful in her maps, menus and placecards. “As I’ve gone on, people see me more as an artist than a calligrapher” she says.
“It can be mundane. Writing out seventy note cards which all say the same thing is repetitive, so you need stamina. But the best part is watching it all come together.”
She’s deeply proud of the business’s organic growth. So when she was faced with the pandemic last year, and a loss of her wedding commissions, she quickly adapted. “I jumped onto Mother’s Day, upped the ante on social media and positioned myself as a hand-written moonpig. It was a good year in the end”
She’s welcoming the wedding industry getting back up and running again though. “If anything just for my own! We’re hoping to have a party this summer”
As she well deserves. Laura has built a business completely authentic to herself and her style; never-compromising and ever-adapting. In a world that continues to throw curveballs, it’s an attitude like this that will surely set up Embellishing the Ordinary to endure.
Find out more about Laura and her creations here. You can also follow her on Instagram.
Written by Guest Contributor Juliet Cornick