We had the pleasure of meeting Alex of Prairie Letter Shop in person at our 2015 Seattle, Washington workshop and she is just as wonderful as you might imagine. We are so inspired by Alex and the creativity and authority she has over her craft. We are so excited to be chatting with her today... so without further adieu...let's dive right in!
When did you start your business/blog?
My business started in 2013, when I had recently moved from New York City to Oklahoma. I was coaching teachers and spent a ton of time in my car and in front of the computer. I desperately needed a creative outlet, and my manager urged me to open an Etsy shop, something I had always wanted to do. I started with hand-lettered envelopes and soon after, I added rubber stamps at the request of a friend. Rubber stamps took off overnight thanks to a friend's influential social media post, and my shop took on a life of its own. For about a year, I spent all of my late nights and weekends processing orders, shipping packages, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Though I loved working on behalf of students, the drive I had for my business was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I spent a year saving every penny I earned, and quit my job coaching teachers in 2015 to pursue my business full-time.
Where does your passion stem from?
I have always had a passion for lettering. In school, some kids were good at sports or math--I was good at handwriting! I would routinely re-write hand-lettered notes and worksheets, trying to make them as beautiful as possible. I addressed my aunt's wedding invitations as a sixth grader. My passion for art took a back seat to my passion for teaching reading, which quite honestly consumed my life in my early twenties. Though I had no time to pursue creative hobbies as a teacher, decorating my classroom and hand-lettering my students' daily packets was one of my favorite aspects of the job. Once I left the classroom to coach teachers and had more time away from students, I realized that I could fill my free time with the things that I had always loved, like lettering. I started to notice professional calligraphers as Instagram became more popular. My passion deepened as I took private lessons, watched online trainings, and attended workshops.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be? (business, social media, etc.)
As a creative entrepreneur, you have so many options of products and services you can offer. It's tempting to fall into the trap of trying to be everything for everyone. While I don't regret the wide range of skills I've developed in trying so many different offerings in my business, I wish I had started with more clarity on what exactly I wanted to offer and what my boundaries were. As a hand-letterer, the options are so vast! Do you letter on wooden signage? Do you address envelopes? Do you add names to champagne glasses? Do you create custom prints? If you market yourself as an "anything goes" entrepreneur, you'll never specialize enough to attract a true client base. You'll end up taking on projects that frustrate you or make you doubt your expertise. Your marketing efforts will be challenging and it will be difficult to generate genuine referrals for the projects you love most because you won't have the bandwidth to actually do them.
These days, when I'm coaching new business owners, I routinely encourage them to get crystal clear on their product offerings-- a menu of services works for a service-based business, and a price list works for a product-based business. It sounds like a small thing--but even a simple service list PDF is an awesome tool to help educate clients on your boundaries. Especially when we're building our businesses and eager to accept new work, it's tempting to take on every job, ideal or not. A concrete service list helps us give those gentle 'no' answers objectively. When you turn down a less-than-ideal project with a concrete service list, you have an opportunity to share what you DO love to offer. This client can keep you in mind for the next time--and you can generate extra brownie points by suggesting another business to meet their needs. When you provide great service, even in the form of a referral-- a potential client who loves your work will come back when the project is a good fit.
What is your favorite type of lettering to teach, and what advice would you give beginners or hobbyists who want to try their hand at calligraphy?
I teach brush lettering and calligraphy, in addition to a less formal envelope art class. Brush lettering is a joy to teach because my students feel successful faster--and because we practice with a variety of tools--pencils, markers, brushes, and ink. However, I have to say that teaching calligraphy is my favorite. It's more technical, it's more mysterious, and when students start to really get it, it's the best feeling--they look surprised and delighted that they are doing this type of art that feels so far out of reach.
My advice to beginners and hobbyists is to practice a TON without worrying about how "good" the initial result is. Some learners simply check out when they feel like their lettering isn't beautiful right away. I think about how much my lettering has changed over the years (and cringe a little bit, ha!) and know that the only reason I've improved is because I have spent dozens of hours a week in uninterrupted practice. That said, invest in the basics (one class or online workshop perhaps) and then spend the rest of the time practicing as much as you can!
Favorite project AND most challenging project?
While my business started with envelope lettering, rubber stamps and greeting cards, the current focus of my business is invitation design. While I have been blessed with some truly gracious, lovely brides this spring, my favorite project to date was an invitation design that included a dusty blue brush lettering, dusty blue silk ribbon, and a custom painting of the bridge in Scotland where the couple got engaged. All of the colors and textures worked together so beautifully, and the bride was so appreciative and excited. It makes all the difference!
The product that has most challenged me is absolutely my daily lettering journals. While I've always had a "just do it" mentality in my business, designing my first workbook was quite a task, especially since I do not have formal training in graphic design. The second workbook I created was much more technically complicated, and it took hours and hours and hours in front of my computer. I loved the result, though--and being on the other side of the process makes me feel more confident in the next two workbook concepts I am releasing this year--yay!
Three favorite things right now?
1) My husband and I got married a little over a month ago, and we are loving our Hello Fresh subscription! We get ingredients and recipes for three meals delivered every week and have had so much fun cooking together and growing our skills in the previously lacking kitchen department.
2) The three books that have moved me the most in 2017 are Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, and Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen. All three are so worth a read.
3) There are so many fancy tools for lettering. However, I like to stick to the basics. Go to the office supply store and buy a ream of semi-smooth laser copy paper and a pack of classic Sharpies. See how many pages you can fill in a 30 minute stretch! So often we over-complicate our creative passions. Keep it simple. :)
Thanks for chatting with us Alex! You can find and follow alex below!
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