Wedding Invitation and Calligraphy Chat with Itsy Kliman, Thursday, March 27 at 11 AM

About 25 years ago, Itsy Kliman started Greenbelt-based Calligraphy by Itsy because, well, she loved calligraphy, and she wanted other people to love it, too. Ask her any wedding-invitation related question you like.

Host: Itsy Kliman

Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.

About 25 years ago, Itsy Kliman started Greenbelt-based Calligraphy by Itsy because, well, she loved calligraphy, and she wanted other people to love it, too. Business took off, and now she’s busy doing invitations, menu designs, place cards, poems, banners . . . you name it, she’ll put it to script. Click here to see a sample of Itsy's work. To contact her, call 301-345-3945.

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Hi, everyone!

I am absolutely delighted to chat with you this morning on Washingtonian.com.

Being a pen and ink person, I am not too good with mechanical devices (read: spiffy, high-powered laptop) but I'll do my best to respond to your queries. ... So, fire away!

Itsy 

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Washington, DC
Thanks for taking questions! We just got engaged and we're thinking about doing a beach wedding. Do you have ideas for cute invitations?

Beach wedding, huh? Wish I could join you. It's a lot of work keeping brides/grooms happy calligraphing their wedding invitations.

You obviously are interested in a casual type invitation. Although I don't sell invitations, I know there are many suppliers -- on and off the internet. You shouldn't have any trouble locating something just right ... and when you do, bring them and your invitees list to me. 

DC
What's the going rate right now per invitation? We need to send about 150.

Going rate? I only know what I charge.

My basic rate is $1.60/outer envelope. For inner envelopes, add $1.15 each. 

A basic charge includes black ink and unlined inner envelopes. Oh, by the way, you want to supply at least 10% extra envelopes.

Here's a secret: nobody's perfect. Even your calligrapher may make mistakes!

(One more word of advice: buyer beware. Be sure to ask for a sample of the calligrapher's work.) 

Washington, DC
We are thinking of doing save-the-date postcards to save on mailing costs. Have you seen anyone do this? Is there a place where we can create our own postcard? (maybe with our picture?)

Save-the-Date cards are quite popular -- without and without photos; I've seen both kinds.

If your budget allows for this additional expense and you feel it's worth it -- go for it. But certainly not essential.

DC
How often do you have people ordering place cards for dinner tables? I don't know if I should do assigned seats or just assigned tables.

It all depends on how formal the affair. Some people have actually used escort cards, place cards AND table cards.

Seat cards would not be necessary, obviously, at a buffet.

Table cards are not limited, by the way, to a mere number. One couple I did a job for not long ago -- a couple that does a great deal of traveling -- chose to have places they'd been to included on the table cards (Puerto Rico, Heidelberg, Paris, etc.) to make it a little more exciting.

They came out beautifully. 

Shirlington
Thanks for doing this chat! What's the craziest invitation you've ever been asked to do? 

Ha -- let's see  ... I guess that would have been a surprise luncheon for my client's mother's 80th
birthday celebration. It was a fold-over, and on the front of the card he added a photo of the guest of honor, which would have been a lovely touch except that the photo was 62 years old!

Another unusual one ... a Christmas "gift," a love message from a fictional character from a past century adored by the woman to whom this was being sent. It came out real cute with the edges burnt to add credibility to the age of the message.

 

Rockville, Md.
Do you work by hand or by computer? Your writing looks so gorgeous. Lisa

If you talk to a calligrapher who uses a computer, run the other way -- please.

The dictionary defines calligraphy as "beautiful and elegant HANDwriting." A computer font is just that -- a computer font; it cannot pass as calligraphy. 

The result from a static machine lacks the fluidity and beauty that comes from the hand of an excellent calligrapher. I guarantee that a computer-addressed invitation will never elicit the remarks of praise my clients receive. After all, the envelope is the first thing seen -- an introduction to what's inside.

Alexandria, Va.
What style do you use when you address wedding envelopes?

Not "styles" -- alphabets. And all alphabets -- there are hundreds -- can be calligraphed.

The majority of wedding invitations call for "copperplate," or "fancy script," as some ask for. The sample of my work you see on this page is copperplate.

"Italic" is also popular, but much less used for wedding invitations. For example, I tend to use italic for poems and not consider copperplate. In other words, using the appropriate alphabet for the job. 

Once, I had a woman come to me who asked if I could do an art deco font for a wedding, a pretty unusual request. Problem is, there's no such thing as an art deco alphabet. I showed her a sample of an alphabet called "uncial," and she exclaimed, "Ooh, that's perfect! That's art deco." 

Alexandria, VA
My fiance and I wrote our own vows and I think it would be a really romantic present to write them up and frame them. Have you ever done anything like that?

Absolutely. I love those kinds of jobs.

Not long ago, a recent bride wanted to cherish the loving vows written by her husband.

The funny part of this story is that Maxine kept goading Bill for weeks before the wedding -- "Have you written your vows yet?" She hounded him about this and hounded him about this, and when it came time for the ceremony, Bill produced the romantic, loving vows I later calligraphed, but Maxine had to ad-lib hers because she had forgotten to write them down! 

Germantown, Md.
How much advance notice do you need? Enjoying the chat! Thanks. Roberta

Thank you, Roberta!

As far as "advance notice," that really depends on the size of the job. The average time for the average wedding list is approximately two weeks. Place cards, of course, are another story since they're sort of last-minute-ish. I ask for one week for those.

But of course, like anything else -- the sooner I have things in my hands, the better. 

Falls Church, Va.
Do you ever get bored just addressing envelopes?? Curious ...

NO!! I am in a happy business. I make my clients happy. And when the job is finished, the oohs and aahs make me feel as good as the payment.

I am fortunate to have never had a dissatisfied client, and I have received many thank-you notes, referrals and even raves on wedding websites by my clients.

Chevy Chase, MD
Of course my Great-Great-Grandmother will be an honored guest at my upcoming wedding, and I want to send her an invitation as beautiful as all the rest, but her full name (I kid you not!) has 67 characters (age brings complex nomenclature). My calligrapher, however, has informed me that her name is simply too long for the font and style I've chosen. I don't want to have to compromise on even one invitation, and it would be disrespectful to great-great-grandmother, anyhow. Should a good calligrapher be able to write a name no matter its length? Or are some names just impossible, and do I have to choose a different kind of font -- or a more concise version of Grandma's name?

Compromise on font and style? Well ... Let me explain my feeling on this.

First, most wedding envelopes are large (thankfully), which makes them easier to work with. Second, when faced with extra-long names, the calligrapher can choose to work with a smaller pen. For example: when working on place cards, the writing space is sometimes only three inches to fit -- for instance -- "Gwendolyn Harris Golding" becomes a challenge, but not impossible. Working in copperplate (see my sample at the top) and a small pen -- presto, it fits!

occoquan, va
My wife and I are really into tattoos, among other things, and we would like to get tattoos of each other's names on our forearms, in beautiful Old French - style calligraphy. Is there any way we could ask our wedding calligrapher to collaborate with a tattoo artist we know and trust to create the final product? Can you help us envision the best way to make this logistically possible? We are exchanging tattoos instead of rings, you see.

Wow. Sounds intriguing!

The calligrapher's concern is always to find the compatible pen for the writing surface, the compatible ink, etc. So -- once the calligrapher does a beautiful job -- on paper -- how can she know how true it will appear upon transference?

But I'd be game to explore this.

Potomac
Itsy, It sounds like you truly love what you do. But I imagine there must be a downside to what you do. Right?

Well, okay -- you asked. I hate working from lists done on Excel. It's hard on the eyes and unnatural for me to go across the page.

If I had my druthers, all my clients would use columns -- I read columns vertically. And sometimes (to my delight) people do ask -- and comply.

Washington DC
Getting married in June '08. When do I need to book a calligrapher by?

Let's work backwards -- you have to mail them 6-8 weeks prior to the wedding; allow two weeks (at least) for the calligrapher. So, late February, early March.

By the way, a tip for all couples. Completely assemble one wedding packet, including maps, RSVPs, etc., and take to the post office to be weighed for postage cost and to allow enough time to get "LOVE" stamps (if they don't have them on hand).

Also, not too expensive, but a wonderful touch -- consider your own photo stamps. 

Ellicott City, Md.
Is it hard to learn calligraphy? I plan to be married in the Fall and would like to address my own invitations. Thanks!

How much time do you have to practice? How much patience do you have?

I have taught calligraphy for more than 22 years. The students who are really interested and do lots of practice are, naturally, the ones who stick with it, and produce some nice stuff. For the more casual student (usually scrap-bookers), my condensed course covers materials and enough instruction to produce "Happy Birthday" or "Get Well." 

Preparing for a wedding will probably consume all your time. It's best to contact me when you have your invitations and your list ready. 

VA
We're getting married in 7 months!! At my friend's wedding she had this board with a picture of her and her husband in the middle and all of the guests signed it and then they framed it. I loved it and I'm going to copy her. I think having our names and the wedding date in nice script above the photo would be a nice touch. Do you do special projects like that?

Sure, "special projects" are part and parcel of my job. I enjoy them.

And what you're describing is actually not at all unusual. I did one for my own son's wedding also.

Arlington, VA
Why is it more expensive to use colored ink as opposed to black?

The basic package is black ink. That's standard. That's what calligraphy looks best in.

When you ask for a color, the calligrapher either has to go out and buy a color or mix colors to match your request.

I do a lot of mixing of colors. I remember doing a job for a client who loved the company she worked for so much, she wanted to match the color of the company's logo -- a teal -- for her wedding envelopes! That meant finding the right balance of green and blue, and a lot of mixing until the match was just right. The final product looked fantastic, and when she saw it, she was deliriously happy. But it was a lot of work.

The most difficult one I've ever had was a bride who was having a black-and-white wedding. And she wanted white ink on black envelopes. Calligraphers work on something called a "light box," a kind of slanted, lighted desktop that helps us to insert guidelines on the paper. And with a black envelope, no light could penetrate. It was a very difficult job.

 

Falls Church, VA
My soon-to-be husband and I are looking to create a family seal, just like in the olden days, and we would like to include it on our invitations. Would our calligrapher be able to help us in this task, or should we seek the help of a different type of wedding-related graphic artist?
Without having seen the seal, it's hard to answer. My guess would be that you'd probably be better off talking with a graphic artist.
Dupont
Is it tacky to send save-the-date emails instead of cards? Just want to save where we can.

Here's the thing: How certain can you be that everyone you wish to invite has email?

Tacky? Well, it would probably provoke a lot of discussion, not necessarily the best kind. Are invitations the part of your wedding expense? If so, you can probably design one from those available online and address them by hand -- a labor-intensive task if you're pressed for time. 

MD
I'm not engaged but I hope you'll take my question! I think calligraphy is such a cool field...how did you get started? Where could I take classes?

Learning calligraphy was always an interest of mine. I played around for a long time, trying to learn it by myself. Not impossible, I guess, but certainly not the best way to go. I signed up for calligraphy courses and began the study of alphabets, which I found fascinating -- learning where each alphabet came from: Foundational, or Basic, alphabet from the Romans, Old English, or Gothic, from England, Italic from Italy, and so on. Copperplate, a pointed pen alphabet takes its name from the printer's copper plate. 

After a number of calligraphy classes with so-so instructors I had the very good fortune to meet a highly qualified teacher, an author of four calligraphy textbooks. At that point, I had to relearn all that I had gotten prior to her wonderful teaching. When she felt I was ready to teach, she said, "go for it," and I did.

Classes are available at many community centers throughout the area.

I give an abbreviated two-hour session at a local crafts store -- Michael's in Laurel -- that covers materials and a basic introduction to italic writing. I'm always happy to have more eager students. To register, contact Michael's in Laurel. The class is Fridays from 1-3.

Anyway ... It's time to sign off, but I can't leave without thanking everyone who participated in making this such a wonderful chat by asking such excellent questions. I thought I would have to sweat through it, but instead I breezed through it.

If you have any more questions, I can be reached at 301-345-3945. I'd be happy to be your wedding calligrapher.