It’s been a while since I introduced a new calligrapher to you, so I’m excited to be launching this new post about Allison McClanahan! Allison is a calligrapher in Midland, Texas, which makes me feel quite at home, since west Texas is where I was born! You may recognize Allison by her Instagram name, @wildwoodcalligraphyandpost, which is also her business name.
I’ve been admiring Allison’s envelope calligraphy for quite a while, and her unique style will absolutely steal your heart. If you’ve ever had a thing for snail mail, your heart will beat a little faster when you feast your eyes on her special deliveries, hand cancelled requests, and endearing messages to postal carriers. I want you to get a little taste of Allison’s artwork and her personality.
Allison, thank you for joining us for the Meet the Calligrapher series! Would you start by telling us about your family?
Sure. I am married, and I have a 6 year old little girl whom I homeschool. We love to travel and spend time outside. We have a National Park pass and use it any time we get the chance. We currently live in Texas, but are looking forward to moving back to Utah this year.
Your daughter is certainly blessed to have your investing so much time into her education. And I think we’ve talked about this before, but I was born in Odessa, just a few miles from you. I can remember the tumbleweed blowing down those flat streets with no trees to stop it. Tell us more about your background, though. Are you originally from Utah?
My dad was in the Air Force, so I didn’t grow up around extended family. The bulk of my childhood was spent in Alaska, and my mom always wrote letters to her far-away family and friends. She encouraged me to do the same and taught me that you always write a thank you note! We liked to make our envelopes pretty (I used a lot of Crayola markers and Lisa Frank Stickers!), and send fun mail. My grandparents recently passed away, and while going through their files, we found all our old letters. It really goes to show how touching physical letters can be to the people we love.
Ah, this gives a little insight as to why you love mail so much! So is calligraphy your “day job” or do you have another career?
It is my job, and I look forward to getting to do more this year. I recently taught a few free classes at our local library, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’d love to teach more this year.
What types of calligraphy do you do?
Mainly dip pen calligraphy. I started brush lettering about four years ago, and dip pen about a year and a half ago.
Wow! You’ve developed such skill in a short time. I did this in the opposite order. I started with dip pen, and then picked up the brush pen. Dip pen is my first love, though. How did you get started? What brought you to calligraphy?
I bought a dip pen a few years ago because I was mesmerized by videos I found on Pinterest. I quickly grew frustrated with the dip pen (I didn’t know much about inks/papers), so I moved into brush lettering instead. Around this time, my family moved across the country, and I became snail mail obsessed as I started writing letters to family and friends. I loved writing letters…. or maybe it would be more accurate to say I loved addressing envelopes! I came back into pointed pen calligraphy when my sister-in-law was getting married, and I offered to address her envelopes. We did a white ink on a merlot envelope, and I’ve not put down the pen since!
Ah…the videos! That is exactly what drew me in as well. How else did you learn?
I started out completely self taught, but a huge turning point in my calligraphy came when I took a private lesson with Melissa Esplin (I was local to her at the time). She is an incredibly articulate and patient teacher, and very generous. I learned so much from her. I recently invested in my first workshops (Flourishing / Envelope Etiquette with Suzanne Cunningham– highly recommend!) as well as some online courses with Design House Prep School. I’ve also joined IAMPETH (The International Association of Master Penman, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting) and enjoy studying the resources they have available on their site.
How timely! My last calligrapher to interview was Melissa, and I did not know the connection between you, but now that I know you lived in Utah, this makes total sense. And I can definitely echo your sentiment about Suzanne’s workshop. I took that same flourishing and envelope etiquettes workshop a few months back, and I gained so much insight and advice from her. These ladies are such a treasure to the calligraphy community.
I always ask this, because a lot of people have misconceptions between handwriting and calligraphy: have you always had beautiful handwriting?
This just goes to show how the two are strangely unrelated. Even though my handwriting has improved since I learned calligraphy, it still tends to digress into its natural, illegible state if I am not being intentional with it. How would you classify your calligraphy (Hobby, Obsession, Side job, Full-time business)?
Obsession that I’m thrilled to make money with!
Yes!! Isn’t it such a privilege to earn income doing something you love! How did you build your business? For example, what specific actions did you take to attract clients?
I started by getting my sales tax permit and DBA. I also got a website with an email attached to it. Then I went to local stationery shops and dropped off samples of my work and a price list. A few never called, but a couple use me or refer me regularly!
That is so cool. I’ve heard several calligraphers say this is what they did to get started. Would you do anything differently with your business if you could go back and start from scratch?
I wish I could have had more confidence in the beginning! I was highly self critical and a nervous wreck every time I got a job. With time, that has abated, but I wish I hadn’t worried so much about it.
I can totally identify with that sentiment. On my first wedding job I tried to make every single letter completely perfect and stressed over it way too much. What is your favorite type of calligraphy work to do?
Envelopes- that’s my zen.
Oh, your envelopes! They make me swoon every time.
What calligraphy or lettering organizations are you a member of?
IAMPETH. I look forward to moving somewhere with a guild I can join because I’d love to have that in-person sense of community.
I wish for you to have a guild, too, because the Birmingham Calligraphy Guild has been such a valuable part of my calligraphy journey. So tell me, besides the basics, what is one supply/tool you can’t live without?
I’ve never tried this tool! But I have more than one friend who uses it. Might need to go on my wish list. Does calligraphy have any special meaning or purpose to you? Describe this.
Calligraphy is very meditative for me. It slows down racing thoughts and calms any anxiety I’m feeling. Sometimes it takes a few envelopes to find my Zen, but I find it incredibly centering.
Sometimes I think that’s the best part of calligraphy–the meditative nature of it. In a world where we’re moving at lightning speed all the time, it’s fulfilling to have an outlet for slowing down. What is your favorite script/style to write?
A slightly flourished Copperplate
And some more favorites. Favorite Nib:
Can I have two? Hunt 101 and Gillott 404
Gouache mixes- so buttery and I like that they dry matte.
Favorite Practice Paper:
Marker paper- it handles ink well and is inexpensive.
What are you learning now?
Right now, I’m learning about marketing and the the business side of business–creating a streamlined business plan, accounting, time management, working on my website–so I can start treating this as a serious business.
That’s the challenge of any small business, I think. Transitioning into “business mode” when you really want to be creating. Hopefully that will go smoothly for you so you can spend time doing what you love! What is your favorite quote or scripture?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For scripture, I try to meditate on the Fruit of the Spirit every day, especially “Peace.”
So tell us about your workspace.
I sit at an old secretary with natural light and plants around me. I’m still working on the best organization and set up. Really that’s code for- it’s a mess. I don’t even know how it happens! I get it clean and pretty- then it’s like little hobgoblins come in and destroy everything when I’m addressing envelopes. It’s bananas. I think another desk and some open shelving would help.
Honestly, I don’t know if anything can help. The very nature of calligraphy means a mess is inevitable. Just as soon as I have all the things in order and put away, I have to use them again. I was just today looking at my own desk and organization and thinking, is there a better way? And I just redid it not too long ago! How do you set the atmosphere for doing calligraphy?
I love this question; it gives me the desire to be more intentional about preparing my space. Right now, I usually turn on my diffuser and put a bag of chocolates on my desk (for every envelope I finish, I eat one…or three). In the winter, I will put a microwavable heat pack on my lap too. Then I choose a podcast and start writing!
Okay now you have me wanting some chocolates!! So what are your favorite podcasts?
In no particular order:
• Were You Raised by Wolves?
• The Black Tapes
•Biz Bash Podcast
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to my podcasts, so now I’m thinking I might need to check into these. They sound intriguing! What are your other hobbies?
I love being outside! Hiking is my favorite activity (and I love bringing along my paints to paint en plein air!). I do not have any hiking within hours of me at the moment (it’s so flat here!), so we walk several miles a day, and lift weights so that when we travel, we can hit the hard trails. My goal is to move back to the high desert paradise of Utah so that we can be on the trails every day. I also love to road trip. I never get sick of traveling.
I live in a mountainous area now, but for quite a while I was in the Great Plains of Oklahoma, not too far from you. It was SO. FLAT. Hopefully you can get back to Utah where you can have a good place to hike!
Have you ever had any calligraphy disasters you would be willing to share?
Oh boy! The worst mistake I ever made was misspelling a name on a commission- I didn’t catch it until after I delivered it. I was horrified! How did I do that?! I was extremely busy that month (probably too busy), so I guess my brain just quit taking in new information. Mortifying. I fixed it right away and surprised the client with some upgrades and a freebie. They were very gracious and thrilled with the extras.
It sounds like you treat your customers with first-class service. That covers a multitude of mistakes! What advice would you give to other calligraphers?
We are our own worst critics. I know how it feels to be so hard on yourself! If you struggle with not being able to finish with a piece until it’s “perfect,” remember that no one else will notice minute flaws. A great way to tell if you are being too hard on yourself is to ask someone else to look. Instead immediately of redoing an envelope or commission where an oval seems wonky or a letter spacing looks a bit off, I ask my husband to look at it. He’s seen a lot of beautiful calligraphy, but he’s not an expert. If nothing jumps out on him, I set it in the “finished” pile. If you pick apart your work for too long, you’ll never finish anything!
That’s great advice in so many ways. I’ve had to set perfection on the shelf so I can keep marching forward. Would you share about a challenge you have faced in your life and/or business and how you overcame that challenge?
I have had several huge life changes in the past couple years which have completely thrown me every time. I lost several family members in a short amount of time and shortly after, we left our dream place to live and pursue a new job in a new state. I don’t knew if I can say I have overcome those challenges, but I used calligraphy to help me not be stagnant. It gave me something to focus on, and gave me goals to work toward so that I can keep moving forward.
This is really an inspiration, Allison. I’m sorry for your losses. I know this must have been a tough couple of years. Kudos to you for continuing on and being a motivation to others.
And speaking of inspiring others, who has had the biggest influence on your life, and would your tell us a little about why?
My mama! I love my mom so much. I am an only child, and my mom was involved in everything in my life. She worked at my school, she later homeschooled me when we moved, she read countless books to me, and she taught me empathy and compassion for others. Throughout my day, I often think, “What would my mom think about me saying this…?” WWMD- What would Mom do? She says she isn’t creative at all, but that’s not true. She has such amazing ideas and the focus to execute them. She’s had so many great projects for me that I never would have thought of. I could go on–my mom is my best friend and the very best grandma to my daughter.
What a blessing that you have such a wonderful mom! I feel the same way about mine! And I know your mom must be super proud of you too. What are some future hopes and dreams you have for your life and/or business?
I hope to continue building my business–I’d love to do more envelope jobs this year as well as some more artwork and/or suites for weddings.
I know your business will continue to grow, Allison, because it is clear that you put your heart and soul into it. I look forward to watching your journey, and especially your beautiful calligraphy as it appears in my IG feed! It has been so inspiring to hear about your business and your life, and I appreciate so much your taking the time to let us have an inside look.
To see more of Allison’s work and inspiration, visit her website at Wildwood Calligraphy and Post, and follow her on Instagram @wildwoodcalligraphyandpost. Be sure to stop by Instagram and thank Allison for participating in this interview!
As a side note, I’ve moved the Meet the Calligrapher series back to a monthly article instead of a weekly one, to give me more time to make you new worksheets! I’m excited about the line up of calligraphers I have to interview and introduce to you, so subscribe to my newsletter for updates when these new articles and worksheets launch.