When it comes to projects of the epistolary variety, calligrapher Ashantai Yungai, founder of Distinctive Inscriptions, isn’t one to back down from a challenge. So, when a bride asked him to pen 1,000 envelopes for her Hawaiian wedding, he not only agreed, he blogged about the two-week-long endeavor. With a good nib, a little Joni Mitchell and a bag of flour, he proved victorious. Perhaps it’s Yungai’s science background (he’s a chemist by trade), but it seems as though he has found the formula for the perfect flourish.
Of course, we would never ask him to share his ‘secret sauce,’ be he does share with us missives pertaining to pens, sisters and the future of the handwritten word.
When did your interest in calligraphy begin?
June 2008. I am a chemist by trade. A friend saw my handwriting in my lab notebook and asked, “Did you write that? Wow man, that’s pretty cool! You should do calligraphy. People do wedding invitations and envelopes using calligraphy.” I thought little of it at the time. I bought a calligraphy pen on a whim one day while shopping for art supplies for my son. I began writing with it. From there I was off to the races.
Whether you’re into swirly or straight, diminutive or daring, she can turn initials into works of art. A monogram, after all, is the ultimate expression of individuality. So it made sense, then, that we get personal about, well, getting personal.
When did your interest in the monogram begin?
My interest in monograms began shortly after being hired by Crane. I was hoping to develop an art-based career. I found such an opportunity in making monograms. Monograms allowed me to become creative, thereby making them my art.
We love a good love story.
But our favorite is that of Pen and Paper.
Thus, we were delighted to pick the brain of Rick Propas — a specialist for Swann Auction Galleries, where he directs the newly created Department of Fine and Vintage Writing Instruments — whose first pen was given to him more than 50 years ago.
“In the Jewish tradition, it’s customary to give a boy a fountain pen at his bar mitzvah,” Propas explained. “I didn’t get one, and when I complained to my dad, he pulled out his own pen and gave it to me.”
Propas has been collecting vintage pens ever since.
We’re adoring fans of Mrs. Lilien and her fancy finds. So we were delighted to hear she was coming out with a book. We were even more delighted when we found out it was a book titled “Mrs. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook,” a collection of 50 classic recipes that have been updated with a modern twist and fashionable accoutrement.
Because one good hostess quality (serving stellar sips) deserves another (sending stellar stationery), we thought it made perfect sense to ask our new favorite dinner party guest about our favorite fancy subject: correspondence.
When did your interest in all things fancy begin?
August 10th, 1979. There hasn’t been a day in my life that I haven’t been possessed by my love of all things fancy!
Why do you enjoy writing about letters and/or correspondence?
Because it’s ladylike + because it’s FANCY!
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
Probably signing my rather gargantuan and rather flamboyant signature.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt — without question. In my fantasy she begins each letter with “OMG…”
To whom do you most often write?
Love letters to Mr. Lilien.
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
A wildly amusing ditty from my friend Mr. Adler regarding my gifted urn (aka: my final resting place).
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
Fine, thick paper and subtle yet extravagant detailing, such as embossing, letter press, color edging. These pieces always get opened first!
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I’m always a fan of the silver screen actresses of yesteryear. Nothing screams class quite like a little bit of Audrey Hepburn on the upper right hand corner.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
Inside of every Mrs. Lilien correspondence that I send, I always sprinkle just a few gold sequins into the envelope for an added touch of glam!
The one etiquette rule you never break?
Be a lady in all things — while this is vague, it covers vast no-no’s that I find abhorrent.
The quote you live by?
“Go big or go home!”
Quite often we get asked about one particular wedding invitation design we offer. More specifically, we get asked about the ‘font’ on that invitation.
The font in question, we tell them, is actually calligraphy done by one Angela Welch.
When did your interest in calligraphy begin?
Before the age of six for sure. In first grade I never knew my place in the reader when my teacher called on me to begin reading — I was too busy trying to write a “fancy” alphabet of my own.
My first calligraphy job was in the sixth grade and a teacher asked me to letter, in Old English, the heading of a flyer to be printed. I loved the challenge of making a beautiful mark with lots of different mediums. My fascination with flourishing as a whole arm movement began in the third grade.
Without the help of many outstanding women, Crane & Co. wouldn’t be the esteemed company it is today. She hand-borders personalized notes and cards with meticulous care. She speaks with customers to make sure each and every order is exactly what they’d hoped for and more. They letterpress. They design. They crunch numbers.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked our female staffers to recall their favorite quotes from their own mothers, grandmothers & even great-grandmothers. What transpired were missives on everything from fellows and fashion to dreams and decorum.
Enjoy, and Happy Mother’s Day!
- “When you educate a mother, you educate a family.”
- “Attitudes are more important than facts.”
- “On a galloping horse, who’s going to notice?”
- “If two people agree on everything, then one of them’s not necessary.”
From Gayle: “In all my years, I never got a card or letter from my grandmother (Merle Bottoms) on behalf of herself and daddy Jim (my grandfather) that didn’t end with the phrase ‘We love you and are so proud of you.’
This has sustained me and many members of my family during times good and bad. A few years ago, after she died at the age of 97, I scanned an old letter and printed the phrase (on Crane paper, of course) and framed it for my siblings and cousins so we can be reminded of their love for us.”
Whether stationery is your business or your pleasure (or, hopefully, both), Nole Garey’s blog, Oh So Beautiful Paper, is essential reading. Every day the Washington D.C. resident satisfies our appetite for stunning invitations, charming greeting cards, wonderfully unique personalized stationery and anything else fit to be inked. Here, the GW grad talks postage preferences, growing up with creative parents and why it’s important to write to the person you see every day.
Briefly describe your work and its connection with the post.
I am the editor and publisher of Oh So Beautiful Paper. I review submissions of work from independent artists and designers, choose my favorites, then create a post around the submitted work. I always include an introduction with my own thoughts about the work, but I also try to include something from the designer about the origin of the project, including the purpose of the project, inspiration sources, and printing specifications.
When did your interest in paper begin?
I’ve always been interested in design; my father worked as an advertising copywriter and my mother is an accomplished non-professional artist. As a kid, I was exposed to art and design and encouraged to explore creative outlets. Although I studied political science and international economics in college, I took a printmaking course that gave me some basic instruction in screen printing, letterpress, and etching. But it wasn’t until I became engaged to my husband and started to explore the world of wedding invitations that I truly fell in love with paper and the stationery industry.