Long ago and far away at Oklahoma State University, a young man from a one-horse town decided to enroll in an architectural design class. His roommate had already spent 3 semesters in the class and the young man in this story was mesmerized by the beautiful drawings his roommate created in that class. He would wander around Gunderson Hall where the architectural students created their futuristic and sometimes contemporary architectural designs of hospitals, ski lodges, office buildings, and small churches. There were always paintings and drawings displayed along the halls and inside the big room where the students worked day and night to meet their assignment deadlines. He appreciated the drawings and designs. He absolutely LOVED the hand lettering those student did on their projects. That alone fascinated him enough to change courses in his curriculum.
The young man enrolled in that class in January, 1961. The class’s first assignment was to letter something with a calligraphy pen after the professor had demonstrated how to make some large letters on the blackboard with a piece of chalk. By the end of the semester, this student aced the class and became the best hand-letterer in the class of 50. For the self-teaching he developed, his work was quite good and stood out from all the rest who didn’t choose to continue using the chisel-edged calligraphy pen. Being so in love with the beautiful letters he created, he didn’t spend much time with the calculus, chemistry, and humanities courses that semester. He made pretty letters with that fifteen cent pen every spare moment he had. It was more fun than studying.
Shortly after moving home for a summer job at the end of that spring semester, the dean of men at OSU sent a personally-signed letter to the student. In so many words, the dean said the student’s grade point average for the semester was less than a whole number and suggested he make other plans for the fall. The student was distressed for about 10 seconds, then figured being an architect was not to be. At the end of the summer, he went to Dallas. Got a job with Frito-Lay as a draftsman….doing detail drawings of equipment to make Fritos. His lettering got better during that year.
He then took a job at Texas Instruments, again doing mechanical drawings for the engineering department. He practiced his printing and lettering every day. His blueprints outshined all in the department…at least his lettering did. After three years of that he got a job selling for a manufacturer’s rep firm. Air conditioners. Roof fans. Vibration isolation stuff. Yuk. He hated it.
Three years of selling and interviewing dozens of Dallas firms all that time, WFAA TV in Dallas hired the guy based on his lettering and way with words. So he was hired to write 3 second station identification announcements for the promotion department. Every day, in some way, he made use of his lettering at the tv station. After 3 years there, the proverbial tail was wagging the dog-tired promotional guy who had great hand-lettering.
After Labor Day in 1972, he checked out of the tv station to morph from a part-time calligrapher/full-time tv person to a full-time Calligraphy person. Most co-workers thought the guy was looney to give up a secure job and regular paycheck for the chance to earn a living with hand-lettering. Not looney. Insane. Nevertheless, he ate cake, drank punch, and waved goodbye to his co-workers, confident he could make it on his own.
Fast-forward 42 years to today. Of course, you know that insane, looney character was me. There was never a plan. I got up each day and had something to hand-letter. For money. The chapters get lengthy but I’ll condense the rest of them to say the longer I focused on making pretty letters the better life got. Until 1992 it was mostly ink from pens and markers. Occasionally, there was some wet cement I personalized with a wood chisel or screwdriver. Then, along came the most unlikely of events. I was introduced to a dental drill and told if I took what I knew so well and become so well-known for, pen and ink, and translated that to the dental drill…my life would change drastically.
I made that translation in 11 months from December 1992 until November 1993. I had figured it out. Wasn’t easy. Was slow and tedious and maddening. So much so I began to agree with the WFAA TV folks’ opinion of me. But I prevailed. After my first engraving event in the public on Black Friday of 1993, my hand-lettering has led me down paths all over the U.S. and Canada. I shutter to think how many items I’ve engraved and signed. And how much so many paid for so many pieces that got personalized and made very special with a few words whirring out of my dental drill.
Now, of course, I’m teaching this skill and there are about 300 others out there doing it since my first class in 2001.
I hasten to add the fact that I have no artistic talent beyond the lettering I’ve gotten pretty good at with a dental drill. My handwriting with a ballpoint or a fountain pen is average or below. Takes no talent to do what I do and anyone can learn it.
BOTTOM LINE: There aren’t enough of me. And others like me. I got almost 50 events booked for this year, on January 2! Market Street wanted me before any of the competition could book me. There are fragrance events out there I’m not even remotely available for. There are other wine venues out there that are left wanting for someone to engrave their bottles for special occasions. Even in my own market! And special occasions happen every day.
If it’s a leap of faith for you, then take the leap and see how far that leap will take you. You’ll have a FAR better teacher than I did and this skill does have a way of changing lives.
I’m at 214.250.6958. Any credit card or PayPal will get you in.
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