Betsy Dunlap — Part I
I am still pinching myself that the Betsy Dunlap agreed to an interview! When I reached out to Betsy (with fingers trembling) I introduced our blog and of course made the request for the interview with a link to all the past interviews, then I felt horrible, here we have had interview after interview with talented lettering artists, for years now and I never once attempted to reach out to someone that most people feel propelled this industry into what it is today. I decided that honesty was the best policy and just admitted that I was intimidated (I would have been crushed if she either ignored me or said no). Luckily for all of us Betsy is incredibly gracious and seemingly has no idea how influential she has been. I am sure you want us to get on with the interview so please allow us to present part I:
Where are you located?
I am based in beautiful Tucson, Arizona, where both my husband and I were born and raised.
How did you get started in lettering?
Even as a tiny girl, I was always creating. One of my earliest memories is of crafting drawing after colorful drawing and dropping them by the side of my parents’ bed as they slept in on the weekend- they would wake up to a mountain of them. As early as grade school, I would copy down notes for each subject in completely unique scripts that I had made up for each one- it should have obviously pointed me in the direction of calligraphy, but I had no idea somebody could make a career of it. It wasn’t even really on my radar.
I studied English in college, and Studio Art was my other major for a bit, so I dabbled in a bunch of different mediums. My goal was actually to work in the editing field, but soon after I got married, back in 2006, I was working in a position I was unhappy in, and dreaming of doing something with my artistic energy, preferably from home, and I had an intense desire to do something very original, very new. An acquaintance at work was getting married, and I spontaneously offered to address her envelopes, because it sounded relaxing. It suddenly clicked that this was what I wanted to do with myself. Things got rolling extremely quickly.
There were so few resources available at that time as far as learning modern calligraphy - no real online community at all. I starting browsing our neighborhood art store, trying to figure out the tools I would need to get the look I was going for. It took a TON of experimenting and lots of late nights. I made up a little website on my lunch hours, and then boom! One day I was featured on Design*Sponge, and the rest is history; my inbox was flooded with inquiries and I’ve been super blessed with so many amazing opportunities ever since. God truly answered my prayers and opened all these amazing doors and I am utterly grateful and in awe of how it all unfolded. I love what I do.
What are some of your favorite supplies?
My choices are fairly basic as far as supplies go. My thoughts on them are similar to my views on cooking- I don’t think it is necessary to own a million gadgets or expensive ingredients. As long as the ones you own and use are of good quality and you have a firm mastery of them, you are bound to create some magic!
Sumi ink is my go-to as far as an everyday black ink, for creating most of my drafts/ finals for scanning, and my favorite nib is simply a Hunt 56. I have always adored mixing my own custom colors with gouache, and Pearl Ex powdered pigments are the absolute best way to execute metallic inks. Took me a while to figure that out. I typically use Rhodia paper or vellum, but I have a stash of gorgeous onion skin paper that I acquired when I bought my first typewriter that I hoard and use sparingly on personal projects. I also love using vintage shot glasses for mixing, a beautiful bamboo plate rack for drying envelopes, and this little guy for drying place cards. People are also always asking where I find all my vintage postage- just stop into your local coin shop. Often they have sheets upon sheets of unused postage that you can buy for 80% of their value. Its super fun to sort through everything and they are such thrill to use on a letter to a friend.
Can you name some of your inspirations?
I feel like one of my main reasons I live and breath is to create beauty. I can’t really stress how much I love to sense that I am creating something where there was once nothing. A beautiful letterform where there was once a blank page; A quilt where there was once just a pile of fabric; a quiche from a bunch of spinach and some eggs; a hat for a newborn head where there was once merely a skein of yarn; a piano nocturne where there was once a quiet room; a new thought created from the page you just read. I just truly feel most inspired when I am creating something, as simplistic as that sounds. I have limited time now- for everything, really- with two babes under three, but I’m trying to think of it in different terms now. Creating babies that feel loved and nurtured, as opposed to the opposite, is often one of the main objectives of my day, and I love that, too.
As far as calligraphy goes, I was most inspired by Maybelle, Cynthia Warren and Diva Pyari of Linea Carta when I was first starting out, and now there are so many newer calligraphers I love to follow, a current favorite being Alissa Mazzenga. There are so many rabbit holes of inspiration to fall down these days, but I truly find that my limited time during this season of life is a blessing, as it forces me to just kind of keep doing my own thing and not get super distracted.
I’m also very inspired by my husband, who administrates and teaches the classics at a small private school he helped found. He works tirelessly to try to bring into fruition his dream of growing the school, and his example helps me so much when I’d just prefer to go to bed rather than perfect thirty more drafts of a project I’m working on. I’m so blessed to be married to him and he is super supportive of me and what I do.
Photography via BetsyDunlap.com.
Continue reading part two of Betsy's interview here.