Betsy Dunlap — Part II

{You can find Part I of this interview here.}


When Betsy sent in this quote I had chills, of course the lettering is stunningly beautiful, but the words so truly resonated with me, especially after our week of ‘Age of Grace’. I think it’s a quote that is perfect for that little nudge you may need when you are feeling ambivalent about your current situation and need that extra bit of encouragement to keep going, or take that first step toward your dreams, I just love it!

Can you go a little into your process of how you work on a project?

Every project evolves differently, but I basically just spend some time getting my workspace set up, putting on music that fits the mood of the project I’m working on (usually lots of jazz - Coleman Hawkins is a favorite), and then I spend a lot of time initially sketching, with pencil, and then moving on to the actual drafts in ink.  A lot of the initial work is super gestural.  And it is hard to explain but I letter super quickly, sometimes kind of looking off to the side of the letterform as it takes shape, not right at it.  That sounds nuts, but its what works for me as I get going. Honestly, since I don’t touch up my work, a lot of it ends up in the trash, because I do it over and over again until I think it is perfect.

Any tips for newbies on how to develop their own style?

My best advice would honestly just be to keep your head down and work.  Back when I was getting started there was very little as far as any sort of calligraphy community.  Now there is such an amazing, huge network of all these wonderful artists popping up all the time.  While I think that is so helpful and beneficial in many ways, I think it can also seem overwhelming, and all the many. many voices and viewpoints can drown out your own inner one.  Putting on blinders, at least some of the time, and just experimenting all you can until you have a voice and style of your own that you love, is some of my best advice.  And if you’re working late at night, have a glass of wine! Helps with the gestural instinct.

Any recommendations of books or classes for lettering enthusiasts to further their studies?

I know that most everyone knows this, but I would recommend (and love to take myself!) the workshops that Maybelle offers all over the world.  She is full of so much grace and has so much knowledge to offer (come to Tucson, Maybelle!). IAMPETH is a great resource, too, for all of the archived images.  And it just seems like there are wonderful blogs and forums popping up (like Besotted!) that have wonderful collections of advice and resources.  Its so very inspiring.

Any advice on what not to do?

My only advice on what not to do is not to compare yourself to others too much.  It’s so important to find your own style and voice and then be proud of it, confident in it, and just run with it.

Do you have some favorite projects you would like me to mention?

Probably my most thrilling project was being flown to NYC to do the lettering for the place cards at a Gala at the Guggenheim Museum several years ago - it was so exciting to be a part of the day-of events and work behind the scenes to make it come together, and it was super fun to watch everyone come in, decked in grand attire, and find their card. I felt honored to be a part of it.

Another favorite of mine has been the custom valentines I’ve offered when I was doing Hello Handmade with Shanna Murray and then from my own shop, Litterae. I felt so honored to be entrusted with all of these personal messages that people were sending to their loved ones- I hope to offer these again next year.

Can you discuss how your Shanna Murray Project came into fruition?

Shanna approached me back in 2007, to work on some lettering for her logo, and a friendship was born, as well as a collaboration. Hello Handmade was the name of our little studio, and we produced calendars, seasonal prints, and custom valentines for several years together. It was some of the favorite work I’ve ever done. I’m sure many calligraphers can attest that it can occasionally be lonely work, in a way, so I really enjoyed collaborating and creating with a dear friend.  We both ultimately got too busy in our personal careers and had to shutter the shop, but I’m so grateful for the friendship that remains. Shanna is so talented and such a dear heart.

Will you ever be doing any workshops?

I have tentatively talked to some people about offering some workshops here in Tucson, but will probably wait until my babies are a tad older. I’ll keep you posted!

How to you manage your projects with babies underfoot?

This has been a huge challenge for me. I obviously can’t have inkwells and nibs lying out with babies around, so I mostly work when they are napping or asleep for the night, and I also have help from several people that occasionally watch them. I’m still trying to find the perfect balance of working/being a mama. I strongly feel I would regret it if I worked full time during their young childhood, as that time cannot be wished back for the world. So right now, in this season, it just means less free-time for me. I am usually always working when they are sleeping.

Name one random talent you have that people may not know?

I can play the bass guitar.  And I love quilting - my mind is always swimming with a million quilt projects I wish I had time to execute.


Photography via


Betsy's Shopping List

Sumi ink
Hunt 56 nib
Pearl Ex powdered pigments
Rhodia paper
Onion skin paper