Interview: Joy Deneen
Photo by Lisa Renault Photographie
Joy Deneen is the artist, teacher, and writer behind Imagine Joy Calligraphie. Her pointed pen work is distinctive for its soft minimalism: smooth and airy, it has just the right amount of flourish to be at once decorative and modern, yet true to the guiding principles of the Copperplate hand. Known also for her bold folded pen lettering, Joy is the founder of #FoldedPenFriday, a calligraphy movement connecting artists around the globe with this shared passion.
Joy is truly dedicated to the calligraphy community. A native Californian transplanted in Montréal, Joy serves as International Workshops Coordinator and Membership Chair for La Société des calligraphes de Montréal. She is also a core contributor to UPPERCASE magazine. And we are lucky to have her as a founding contributor right here at Calligrafile! (It was Joy who put in the tremendous work to compile our link archive of calligraphy guilds, associations, conferences, and retreats – the largest on the internet!)
When she’s not penning her own calligraphy, Joy loves teaching the craft to others. She regularly offers a six-week Introduction to Copperplate class, as well as private lessons in Montréal. Visit her classes page (and sign up for that early registration newsletter!) to learn about her upcoming workshops.
I recently conducted an interview with Joy via email to find out about how she learned calligraphy, her favorite projects, tips for new creative freelancers, how she combats creative block, and more. (It didn't surprise me to learn that she has an innate passion for the arts, from theater to illustration, nor that she is an avid collector of books!)
Photo by Lisa Renault Photographie
What is your artistic background? Has your B.A. in theater (UCLA, 2003) influenced your creative path in hand lettering?
My mom tells me I started to draw as soon as I was able to hold a pencil in my hand and that as a child, I would concentrate so hard while colouring that I would sweat. I loved drawing, sculpting with clay and painting. In fact, one of my favourite childhood photos is one of me painting on an easel built by my dad.
At UCLA, I decided to major in theatre, as it was a perfect mix of my favourite subjects: art, history and English, all merging on the stage through performance. While I'm no longer part of the theatre world, I still look to Shakespeare for both practice texts and finished pieces. I'm actually working on a piece right now for my guild’s upcoming exhibition “Ombre et lumière” (Shadow & Light), using one of my favourite monologues from Romeo & Juliet.
What got you started doing calligraphy? Did you have formal training, teach yourself, or a combination of the two?
I was exposed to the art as a young child, as my dad and both of his sisters studied broad pen calligraphy. I was particularly fascinated by a piece that hung in our living room: the Ecclesiastes “to every thing there is a season” passage, penned by my father. I would lie on the couch and trace the letters in the air with my finger.
I re-discovered calligraphy as an adult, thanks to a Christmas gift from my brother Aaron. He gave me Lisa Engelbrecht’s Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering, a jar of ink and a tin of nibs. Thanks to Lisa’s book, I discovered that she also lived in Southern California and was a part of a guild called the Society for Calligraphy. I showed up to a guild meeting, bright eyed and eager — and I haven’t looked back since! You can read more about my entry into the world of calligraphy here.
I’ve taken classes from wonderful instructors and penmen from around the world, thanks to guild workshops and conferences. Two of my favourite teachers are Monica Dengo and Harvest Crittenden – their words resonate with me often while I’m practicing and working.
What is your favorite type of project to do for a client? What about your favorite type of project to do for yourself?
I love doing place cards, especially on unusual surfaces. I like making a single name shine and really enjoy working on surfaces like agate, plexiglass, smooth wood and shells. For myself, I love doing more bold folded pen work using texts that are personally meaningful.
Photos above by Sonia Bourdon
Can you tell us about the most unusual – or difficult – commission you’ve worked on to date?
One of my most unusual pieces was part of a series of styled holiday shoots with a Montreal event planner Annick Gagnon. I proposed creating a table runner for a black and gold Kate Spade-inspired shoot and then realized that I didn’t have enough black paper to create the piece. In a moment of inspiration, Annick suggested that I use my long roll of white artist’s paper for the minimalist shoot she was organizing instead. I jumped at the idea and armed with my folded pen and a bottle of sumi ink, I lettered the words to “Deck the Halls” across eight feet of rag paper. It made for a beautiful statement piece on the long wooden table!
"Célébrer sans flafla" by Luve Films for Scénario Idéal
As a creative freelancer, how do you combat creative burnout and stay motivated?
I can’t say enough about joining a calligraphy guild and taking workshops. Thanks to guilds and annual conferences, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from incredible master calligraphers with a wide range of specialties. I always leave a workshop inspired with new ideas, often for personal projects. For instance, I learned about the folded pen in a workshop with Monica Dengo, which set off a new passion for me. I rarely use folded pens for client work, so using it always feel like play time.
To avoid burnout, I think it’s helpful to keep some art forms just for yourself, so you can preserve the pure pleasure and zen-like relaxation that comes with creating art. For example, I love to draw, but I don’t advertise illustrative work as part of my services. I will occasionally do illustrations in conjunction with my calligraphy, but drawing remains primarily a personal pursuit.
Photos (left to right): Richelle Hunter Photography, Lisa Renault Photographie & Joy Deneen
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in creative freelancers' businesses. What advice can you offer calligraphers and lettering artists just starting out who feel like little fish lost in the big Insta-sea?
The Instagram calligraphy community is wonderful and has grown by leaps and bounds since I joined in 2011. I recommend jumping in on daily photo challenges (check out @fatmumslim’s monthly lists) or ongoing hashtags like #moderncalligraphy to connect with others and share your work. I’ve made some lovely IG friends thanks to #foldedpenfriday!
Photos by Lisa Renault Photographie
Apart from thousands of hours worth of honed calligraphic skill, what are the other most important skills that a freelance calligrapher should possess if they want to monetize their craft?
Administrative and project management skills are key to running a freelance business. And contracts are essential, to protect yourself and ensure that you and your client are on the same page. 17Hats is a fantastic service that has allowed me to streamline my workflow and manage quotes, contracts, invoices, scheduling and bookkeeping. Automating these aspects of my business has allowed me to focus more on calligraphy!
Do you have a hidden talent, hobby, or nerdy interest that you don’t usually share?
My husband and I both collect books, and at one point, our collection was over 1,000 volumes. Our wedding had a literary theme, with vintage books in the centerpieces, a card catalogue for the escort cards and bookmarks (with book recommendations!) for place cards. And we actually recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine – floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves in my studio! I believe that some of the best books ever written were written for children and I have about five shelves dedicated to my childhood favourites and Newbery and Caldecott award winners.