Don’t mistake her for a nerd behind her glasses, because her quirky flower print jacket will give it away in seconds. Meet Cody, an event calligrapher, full-service wedding stationery designer and calligraphy instructor.
Not too often do you meet people who have been all over the professional planet with their varied career experiences. But when you meet one, you instantly recognize that creative soul that won’t settle. Cody, a 29-year-old, based out of her home studio in the St. Clair West neighborhood of Toronto, spends her weekends teaching calligraphy workshops that are full of fun – flowing through her effortless sense of humor and approachability to her teaching style.
For anyone who follows Instagram artists and typography trends, the booming industry for “calligraphy” is hard to miss. Toronto, being a rising hub for design professionals is also the perfect market for calligraphy workshops and creative businesses. In this modern day calligraphic profession, what really sets Cody (@codycalligraphy) apart, or gives her clients and students that “added value” is her wide range of experiences in different industries. From a theatre degree and starting her training as an actor, Cody is definitely not shy in front of crowds and loves connecting with others, which makes her even more pleasant as an instructor.
Charting out her journey deeper, in a candid conversation with Cody, she elaborates, “I continued my theatre career as a producer, fundraiser, event planner and festival manager. I hear time and time again from my wedding clients that I have an impeccable attention to detail. Obviously that includes creative detail as a designer, but I also thrive in fast-paced environments, and in projects with many moving parts. I feel like I live and breathe events, and I love that wedding stationery and live event calligraphy allows me to incorporate what I’ve loved from my work in event & festival management.”
While Cody is succeeding today in her small creative business, her passion for calligraphy came along organically, and not through a professional degree in the same.
She didn’t go to any business school to learn how to be an entrepreneur or get a formal training in visual art/design for her skill. Her experience as she states, is a bit of a winding path (theatre, festival management, the nonprofit sector, fundraising, sales and even a brief stint at a start-up).
“I really fell into it. I’ve always loved stationery and design, but I really didn’t think I could make a career out of it. I’m a self-taught graphic designer and have been teaching myself since high school. I always wanted to work for myself as well, and build a business that I can have full creative vision over, rather than what I was used to working in the arts, which was serving someone else’s artistic vision. It truly wasn’t until I took my first brush calligraphy workshop 2 years ago (shout out to the queen, Grace Song!) that I felt like I found something that could feed my creativity,” she says.
Today, Cody works from a 2-bedroom apartment where she lives with her partner Dylan and her golden retriever, Abby. She agrees that for a lot of people working from home could be difficult and full of distractions. But for her, she claims to be most productive when surrounded by things that make her happy. Her personal mantra that she has literally written on her studio wall is“ALWAYS. BE. COZY.”
But like most others, going out on your own and running your own small business is not easy.
Cody confesses, “I constantly have ups and downs and often feel like I have NO idea what I’m doing. I’ve always been a major planner, probably to a fault, so when I quit my sales job to run this business full-time, it was both thrilling and completely terrifying. My business is definitely a work in progress, but to get to where I am today, I had to stop over analyzing and over-planning everything and just start before I felt 100% ready.”
During her creative journey, Cody has had her share of low points, some of which are better told over a pint: but as many freelancers do, there were days when she literally didn’t know when the next gig is going to come through, and that was majorly stressful.
As for her lowest, Cody adds, “my bottommost points often took place during times when I wasn’t admitting to myself what I really wanted from my career, and when I was working in jobs that were suppressing my creativity and leadership potential. Now that I’m running my biz full-time, on the whole my mental health has done a complete 180.” Furthermore, she believes that she has been very lucky and privileged that her husband Dylan is able to support her, emotionally and financially, while her business finds its footing today.
Coming onto the milestones, launching her own calligraphy workshops last fall was a huge biggie and a full-circle moment for Cody. What she enjoys the most out of her career is that she loves being able to share her love of calligraphy with others and watch them start on their own creative path – whether it’s to start their own business, work on their DIY wedding, learn a new skill or gain a mindful and creative hobby.
To help reach her goals – the calligraphy community in Toronto and beyond is really tight-knit and has been incredibly supportive. Top on her list are: Grace Song (@gracesongcalligraphy) Sylvia Wong (@viacalligraphy) and Jodi Tellier (@somedayartco) who have been teachers, mentors, and big-time boss-moms.
And for the best advice that she ever got and would like to pass on to everyone who is reading right now, “If you’re wondering whether you should launch that Instagram account, put your work out there, start building your website, Etsy store, whatever it is, just start. Don’t wait until you feel 100% ready, because you never will. Start now and keep making 1% improvements.”
To conclude this interaction in an even more fun way, here is a quick informal rapid-fire we played with Cody on her calligraphy secrets, tips for other learners and more:
Your favorite calligraphy book to learn from? : Grace Song’s “Brush Pen Lettering” is great! I still reference it from time to time.
A routine that you would recommend to be a successful creative professional? : Set working hours if you can (I’m the worst offender for this). Boundaries are important and taking time to relax is key to prevent burning out.
A successful portfolio tip you would give to young calligraphy professionals out there? : Don’t worry too much about taking “perfect” photos of your work right off the bat. Keep documenting your work and posting on IG consistently! You’ll keep getting better over time.
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Do you STILL think you need *perfect handwriting* to learn calligraphy? 🤔 . Brush calligraphy boils down to a few basic strokes – with proper instruction and regular practice, literally anyone can learn (yep, you too lefties! 👋🏼) . Stay tuned for a big announcement next week 🥰 if you want to learn more and like, also hang out with me ☕️🍷
A strict no-no tip you would give as a career breaker while one starts out as a calligraphy artist? : Don’t treat other calligraphers like a google search! Many times I’ll get a “What pen is this??” or “where did you get that????” or “tell me how to do ___” to my DMs. Starting with a “Hi! I love your work!” goes a long way… and please don’t forget to THANK them for taking the time to share with you!
What is that one thing you collect and why? : OMG all the pens – brush pens, dip pens, all the pens. It’s an obsession.
One survival tip to beat the competition? : I truly believe in community over competition. There is enough business to go around – we might as well support each other in the process! Focus more on building each other up, and showcasing what ADDED VALUE you give to your clients / audience.
Your tip on managing finances for personal/professional life? : oof, this is something that is definitely a work in progress for me, but Futurpreneur has a lot of great (free!) budgeting templates online that I use. I also use the Spendee app to track expenses and set budgets for personal finances!
Your tip on staying sane through all the ups and downs? : Dogs Dogs Dogs Dogs – snuggling my sweet pup and taking her on long walks.