As a young girl, Ellen Weldon probably never dreamed she would grow up to be a calligrapher.
“The first and only FI ever was in sixth grade for handwriting,” said Ms. Weldon, 67, who has since perfected her handwriting and leads Ellen Weldon Design, who offers calligraphic and invitation design services for everything from weddings to business correspondence to fashion events, for nearly four decades.
Her services don’t come cheap: Couples who hire her for their wedding can count on $40 to more than $100 per invitation, which “should spark curiosity and excitement for the event,” Ms. Weldon said. “My goal is for people to save them. It’s like a gift in a way.”
For Mrs. Weldon, who works in Manhattan, the wedding business has been a family affair. Her mother was Sylvia Weinstock, the visionary wedding cake known by fans as the “queen of the cake” for her dainty, colorful and realistic confectionery. to design. Mrs. Weinstock died last year at the age of 91.
Sometimes Ms. Weldon and her mother worked on the same wedding without even realizing it: “I was involved in the beginning,” Ms. Weldon said. “My mother was at the end.”
So many of us are hesitant to write things by hand now because we’re afraid we’ll screw it up and have to start over. What do you do if you make a mistake?
The stakes are high; we act in perfection. Our job is like preparing a Broadway show that only lasts one night. I am an absolute proponent of correct spelling, which we check three times. Nothing is worse than receiving an invitation with a misspelled name.
Some can be solved with techniques I’ve developed over the years. Most involve an X-acto knife, but I can’t divulge my secrets. If it cannot be repaired, you will have to start over. You can never cross out.
Have you had any crazy accidents?
About 15 years ago I was hired to do the wedding invitations, welcome notes, dinner menus, seating cards and the wedding program for a couple getting married in Paris. The wedding program was written in English and French.
A day or two before the wedding I was told that on one page the English and French had been switched and needed to be replaced. I jumped on a plane, landed, and spent the next eight hours untying 350 ribbons, removing the wrong page, putting on the new ones, and re-tying all the ribbons the day before the wedding. The bride and groom never knew there was a problem.
How do you keep your hand stable? That’s another part of your profession that seems quite stressful to the layman.
I have stabilized over the years. It was a matter of training and holding the pen while breathing calmly. I don’t hold the pen too tight, so it’s flexible and loose. You want a round, soft pen that you can manipulate.
How did you end up doing something that you initially failed to do?
After I got the F for handwriting, I got a book on calligraphy. It had practice pages and really helped you understand how to do calligraphy by learning the basics. In high school, my aunt studied calligraphy and she took me to her class. That was an eye opener. I went to Smith College as an art major and took a calligraphy class there.
How did your career start?
My first job after college was designing Christmas cards and addressing envelopes for Cartier. They really introduced me to proper fonts and designs, wording etiquette, and how to succinctly formulate an invitation. I was 23. Estée Lauder came in one day and saw what I was doing and told me to be at her office at two that afternoon. My manager told me to go, so I did.
I started doing her private dinners. It then worked for Estée Lauder’s brands: Clinique, Aramis and Prescriptives, among others, who hand-written their invitations and envelopes for various events and dinners.
When Cartier turned down a Christmas card I had made, I went to Saks Fifth Avenue to see if they wanted it. They did. They wanted 10,000. Cartier told me I could only be exclusive to them. I knew the engravers and the printers Cartier used, so in 1982, after working there for six years, I left to start my own business.
What special instruments do you use?
I use 12 different pens, each offering a different thickness, flexibility and style of the letters – be it bold, delicate, angled, upright, small or large, modern or round. And I know 50 different fonts.
Some scripts or styles like Spenserian, which hails from 19th century England, are extremely swirly and the letters are very connected. They require a lot of patience and an extremely steady hand. I don’t drink coffee those mornings.
What advice can you give to meeting with stationery stores?
Know your invitation budget; the number of invitations you need; what mood you are trying to create; and what kind of wedding you are having, meaning it will be lunch or formal supper; and your color scheme. It helps to show us a Pinterest board or Instagram stuff you like. If you have a wedding planner, bring it with you. And always ask for a timeline.
What can you offer the couple on a budget who still want calligraphy?
I have exclusive fonts that I have created that can be used for the lettering on your invitations, which are less expensive than me hand lettering with the original artwork. Go with lighter cardboard. Don’t use reply envelopes, let people email their answers. Make sure your invitation size is within the US postal rules so that you use only one first-class stamp rather than being charged more for being too large. We’ve also had people pick up their invitations and stuff, stamp them themselves and post them.
What are some of the most innovative invitations you’ve created?
We made a pyramid shape that was covered with silk. When you opened the pyramid, it played music. We made a box that revealed a disco floor that had pulsating multicolored lights when you opened it. The message inside was written on the plexiglass that sat on top of the lights. And we made a custom musical snow globe.
Is all the handwriting and other customization taking its toll on your hands?
Ten years ago it became very painful to hold the pen. The tendon holding my thumb became inflamed, so I had surgery. I was out of service for six weeks. Now my hand is 100 percent perfect.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.