Today I'd love to introduce you to my friend and amazingly talented calligrapher, Melissa Chan. Melissa was on of the first friends I made when we made the big move to Montreal and it's been amazing to watch her creativity explode and her business grow as she ventured out with Olive Branch & Co.
Her work is literally scattered around our home - on maps, on cards & envelopes, on cute little animals in Owen's room, framed favourite quotes, and even our vows that Aaron surprised me with on our last anniversary. She's helped make treasured words into masterpieces in our home. I'm excited to share my interview with her on the blog today.
o If you could start by introducing yourself, tell us a little about yourself...
My name is Melissa, and I currently live in Montreal with my husband, though we're both originally from Toronto. I am Chinese-Canadian, and have lived most of my life in Canada, except for one year that I spent in Hong Kong after graduating.
If you could sit down and have coffee with me, we could totally bond about coffee itself (my husband says I'm a ghost of myself without it), books (my favourite Disney movie growing up was Beauty and the Beast for the sole reason of her library), and live music (THE perfect date night).
I like to do things slowly - I am always the last person to finish my meal, walk really slow, and embrace technology really really slowly (I didn't get text messaging until I was in university, ie. three years after all my friends had it). I really want a pet cat and have already thought of several cat names, but my husband is not so sure about cleaning kitty litter...
o Tell me how you got started doing calligraphy?
When I was around 8 my dad gave me a calligraphy set with purple ink - I remember this distinctly because the ink spilled open in my Mickey Mouse backpack and got it all purple!
I didn't get into it seriously until the summer of 2013 - I was doing a teaching job that I didn't love so I started doing calligraphy as a way to de-stress, relax, and would write out truths that spoke to my heart.
I bought a few things online, and before I knew it, I became obsessed! I'd come home everyday itching to get to calligraphy. With some of my friends getting married that summer, I asked them if I could do calligraphy for them just to practice. Then when a friend suggested I open an Etsy shop, I thought, hmm… why not? And it just blossomed from there!
o Would you say it came naturally to you or took some practice?
I've always loved the act of writing; I've kept a journal since I was ten and loved obsessing over different pens and learning different styles of handwriting. Doing calligraphy is kind of a funny thing though, because it takes what you think you know about handwriting and breaks it down into tiny little details, so that you see how every stroke makes a world of a difference. I also had never thought of myself as a visual artist, and part of calligraphy is that it's the aesthetic beauty of the written word. So, I had a lot to learn in terms of training my hand and arm to be steady!
o What are your favorite projects to work on?
I love doing really personal pieces for people that celebrate them or the people around them; getting to write out people's vows are always really special.
I also really enjoy working on logo projects for people; I feel like I get to play this unique role of supporting someone through creating something they can identify with. It's also really exciting to create my own product; especially that moment when I get it back from the printer and open the box...!
Just the act of creating, of making something that wasn't there ten seconds ago, is such an awesome feeling.
o Any favorite words? Favorite quotes?
"What is done in love is done well" - Vincent Van Gogh. It encourages me to let love be the standard of success, and I really believe that when something is done in love, thoughtfulness, and care, those intentions are seen.
o What's the most unique project you've worked on?
Oh man - that's tough! I feel like I've gotten the opportunity to work on some pretty unique things. I recently did some work for Simons/ La Maison Simons, a department store in Canada that I'm pretty proud of! They asked me to write out some phrases for their holiday campaign in both English and French, so some of my calligraphy is up on their site and in stores! It's kind of weird to see my writing in public like that, but also super thrilling!
It's also really special to me when I get to work on pieces for friends and loved ones. One of my high school friend's boyfriend (at the time) asked me to write out something for him as his way of asking her to marry him, and I was pretty delighted and honoured to be part of that process!
o Give us a little glimpse into your creative process.
When I'm doing custom work, I like to pencil it out first and draw some lines as to where it'll be. I do some warm ups for my hand, and then I'm off to it!
I usually try and do a few pieces at a time. If I'm designing for a card or a print, I'll have a few ideas already sketched out and then ink several of them up or pull out my paints if they require painting.
I'll then scan them into my computer and play around with some settings, clean them up, and then send them off to the printer! Usually at some point I'll put a bunch of my card or print ideas together and show my husband (who's got a great eye!) or some friends, and ask them to pick their favourites.
Lately, a lot of the creation process has actually come out of my time where I'm just playing. I've tried to schedule myself in more time to just play with calligraphy and write out quotes and words that hold meaning to me, and that's actually where some of the newest product has come out of!
I love listening to podcasts - when my husband gets home, 80% of our conversations start off with: "so on this podcast I was listening to today..."! I can't have them on while I'm doing administrative stuff like emails, but when I'm doing creative work, I love to have them on!
My favourites are theme driven ones, like This American Life and Radiolab, but I also really love thoughtful interviews, like the ones done on On Being and CBC's Q (hosted by Shad, one of my favourites!), as well as ones that discuss music, like Song Exploder and Switched on Pop. If there's stuff I'm thinking about and want to think through, though, I'll listen to music, as I find it really allows my mind to wander.
o Where do you see Olive Branch & Co in the future?
I'm currently at this funny point of straddling the line between being a service AND a product - I love to create custom stuff for people, but I also love getting to create product that allows me to share my voice.
So at this point, I feel like I'm still dreaming - on one hand, I'd love to see my products in stores across Canada and the States, but I'd also love to do more calligraphy and design work for more brands and companies.
My husband and I have also talked about getting into letterpress, so I'd love to eventually do some letterpress-ing - whether that's just for fun or for Olive Branch & Co.
One of the big intentions behind Olive Branch & Co has been to be a peacemaker, whether that's through spreading peace in reminding people of truths or reminding them how loved they are, or even being able to support IJM in their peacemaking, so I hope to continue to do that in whatever form it takes.