For many, the national lockdown caused by the pandemic was a time to reflect on our work-life balance, realign our life goals, and follow previously untapped passions. Among those who found Centre of Excellence in the hopes of upskilling during this difficult time was Sophie Kahl, a 35-year-old mum from Kent. Having loved calligraphy and the creative arts since she was a child, Sophie embarked on a number of courses including Writing Books for Children, Fairies and Fairy Magic, as well as Proofreading and Editing. Two years down the line and she is now — unexpectedly — running her own successful calligraphy business, called SK Calligraphy Art.
Sophie told Centre of Excellence, “I found CoE during the national lockdown in 2020. I started with the Writing Books for Children Course and loved it. The format and the fact that there was no time pressure to complete the course really worked for me and these courses gave me a reason to make time for myself every day.”
Never setting out with the intention of starting her own business, things changed when Sophie discovered the Calligraphy Diploma Course. She recalled, “I have loved calligraphy since I was a child but never properly learnt how to do it. I found whilst studying the course that sitting and practising the strokes and letterforms was so relaxing.” So much so, Sophie decided to continue with her newfound craft after completing the course.
Sophie researched, watched videos, read books, and tried out so many different pens — chisel tipped pens, brush pens, the lot. However, she found herself feeling intimidated by the idea of a dip pen and ink. The creative said, “There’s a lot of information out there and it can be very overwhelming. The choice of pens and nibs can be intimidating too.”
Despite her concerns and having no real desire to turn it into a side hustle, Sophie took the plunge with dip pen and ink in January 2021. Despite only dabbling in this particular craft for just over a year, she hasn’t looked back. “I took the plunge and gave it a go and I fell in love. Suddenly, everything I had learnt seemed to click, it felt more natural than using any of the pens I had tried before.”
Sophie explained that she “never intended to take the course in order to create my own calligraphy business”. But once she had started branching out into making pictures and drawings with her dip pen, she was delighted to find she had a knack for it. “That’s when other people around me encouraged me to take the plunge.”
Thus, SK Calligraphy Art was born.
But, as any small independent business owner will know, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Sophie said, “I think the biggest obstacle for me to start my business was confidence. Although others were telling me they loved my work, I struggled to not see imperfections – improvements to be made.”
Like a true entrepreneur, Sophie chooses to see this as a positive for her calligraphy business. “Minor imperfections show a piece is handmade,” she elaborated, adding, “otherwise, you might as well print something from a computer.” Sophie also feels that her ability to identify “where improvements can be made means I'm continually learning about this art form, and in striving for perfection each time, it means I am giving every piece 100% for my client.”
Indeed, this is the most rewarding aspect of her work, according to Sophie. “The triumphs have got to be when a client receives the finished piece. So far, everyone has loved what I have created for them. Bringing their vision of an idea or their words together into a picture is so much fun and I always feel very honoured that they've trusted me to do it. I enjoy creating one-off pieces as the sentimental stories behind them drive me to ensure the finished product is exactly what the client had hoped for, sometimes even surpassing their expectations.”
It was this love of creating for clients through her calligraphy business that helped Sophie to be awarded runner-up in the Inspiration category of the 2021 CoE Awards. Another one of Sophie’s unique and stand-out selling points is that she uses calligraphy to not only create artwork but also craft pieces of writing and words into incredible designs called calligrams.
“The first calligram I created was a tiger face,” Sophie recalled. She used the names and breeds of the animals at her local big cat sanctuary to design and create the image. “I decided to send it to them as I'd used their cats as inspiration and I was very surprised to hear back from them about working together.”
Sophie has since explored collaboration with the sanctuary and looks forward to working with them in the future to help raise money for the cats and other sanctuary projects in support of big cats in the wild.
But Sophie is no one-trick pony! She creates varied commissions, from letters from Santa to poems with decorative borders. Sophie likes to push the boundaries of her craft, adding, “In between commissioned work, I play around with different techniques, which can be more generic and therefore turned into prints, most of which can be personalised.”
Her two daughters are a constant inspiration to Sophie, who uses any downtime from commissioned work to create one-off pieces for her children. She adds, “So there's normally a picture of a princess or a unicorn on the go!”
When she’s not creating calligrams, running her calligraphy business or acting as an intermediary for Santa, Sophie spends time afforded by self-employment with her daughters, reading stories and making a mess in the kitchen while baking.
Sharing some sage words of advice on starting a small business from someone who’s done it, Sophie concludes, “Stay calm! It's overwhelming and it feels like there's a lot to do and all at the same time. Make a list of what you want to achieve and gradually work through it.”
Sophie is happy to admit she is “not very far through my list at all yet but the calligraphy business is still up and running!” It doesn't all have to be in place before you launch, she says. More importantly, Sophie concludes, “Remember to enjoy it; the buzz from getting your first customer, your first review, your first recommendation. Every milestone is a big deal so savour it!”