A conversation with written by natalie

As much as we love fibre arts, I think I can speak for both Anna and myself that we are first and foremost crafters before anything else. Before we even got into knitting and crochet, we bonded over scrapbooking, photography, making our own accessories and the list goes on. One of the goals we set for the year is to meet, learn from, and collaborate with other artists and crafters in our community. As such, we are super excited to announce that our next few posts will be a creative collaboration between HANK & HOOK and written by natalie. 

To start things off, we bring you an interview with Natalie Siu, founder of written by natalie, a business specializing in calligraphy and stationery for events, home decor and other custom projects.  

I actually met Natalie back in business school in what seems like eons ago, however at the time we were just acquaintances. Recently, we reconnected over Instagram in mutual admiration of each other’s work.. as cheesy as that sounds. Although we “specialize” in different crafts, we share a passion for creating and sharing all things pretty. Without further ado, let’s get right in.

J&A: So, let’s start with the basics. What got you into calligraphy?

NS: I watched a video of someone doing calligraphy and was hooked right away.  The video was so soothing and mesmerizing that I spent the next couple days researching and watching more videos of people lettering.  I’ve always been told that I have decent penmanship which I thought would translate well to calligraphy (totally not the case – it definitely still takes a lot of practice and even if you have terrible writing your calligraphy can still be beautiful!)  I helped a friend out with her wedding last summer and worked on some other small projects which gave me more opportunities to practice and the confidence to eventually share my work on social media!  I started an Instagram account last October and have been inseparable from my nib holder and ink ever since!

J&A: What inspires your work?

NS: A variety of things inspire me!  The lettering community on Instagram is huge and I would say that I draw a lot of inspiration from other creatives.  I also think that you can find inspiration in some of the most unexpected ways or places.  I especially love the idea of lettering on unconventional objects and pieces…you can pretty much write on anything, just don’t do it on public property because that’s called vandalism (laughs).

from (@writtenbynatalie)

J&A: Amazing! We love the versatility of your craft and how your work is pretty much 50% poetry and 50% calligraphy. How do you choose what to write?

NS: Coming up with content, especially what to write, is one of the toughest parts for me in terms of keeping up with social media.  Believe me – googling “inspiring quotes” doesn’t really give you the best material, I’ve tried (chuckles).  I find my writing inspiration from pop culture and quotes that have resonated with me that I’ve seen, heard from friends or even picked up from TV shows/movies.  I also have some favourite contemporary poets such as Atticus, R.M. Drake, Rupi Kaur, the list goes on!

from (@writtenbynatalie), quote by Atticus (@atticuspoetry)

J&A: What are your top 3 Instagram accounts that you check religiously?

NS: Besides the many talented calligraphers and illustrators that I follow, I also really love fashion bloggers, stylists/interior designers and anything botanical related!  Some of my favourites that I follow on my personal account in these respective categories are: @songofstyle@em_henderson and @urbanjungleblog 

J&A: Umm, we’re kinda obsessed with your Instagram feed and photos. What advice can you offer on taking photos for Instagram?

NS: Styling pictures is one of my absolute favourite things to do!  My advice to others is (1) always take your pictures in natural light.  Find that one sunny spot in your home where there are plenty of windows and sunlight.  (2) Don’t be afraid to take your pictures at different angles, you’d be surprised at how different the same photo can look as a close up vs. a flat lay.  (3) if you are posting your photos to social media, be consistent in your Look, Tone and Feel of your pictures.  Figure out your LTF and stick with it!  If you’re using a photo editing tool, make sure you use the same filters and choose props with a similar or complementing colour palette for your photos.

J&A: Besides calligraphy, what other DIY projects are you currently working on or are hoping to start?

NS: I bought a small semi-detached house in the city with my boyfriend back in October 2015 and we still haven’t fully furnished and decorated our place!  The most recent project that we are starting is turning our den into a full-fledged craft room.  I don’t currently have a dedicated work space so I bounce back and forth from my dining room table and my den.  It’s not the most practical and I actually spilled Higgins Eternal black ink all over the carpet one time when I was moving my supplies!  For anyone who’s been in a similar situation, this stuff does not budge once it sets.  

The next project that I’m hoping to start is a macramé wall hanging, inspired by these talented ladies at HANK & HOOK (I was not paid to say this!)

J&A: Leaving your job to pursue your dream is both appealing and terrifying to many. What advice can you offer to those looking to take the plunge?

NS: I can’t say that I necessarily left my job to pursue a full time career in calligraphy.  Rather, I took my hobby in calligraphy even more seriously as a result of being unemployed.  I left my position in Finance in late 2016 because I wanted to take some time to figure out what my next move would be.  I started my business almost accidentally after deciding to post pictures of my work to Instagram.  When I first decided to take this plunge, I can also say that I definitely relied on calligraphy to give me some structure and routine in my life as I would go through waves of unemployment anxiety!

I would say however, that if you are not getting the self-fulfillment that you are looking for at your job, I think you owe it to yourself to find something that makes you happy and that you feel passionate about.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to quit your job and pursue a different career, but maybe it’s as simple as making time for a new hobby, working out or just unwinding after a long day with a good book.  Life is all about balance and you need to figure out what works for you.  

J&A: Agreed! We can totally relate to that. We think that the hardest part of entrepreneurship is taking risks and being able to own both your successes and failures. What’s your take on that?

NS: I agree. I think that for anyone out there who is thinking of starting their own business, you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there.  When you put out good vibes, it usually comes back to you.  I have been so overwhelmingly grateful and humbled by the amazing artists and fellow creatives that I’ve met along this journey so far.  Not only are people more approachable than you think but you’d be amazed at how willing others are to share their experiences and advice with you if you just ask!

J&A: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take 5 supplies with you, what would they be and why?  

My 5 go to supplies if I were stranded on a desert island are:

  1. The Nikko G Nib: this is the very first nib I used and no matter what I try I always come back to this.  It’s a great nib for any beginners looking to get into calligraphy because it’s not overly flexible and more forgiving than some other nibs out there.  
  2. Any Oblique Holder: I have a few fancier ones but I still love the trusty plastic Speedball oblique holder.
  3. Higgins Eternal black ink: this ink works well with the pointed pen and a brush.  As a bonus, the packaging also allows you to dip directly into the bottle so you don’t need to pour the ink into something separate. As much as I love Sumi ink, I’m on a desert island and need to be strategic with my supplies!
  4. Rhodia paper pad: this is my favourite type of paper!  If you are just starting out, grab a grid or dot pad so you have some guidelines when you’re writing.  Otherwise, the blank pad is always my go to.
  5. Pental Aquash brush: I’m still working on my brush lettering but I find this much easier to use than a traditional paint brush!  Starting from the top left, going clockwise: Pental Aquash brush, Higgins Eternal black ink, Nikko G nibs,  Speedball Oblique holder, Rhodia no. 16 pad

J&A: Calligraphy aside… If you had to eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?

NS: This is the hardest question of the interview because I love to eat!  If I really had to choose one, I would have to say Vietnamese.  I love noodle soup and Pho is one of my favourite dishes, but besides that there are also so many other Vietnamese dishes that don’t get enough love in Toronto!  I also love Bun Cha, Bahn Coun, and an authentic Banh Mi.  My love affair with this cuisine really took off when I spent a couple of weeks travelling through Vietnam in the winter of 2014 and couldn’t find one food I didn’t enjoy!  My boyfriend and I even took a cooking class near our favourite city, Hoi An.

Natalie and her boyfriend at a cooking class in Hoi An

To celebrate the launch of this collab, here is a free download of the “Eat, Sleep, Craft, Repeat” print in both 5” x 7” and 8” x 10” formats.  To purchase any of the other prints click here!

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– XOXO Joan –