The Art of Letter Writing with Meticulous Ink
words by Charlie Cumming & photography by Hung Quach
“More than kisses, letters mingle souls.”
― John Donne
What ever happened to snail mail? The richness of hand written letters, the permanence of writing a letter and sending it off for someone else to keep. There is a sense of purity in the art of letter writing, a not so commonly exercised form of correspondence anymore. Have we lost touch of meaningful mail? We confer with Charlie Cumming of Meticulous Ink, Bath about the appreciation and pleasure in letter writing, using treasured tools and participating within the physical and utilitarian exercise.
Writing a letter is one of the simplest and oldest forms of communication, in a world of instant messages the hand written note is something that knocks our modern habits and expectations of correspondence to one side. To put pen to paper is an effort, especially when we are used to pulling out a phone, tapping the screen and sending a message to someone in seconds. It’s no longer something we are expected to do and neither it is something we feel we have time to do, time is precious and saying something through a smart phone or computer is instant. So why would you want to take the time to get out a sheet of paper and write?
But to write something, to physically place a pen upon paper and truly commit our thoughts, messages and ideas is on a higher level. Perhaps it is because we are not used to seeing it so much, because it’s not always expected of us to communicate in this way anymore, perhaps that is why it is appreciated more now. This says a little something about modern communication - that we can get tired of the same thing. We need variety, we need physicality and touch. To create, to communicate with someone in a physical manner is a truly thoughtful process - and one that moves people, that affects people in a much deeper sense than seeing digitized characters appear on a screen.
When I was younger, writing seemed like such a chore, being told to write thank you letters after Christmas or a birthday didn’t always fill me with excitement – but when it came down to actually doing it, when I would sit down with a nice pen and a piece of paper and wrote, it transformed itself from being a fairly dull idea to an incredibly enjoyable activity.
I always remember the feeling of writing using something that wasn’t just a plain piece of paper – I remember vividly the writing paper I had for thank you letters, at the top it said ‘Just a little note to say…’ and that was all – but that small enhancement to what would’ve just been a plain piece paper made all the difference. It enhanced the letter writing experience for me so much – by using something that was designed exactly for the purpose I needed it for.
I think this has resonated well for me throughout my life, I have always loved using something that has been designed well and also functions well as it was intended to. The enhancement of something through design, colour choice and typography brings so much more to the experience of letter writing or note taking.
When I work now, I write – I could easily set something up on my phone or on my computer, but I prefer to use my journal or a notepad. I plan my day this way, I leave messages this way and I come up with new designs this way. I find that I am able to express my ideas in a much more efficient way – not only does it work better for me, it feels better too.
When I write to someone I find it an extremely personal process. Everyone has their own hand, and a way of forming letters, words, and sentences that represents them as a person. When you combine the physical act of writing to someone, with the accompaniment of some tasteful, elegant or bright and bold correspondence the experience just gets better.
That’s what we and many other stationery companies set out to do. To not only offer the correspondence for people to want to write onto, but to enhance the correspondence experience for the recipient - to create a hugely enjoyable and personal experience for both people. I feel it’s only really the start of this relatively recent resurgence, and by continuing to produce correspondence that we love and think others will love, we can ensure that people will find joy in this way of communicating - and maybe, like us even become mildly obsessed.
Since the inception of Meticulous Ink in 2010, we are often asked, ‘but who writes nowadays?’ ‘everyone uses phones and email, is the business a good idea? Aren’t you going to struggle because no one really writes, do they?’ Actually, yes they do - and we’re doing pretty well, thank you very much. My view on this is always as follows - if you provide someone with something beautiful to write on, they will write.
We started Meticulous Ink with the sole purpose of producing beautiful correspondence, both myself and Athena are huge stationery fans and have grown a huge passion for stationery and it’s accessories - and for all that can be enjoyed at one’s desk.
We found huge inspiration for our printing style and for the products we wanted to create from all the outstanding letterpress companies that were coming from the USA at the time. We knew we wanted to create beautiful products and we had confidence in what we could produce - but we also knew we were starting in the middle of a financial crisis and that we needed to provide a service that people would want to use and covet.
"If you provide someone with something beautiful to write on, they will write."
I have always been drawn to correspondence materials, the constant collecting of vintage pencils, erasers, wooden rulers, notebooks, notepads and – being left handed - the search for a good fountain pen. These things have given me many moments of pleasure and appreciation for the physical and utilitarian nature of something that helps you express your thoughts and ideas.
When it came to creating our own products, we wanted to make something that would give people similar moments of pleasure through appreciation and use. It took us a little while to adjust how we wanted our products to look, through quality of print to the final packaging - but it was needed to ensure we were happy with what we were offering. We spent some time trying to find the right paper for our correspondence products, something that would take a good impression from our printing presses but at the same time hold the ink from a fountain pen well and not bleed as soon as it hit the surface. We always targeted cotton papers, the knowledge and experience that printing onto cotton boards with letterpress would always produce the best results with regards to impression - it was just the bleed issue. Some cotton papers are so absorbent that leaving the nib of the pen on the paper for a couple of seconds would make the ink bleed rapidly and become completely unreadable. After a couple of years of searching, trying bamboo, wood and mixed boards - we found the perfect stock, and that is what we use today in all our Meticulous Ink correspondence products. 100% cotton 160gsm and 300gsm correspondence stock allows us to produce a fine impression as well as serving it’s purpose as an excellent writing stock, we call it Walcot Wove after the street we opened our first shop on.
Ever since we started writing on beautiful correspondence that we collected, we would always be looking to improve our handwriting. To stop and practice how to form letters, words and sentences - this inspired us to experiment and improvise into hand lettering.
Athena takes the reigns when it comes to calligraphy and hand lettering here - from addressing envelopes for wedding stationery suites and invitations, to providing companies with unique lettering and branding - her lettering can also be found adorning our letterpress greeting cards.
Using her individual style, Athena has learnt through hours of practice how to form letters and structure sentences in a beautiful and consistent manner using a traditional dip pen, in a copperplate hand and has developed her own unique lettering style from this elegant style to create something unique and personal to her. We realised that although being a calligrapher in the most traditional sense can take years of experience and discipline to produce the most immaculate copperplate hand - it is relatively straightforward to develop your own style with a lot of dedication and practice.
Usually, if we are unhappy with something we do, we tend to try and improve on it. Or if we see something which we adore, it makes us want to learn it, to be able to do that thing for ourselves and become great at it. This is what happened when Athena first started getting into calligraphy all those years ago, being inspired by lettering greats such as Louise Fili, Jessica Hische, Molly Suber Thorpe and Anna Bond amongst many others and from seeing such beautiful work it made her want to develop our own style – not to just emulate something beautiful she had seen and try to replicate it but to create something beautiful and uniquely personal to her.
We are delighted to be able to offer the opportunity to develop this skill of hand lettering to others, to help them realize that writing in an elegant and unique way is completely achievable.
We started offering our hand lettering courses back in August 2014 - and the demand has been extremely high. To see our pupils progress in the space of 2-3 hours is extremely satisfying to say the least. Seemingly, people want to learn how to improve their writing style - so that their correspondence will glow. It’s an important part of communication and people love to write - if you add the additional possibility that with even a few days of practice you can start to develop a beautiful writing style, the urge to write rapidly increases.
As well as off the shelf correspondence sets and greeting cards, the main part of Meticulous Ink is our bespoke printing service. We pride ourselves in providing our customers with beautiful stationery, to impress and please. We mainly produce wedding stationery, an essential part of any wedding and the precursor to the big day - a chance to create great excitement and set the tone. Athena takes great pleasure in producing wedding stationery, it is her passion and it is hugely satisfying seeing a wedding stationery suite evolve from the initial idea to the beautiful finished item. It is considered as one of the most important parts of the whole event and one that Athena and the team here at Meticulous Ink take great pride in doing to a very high standard.
We also get a vast amount of enjoyment from producing business stationery: a Patrick Bateman like obsession that we continually try to indulge ourselves in. It is a very different way of designing to wedding stationery, and the possibilities are consistently exciting and rewarding. From a simple, sans serif typeface – evenly spaced and letterpress printed in black onto a crisp Pristine White 300gsm board, to an Ombré effect letterpress print onto a sturdy 540gsm board with a bright painted edge.
But the most relevant product in relation to letter writing that has, and will continue to enhance physical correspondence is personal stationery. The popularity of personal stationery has been consistent for us since we started, and the fact that our own brand Meticulous Ink correspondence product range is constantly in demand and expanding, is solid proof that people take great pleasure in using beautiful correspondence.
Visit Meticulous Ink at: http://meticulousink.com/
134 Walcot Street, Bath BA1 5BG, United Kingdom