Kathy Milici is a nationally known calligrapher, designer, instructor and mentor. She happily admits to being obsessed with letters since early childhood. Owner of 24 Karat Designs Calligraphy Studio in Newton, New Jersey, her work has been seen in national magazines and on television. A member of the Society of Scribes in New York City and IAMPETH, Kathy teaches both at home and travels the country, lecturing and teaching calligraphy and the related arts. She also mentors fellow artists and art students in how to create a living and maintain a viable business, working as an artist. After 35 years as a professional calligrapher and teacher, Kathy is still enjoying her lifelong passion for “everything calligraphy.”
Your name and title/business name?
Kathy Milici, 24 Karat Designs Calligraphy Studio, located in Newton (northern) New Jersey, near the Pennsylvania and New York state borders. This is horse country!
What’s your educational background, i.e., college, professional school, high school, apprenticeship, etc.?
My interest in letters started at a very young age, and I credit my mother and grandmother for being avid readers. We were always read to, as children, and spent lots of time at the library. It must have something to do with loving both the spoken and the written word, I’m sure.
Although I became a professional calligrapher at the age of 19, my formal study education in lettering began later in life when I first discovered (and joined) the Society of Scribes in New York City, the calligraphy guild that is closest to my home. That led to finding the best teachers and Master Penman in the world with whom I have studied. There’s nothing like having great teachers!
What design opportunities are presented to you typically?
Weddings, weddings, weddings! Hand lettering lends itself to wedding work so beautifully. I commonly letter envelopes, place cards, seating charts, menu designs, chalkboards, mirrors, programs and favors. Anything and everything! Although the trends in wedding calligraphy are ever-changing, there are always many, many brides getting married who appreciate and desire calligraphy.
Many of my clients are high profile: Politicians, celebrities and sports figures. I also enjoy corporate work, like resolutions and illustrated mission statements. I just finished a lettering job for Fashion Week in NYC next year! This job can get really interesting! :)
You never know what someone will ask you to letter on. My most recent, fun projects included lettering on umbrellas, basketballs, leaves, rocks, cut crystal paper weights, silver trays, wood slices, sleds, fruit, wine bottles and even a Kitchen Aid mixer! Being a good calligrapher also requires being a good problem-solver. You need to be able to figure out how to accomplish the job successfully, no matter the dilemma.
Please talk about your design process – working with type and letters specifically.
Being a good designer is so important. I enjoy the design process immensely, and creating new workshops to teach letter design techniques in the national arena.
These days, it’s not enough to be a good letter artist. You must know how to apply it in various ways, and that involves good composition and layout skills. Software programs like Photoshop can help you quicken your layout skills, but I will always love the old drafting school “pencil layout, cut and paste” layout technique that I was taught in technical school before computers existed. It sure raises a lot of eyebrows when I show it in my workshops! Since I’ve been doing it that way for years, I still use it for small jobs because it’s so fast. For larger jobs, I letter the necessary parts and then use a local graphic design firm for the finishing touches, scanning, and digitizing.
What’s a typical day or week like for your team and you?
“Team Milici” consists of me and my husband! The days are quite full, and we both enjoy being extremely organized. I am also a daily list maker, which keeps me focused and on track. I so enjoy the feeling of satisfaction as I cross items off the list every day! Keeping a set schedule with business hours is very important for any artist who works at home. It’s very easy to get distracted if you allow it, so you must be very strict about your work ethic if you want to accomplish things. I am so grateful for my husband, who takes care of the book keeping and accounting.
Where or how do you “recharge your creative battery,” i.e., books, blogs, music, art, exercise, mediation, prayer, hobbies, interests, etc.?
Books, books and more books. Inspirational and motivational books, small business success books, quote books, biographies of famous creative entrepreneurs, new calligraphy books, books on medieval art, historic calligraphic documents, and books on the lives of the Penmen during the “Golden Age of Penmanship.” Did I ever tell you that I love calligraphy books? :)
I also love researching, sketching, listening to classical music, walking, developing new workshops, finding beautiful quotes, and brainstorming new ideas with my sister and husband. Time with family, friends and kitties help me stay balanced. A nice, quiet dinner out with my husband helps me stay calm, centered and loved. Not to mention pedicures and chocolate.
Who or what are your influences or muses?
I am influenced by anything beautiful and romantic; classical music, poetry and prose, and Medieval, Impressionist and pre-Raphaelite art. I am ever inspired by today’s Master Penmen, who are all world renowned calligraphers and engrossers, and love to share their skills, techniques and love of lettering with everyone. My calligraphy friends, students and Facebook community are always sources of inspiration for me!
Do you create art outside of your studio? If so what types of work?
Over the years, I have painted calligraphy quotes on walls mixed with faux finishing treatments…up high on a big ladder or scaffolding! These days I’m more than happy to keep my feet firmly on the ground, but if I’m asked, don’t be surprised if I say yes!
Did you begin your career prior to the digital revolution? If so has the computer/technology – if at all – impacted your approach to design?
Yes, my career began in 1979, before computers were widely available. When computerized “calligraphy” first emerged in the digital world, I thought that I would have to find another job. Surely, I thought, no one would ever want hand-lettering again. To my amazement, it actually turned out to be just the opposite scenario! Hand lettering, especially for formal events such as weddings, has never enjoyed such a boom in recent years! People continue to call me and be so happy that they found someone who does REAL calligraphy.
Many graphic artists continue to register for hand-lettering workshops. It’s quite a big trend right now. Adding more skills to your repertoire will further your versatility as an artist, with more resources to offer your clients. Win-win!
Tell us something about you that might surprise or delight us.
I love the business side of art! Many artists dislike it or are afraid of it, but I love it! I teach a workshop in business success for artists. After 35 years as a business owner, professional calligrapher and instructor, I think I’m starting to make a little headway. :)