Uncommon Labor

A portrait of a woman doing calligraphy
Gina Florez designs invitations and other calligraphy art at Paper Reign. Florez, who also practices law, received a $10,000 grant from Comcast RISE, a nonprofit that recognizes the achievements of women of color who own businesses.

A milkman, a cobbler, a calligrapher, a compounding pharmacist, a seamstress: You might expect to find that these occupations have grown obsolete. These days, many people get their dairy—and even their medicines—from the grocery store, create their own invitations online, and buy new clothing and shoes when they become old or out of style. But that’s not always the case. In fact, many of these “old-timey” occupations are thriving, and you can patronize them right here in the heart of Mt. Lebanon.

 

Calligrapher (noun): A professional copyist or engrosser, one who practices the art of calligraphy. 

Gina Florez had always had an interest in art but feared it wouldn’t pay the bills. So instead, she became an attorney. 

While in law school, Florez explored intellectual property and worked at an art copyright nonprofit. It was there that she realized she missed art, and decided it was time to pursue her true passion. 

Florez taught herself calligraphy at a young age and was always making invitations for friends and family. She eventually took her designs to Etsy and began selling to customers all over the country. Finding success, she opened her own brick and mortar store, Paper Reign, in 2018 at The Galleria. In 2019 she moved the store to Beverly Road. Not only does Florez currently run her own business, but she still practices law. She also plans to potentially expand her business to the North Hills. 

Unlike most “old-timey” occupations, technology has improved the art of calligraphy in many ways. Years ago, invitations were written out one by one, making the practice time-consuming and expensive. But now, they can be scanned and digitized. A customer only has to pay for one copy, rather than hundreds. 

“It still keeps the art alive by allowing more people to use it because it brings down the cost,” Florez said. “So it makes it more accessible.”

The downside to digitization is people can find their own designs online, eliminating the need for a custom calligrapher. But Florez says her business is still bustling. She often does wedding invitations and wedding suites—which include the invitation cards, response cards and reception cards. 

“That’s when they want it to be the prettiest. That’s when they’re willing to spend the most money on something like that,” Florez said. 

In addition to weddings, Florez stays busy designing greeting cards, graduation, communion and confirmation invitations. 

“We barely do any kids birthday parties at this point, which I used to do as well,” Florez said. “I think those have all just succumbed to Evites.”

Technology has not only made calligraphy more accessible to customers, but it has also helped those wanting to learn. Now anyone can hop on YouTube and watch video tutorials or take classes online. 

“There wasn’t the internet that you could go on and take a class or find somebody that specialized in that kind of thing,” Florez said. “I really didn’t have any idea of how to go about doing it.” 

For aspiring calligraphers, Florez recommends beginning with the basics. Start with upward and downward strokes, then get into the curves and alphabet. Having the correct posture is also very important.

“It really is the same as learning any language or learning how to write,” Florez says. “You just start with the basics and work your way up from there and then practice, practice, practice.”

Photography by John Altdorfer

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