Crayligraphy With Natalie Downey
If you haven't heard of Natalie Downey, there’s probably a (not so good) reason for that. Natalie is a fellow Crayligrapher and hand lettering artist whose skill level surpasses most work I follow on social media, but yet, she goes quietly unnoticed.
Natalie is a full-time Art Director living in Baltimore, Maryland (my old stomping grounds) and considers her expertise as a calligraphy artist, a hobby!
Stop traffic. A hobby?!
If this is Natalie’s hobby, your head probably hurts as much as mine after banging it on a desk.
Natalie primarily practices the fragmented method within her body of Crayligraphy work. Natalie’s precise control—with swift, broken strokes—is a thing of beauty and a privilege to watch. She’s like a ninja with her highly trained weapon in marker arts and obscure presence.
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Tell Us A Little About Yourself
I'm Natalie Downey and I currently live in the Baltimore area working as an art director. I was born and raised in Kentucky but because my husband is active duty military, we have lived in Miami and now Baltimore for the last several years. I work full-time for a design firm creating logos, packaging, marketing materials, and other graphics. Beyond being a graphic designer, I'm also a handletterer, wine lover, movie buff, dog rescuer, avid camper, and wannabe chef.
When did you begin your venture into calligraphy and what was your biggest obstacle when you first started out?
My calligraphy journey started about 4 years ago. It's funny that your previous interviewee was Matt Vergotis because he was one of the first calligraphers that I began to follow and he really inspired me to start picking up brush pens and markers. However, I think my biggest obstacle at first was that I was too focused on those letterers that I admired. I spent so much time trying to duplicate exactly what they were writing, how they were holding their pens, and which tools they were using, that I really didn't make much progress in finding my own style and rhythm. Although it’s helpful to use other calligraphers as a resource, keep in mind that you’ll gain the most skill & confidence by exploring what works best for you.
What's your calligraphy instrument of choice and why?
If it wasn’t already obvious enough on my Instagram, my favorite calligraphy instrument is the trusty broad line magic marker (Crayola, Cra-z-Art, Roseart, etc.). I have always been a very heavy-handed writer and the durable felt tips on these markers hold up the best against my hard pressure on the paper. Over time, I've gained better control with soft-tip pens but I always go back to my broad line markers because of comfort, durability, and better consistency.
Your work seems almost flawless—especially to the novice. What tips can you offer beginners who seem to struggle when starting calligraphy?
I always go back to my broad line markers because of comfort, durability, and better consistency.
Practice and repetition. I know that’s the most common response from calligraphers when asked this question, but there’s a reason for that. It’s the only foolproof way to learn the techniques and gain the skills to get better. Try experimenting with different pens/markers, practice basic strokes, and see what movements come more naturally to you. One thing I always keep in mind is that it’s more about creating shapes than writing letters – worksheets can be a really great tool for this. But above all, put in the time. I make practicing a priority even if it's just for a few minutes a day. Calligraphy isn't something you can learn overnight and it's a trade that you can never truly perfect.
You seem to focus on the fragmented method. Is there a reason you are drawn towards this method as opposed to the fluid method?
I make practicing a priority even if it's just for a few minutes a day.
For me, flicking my wrist is key. Although I do enjoy the fluid method occasionally, I feel like I can achieve better movement and control with the fragmented method. My gestures tend to be very quick, which allows me to develop a rhythm and consistency in my strokes. Basically, instead of creating a letter with one fluid shape and keeping the marker tip on the paper, I build a letter using multiple short strokes with varying thickness by lifting the marker between strokes.
Do you think calligraphy will remain a hobby for you or do you think you'll turn this passion into an eventual freelance gig?
That's a great question, but also a tough one to answer. I do some freelance calligraphy jobs here and there but nothing too extensive. As you know, pricing issues almost always arise when it comes to freelancing and calligraphy is no exception. I once had a popular bar ask me to design and hand letter a very large chalkboard with their full drink menu, but once I gave them a (very fair) price, they were no longer interested in hiring me for the project.
One thing I've learned over the last few years is not to sell myself short, especially if it involves spending time away from my family and friends. Fortunately, having a full time job allows me to be picky when it comes to freelance work. Right now I’m just enjoying calligraphy in my free time to strengthen my skills and experience so that hopefully in the future, clients will see its value.
Having a full time job while finding time for calligraphy can be difficult. How do you manage to find time to practice?
I'm a very organized and on-the-go type of person, so that definitely helps. I also take my lettering gear to work and normally try to spend 2-3 of my lunch breaks during the week practicing. Since I'm already at a desk and have my tools readily available, it leaves me with no excuses.
It also helps that my husband has a unique work schedule. He's gone for days at a time so that gives me plenty of wine & calligraphy nights. Truth is, if you really enjoy something and want to get better, you'll find the time to make it happen even if you have a busy schedule.
What do you find most appealing about Crayligraphy?
The stroke variation. Because of the wide base and pointed tip, you can achieve great thicks and thins with broad line markers if you know how to control your pressure and angle of the marker. I also really love the natural color gradients and textures that Crayligraphy yields. What I think is so appealing to most people is that it isn't intimidating, which makes it an excellent place to start when exploring calligraphy.