Imogen Owen has taught over 2,000 creatives the art of modern calligraphy after she discovered a gap in the UK market. She’s now working on a range of branded calligraphy products, creating her own on-line store and continuing to inspire a new generation of calligraphers …. enter the quirky world of Imogen Owen!
- What’s your story?
I studied Graphic Design at Camberwell, and then did a number of different things whilst I was figuring out what I wanted to do, including working in film props and for interiors magazines. I was always interested in print and letterpress but it was only after a now or never moment where I asked myself what the hell I was doing with my life that I decided to start my own stationery brand.
- Was there ever a point where you questioned if you could do it? How did you get through it?
I never really doubt myself or my ability to do something. My downfall is taking too long to get round to doing it!
- What was the first piece of work you ever sold?
I’ve always been fairly entrepreneurial, and I’ve been making and selling things since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint what the first thing I sold was, there have been so many, but I think I’ve always liked to make things and if I could make some pocket money from it so much the better.
- How do you begin when working on a new project – can you share any top tips?
My head is always a seething mass of new ideas! I’m always researching new projects, looking for new opportunities and I have tons of notes for new projects. For me it’s about trying to filter out the other noise, work on one thing at a time, and see that thing through to completion. I always start with research. I want to make sure whatever I’m planning is going to come from the strongest place. I ask questions like: Have I chosen the best materials? Have I worked out the best production method? How is this going to work? What first steps do I need to take?
- At each major growth point of your business (i.e. creating a new website, launching workshops, exhibiting at the Stationery Show in New York, etc.) how do you motivate yourself to take the big leap? Can you share a little bit about your decision making process?
One of my weaknesses is not making quick decisions. I know I do this and it really annoys me. I know my mind and I know what to do, but I sometimes weigh up all the options too much. I’m not as self-assured as I should be, which is pretty daft, as I know what’s what. Sometimes I just need to tell myself to shut up and get on with it and stop putting things off. I think you know pretty instantly if something is right for you or not, as you always come back to your gut feeling. The key is being able to trust your own judgement.
Working on your own is hard sometimes because everything is down to you, it’s all on your shoulders, the good and the bad. Running a business is a total learning curve, so it’s all about looking at things realistically, is something achievable? What could the end result be? Is it worth it? Sometimes I think would it be easier to have a business partner when it comes to making decisions, and being able to bounce ideas off each other, but other times I think that could be a total nightmare, so it really comes down to confidence in your own judgement. One of my failings is not appreciating what I’ve achieved, and instead looking at what I’ve not done yet. That’s part of what drives me, but it’s important to appreciate where you are and how you’ve got there.
- What have been your favourite projects to date and why?
I’m lucky to have worked on some fab projects although sadly you can’t always talk about things you’ve worked on due to client confidentiality and you get some amazing projects that never see the light of day. I love working on wedding projects, being involved in bringing a couples ideas to life is really rewarding. I’ve enjoyed working on lots of different things. Creating work for magazine shoots is always great as you make something, and sort of forget about it, until it’s suddenly out in print and beautifully styled and presented.
- What are you working on at the moment and what’s next?
Oh my, I’m working on a few different things, one super exciting and secret big project for next year which I’ve been working on for a while but it’s definitely my favourite so far. My calligraphy online store, with my own branded calligraphy products, which I’ve been working on for a little while and desperate to get finished, as well as my own wedding collections and personal stationery collections.
- You’ve taught over 1,000 people across the UK via one of your fantastic workshops – can you tell us more about them?
It’s more than double that now which is bonkers really! I was asked to teach modern calligraphy by a couple of different people such as Abigail Warner and Lucy from Quill when no one else was doing it here in the UK. I spent time devising suitable workshop content, I’d been teaching at De Montfort university so I was confident in my abilities to communicate well with an audience and the first courses went down really well. Things just snowballed from there. I’ve been teaching modern calligraphy ever since, and seen people I’ve taught following in my footsteps. My workshops are all about getting people to understand the basics and giving them the tools and knowledge to get started with modern calligraphy. I always encourage my students to go and learn as much as they can and be open to trying new things. I think my passion for what I’m teaching comes across well in my workshops, as I love what I do and I want others to feel the same, I want everyone to feel able to enjoy a new skill and take pleasure in writing beautifully.
- What does your creative space look like?
Currently it’s a bit full as I’m surrounded by things from New York when I exhibited at The Stationery Show. I’ve lots of orders waiting to go out and printing to do, plus I’ve bought back far too much stationery from other designers I love! I’m a total stationery hoarder and there was an epic gift bag from the Oh So Beautiful Paper party.
- What’s your big dream?
My dream is to be making enough money to live happily and not worry, to have my brand everywhere I want and to be making things that people love. So far I’m pretty lucky as I’m doing something I love and getting paid for it.
Quick fire questions…
- Who inspires your work most? There’s so much inspiration I draw on, vintage ephemera, people, places, film, life. I love vintage eastern European illustration and folk/fairy tales.
- What three words best describe you? Passionate. Sweary. Eccentric.
- What’s your preferred social media platform? Instagram, it’s the one thing I always check and love to see, it’s a window on the world.
- What are your favourite hobbies? Some of my hobbies are now my job, so I’m on the lookout for new ones. I recently did a spoon- carving workshop and I’m getting my own tools so I can do this at home. I love to be outside walking or horse-riding, although I can’t bring myself to do this again yet since my horse was put down. I’m desperate to go to a ceramics class too as I miss working with forms in 3D.
- Can you share a few things that people don’t know about you? I worked on the film Love Actually, I’m incredibly phobic about snakes, and I’m fascinated to read about great white shark attacks on humans.