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Sleight of Hand

Julie Wildman

I’m always a beginner at something

Julie Wildman’s letterforms, though drawn or painted, have a nearly typographic feeling to them. Her deliberate negative shapes burst with vitality. She has integrated lessons from many teachers to develop a unique style, while honoring the tradition of the art .

As soon as I was taught printing and cursive in grammar school, I discovered I loved to write neatly and beautifully. Starting in third grade, I’d change my handwriting style until I came up with something I really liked. I was also the designated poster-maker or ad designer for school publications throughout grammar school and high school.

I knew I wanted to be an artist, but didn’t know how to make a career out of it, so while taking some general ed classes in college, I stumbled across a graphic design class. My professor said I had an affinity for design and typography and suggested I look into the graphic design program at Columbia College in Chicago. I graduated with a B.A. in graphic design and have been working as a designer ever since.

In 1998, I discovered a passion for calligraphy after taking a year-long class with Reggie Ezell. In that class, I learned not only how to make letterforms, but how to use traditional tools and materials like quills, vellum, and gold leaf for gilding.

The first time I made a letter with a broad-edged tool that looked like it was supposed to look, I put my head down on my desk and cried. I was overwhelmed with the simple, yet elegant beauty of the gouache as it flowed from the nib and how it sat up on the paper. It was just a pressurized Roman ‘I,’ but I realized what it took to make it look right and I knew, from then on, I wanted to make beautiful letters.

I love learning new styles and feel as if I’m always a beginner at something. One way I like to challenge myself with my lettering is to look at it and see what features make it look like “Julie Wildman’s style.” Then I do something completely opposite—a different direction to throw a stroke or flourish; a different way to push the pointed brush; adding thicks and thins in non-conventional ways or writing with crazy tools like seashells, tree seed pods, or broom bristles.

I have been teaching calligraphy locally since 2003 and throughout the U.S. and Canada since 2013.  I feel an obligation to pass on the manual tradition of letter-making. I have to be the best I can be and give people an excellent example to follow. I want to share a sense of a connection to the past before computers with upcoming generations. This is a craft that is no longer taught in schools, so if I/we don’t pass it on, it will die.

All of my teachers have inspired me, but there are a few, in particular, I’d like to acknowledge. Brody Neuenschwander in Bruges, Belgium opened my eyes to new and crazy ways to make letterforms. His protégé, Yves Leterme, has also been a huge influence on me. The late Georgia Deaver was my pointed brush guru. And Mike Gold, of American Greetings, is a hero with regard to the use of color and lively letters.

I’ve been doing calligraphy for 22 years, and graphic design for 30-plus. I have been teaching calligraphy locally since 2003, and throughout the U.S. and Canada since 2013.

For information on individual works, see Julie’s profile on lettering.com.

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