Meet Your Neighbor...Chadae Chang Bowler, a Darien calligrapher
Updated 3:48 pm, Friday, August 18, 2017
DARIEN — Chadae Chang Bowler started practicing calligraphy out of necessity.
Bowler, a native of New York, met her future husband at Darien High School while participating in A Better Chance, a national program that provides access to prestigious high schools to academically talented students of color.
When Bowler got engaged in July 2014, she and her fiance decided to get married in October in a local ceremony. When Bowler began looking at invitations, however, she struggled to find something in her style that could be done quickly.
“I was looking to get invitations and the things I found really weren’t our style,” she said. “I wanted it to feel like us and not manufactured.”
After seeing a friend who did her own wedding envelopes using calligraphy, Bowler decided to try the craft herself after researching what materials she needed. She learned different styles through blogs and utilized the Adobe skills she uses in her day job as a marketing manager for a jewelry trade show company to tidy up the work digitally. In the end, she used the process to write and digitize 65 invitations for her ceremony.
Not only did the final product turn out well, but the Darien resident found she enjoyed the process.
For more information about Harper Ink Calligraphy, visit harperinkcalligraphy.com.
“I’ve always liked pen and paper,” she said. “I love handwritten letters.”
Bowler began to practice calligraphy for fun between her job and raising her 2-year-old son, Harper. She started sharing her work on social media and people began taking an interest. When a friend asked Bowler to address the envelopes for her wedding invitations, Bowler initially said she’d do the work for free, until her friend insisted on paying her. That’s when Bowler realized her hobby could turn into something more.
“That’s when I was like ‘Okay, people make a business out of this,’ and started doing more research on how to make it something that was official,” Bowler said. “That’s where I discovered that there’s a whole world of other calligraphers out there.”
Bowler began taking courses through the Modern Calligraphy Summit, which offers online calligraphy and brush lettering courses. Modern Calligraphy Summit also offers business classes where Bowler learned the basics of working with contracts and how to further promote her work through social media.
“I got a lot of valuable information from following along with those,” she said. “That’s where I learned to develop my pricing and I built an Instagram page September of last year, not knowing what would happen, and by January, I had a thousand followers.”
Around that same time, Bowler officially went into business out of her home in Darien. Her company, Harper Ink Calligraphy, is a nod to her son, as is the name of her signature style, also called “Harper.” Bowler works on her calligraphy 20 to 30 hours a week, on top of working full time at her marketing job. On average, she works on four custom “suites” over the course of a year, which includes a custom invitation, reply card, return address printing and other additional services.
Bowler’s process begins with getting to know a couple, looking at their Pinterest board and giving them a questionnaire about their wedding. Bowler tries to not only ask about colors, themes and venues, but also about the couple themselves and their story. From there, she begins sketching out different ideas and works with them until they find a layout and style they like. Bowler sketches different elements on various pieces of paper and then scans them onto the computer where she puts together text, calligraphy and sometimes even watercolor designs she does herself. She then works with the printer on the type of paper and colors.
The whole process can take the better of a year and cost between $1,000 and $2,500 depending on the number of invitations and the letterpress used.
“My favorite thing is when someone reaches out and says your envelope is so beautiful,” she said. “I have guests that say that they don’t even want to throw the envelope away. That’s such a nice thing to hear... It sets the tone of the event or the message you’re trying to portray. It’s gotten to the point where I’m not just doing invitations and envelopes. People ask me to write vows for them or poems or letters. I love being a part of people’s keepsakes. I call them modern-day heirlooms. I hope when someone gets something like this they feel like it’s valuable enough to keep it.”
In addition to full suites, Bowler does small side projects, such as addressing envelopes in calligraphy. Between envelopes and full suites, she’s had a steady stream of inquiries since February. Right now, her workload is limited due to time constraints, but her goal is to someday do calligraphy full time.
“I have a very understanding husband and we put the baby to bed fairly early,” she said with a laugh. “I’m also working weekends a lot of the time, too. I might dedicate two hours a night after work to doing an order and the weekend is when I pull out all my toys. It’s really about time management, but that’s the thing as Harper Ink starts to pick up and word of mouth spreads.”
Despite the role it’s taken in her life, Bowler admits she never saw her calligraphy becoming a business. However, she’s found a steady stream of business from the steady wedding industry, as well as people who are always looking for beautiful, customized invitations and written pieces.
“My husband said I never realized you have a constant audience of people,” she said. “People are always getting married, people are always sending things...and it’s my hand and a computer screen. I think this is something I can do long term. It’s kind of crazy. I never thought I could make a business out of it.”