Nineteen name tags and place cards bearing Annie Cicale’s name flutter on the doorframe leading into her workshop in Fairview, near Asheville. They’re ordinary tags collected from calligraphy conferences she’s attended over the years, but each showcases her name in an extraordinary writing style.

That each tag was lettered by hand, just for her, means something to Cicale: As an accomplished calligrapher, she knows the skill that goes into crafting each line. She’s spent almost 40 years merging letters, words, and art. “When something is written by hand, its importance is elevated; it tends to get saved and preserved for the future,” she says.

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Learning calligraphy is like mastering the piano, says Joyce Teta, founder of the Calligraphy Centre in Winston-Salem. “You learn the notes. Then you learn the chords. Then you learn a song,” she says. “Eventually, you write your own music.”

The basic strokes that form the foundation of Cicale’s work — triangles, squares, circles — flow into letters that begin to sing out a melody. And to craft the final crescendo, she calls on a suite of other tools: paintbrushes, gouaches, pens of all sizes.

Cicale often takes her work one step further by integrating illustrations. “Some artists are pure calligraphers in a way that is totally classic,” says Cicale. “But my work is more about taking the words and building a place for them, putting them in an environment that helps tell the story.”

As a child, Cicale remembers having a teacher who wrote a treasured verse on the blackboard each week. She and her classmates would copy it in their notebooks daily. “Looking back, we probably all hated it, but I learned a valuable lesson from that teacher,” Cicale says. “If somebody said something really profound and I wrote it down — not typed it — I have better memory of it, a better understanding of it.”

With hand lettering, Cicale gets to create the whole concept, she says. “When I use my hands, I’m using a different mind-set, a more meditative and spiritual path rather than a technical process. From my choice of tools, to the layout and design, to the limits of my ability to execute my idea, it’s all me.”

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Learn more at cicaleletteringdesign.com.

This story was published on

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.

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