For Grace Davis Hall, success lies right at—or in, rather—her fingertips. Her work is the first glimpse most wedding invitees get, setting the tone for formal events in her home state and beyond to places such as Seattle and New York. And for Grace, that first glance should be as beautiful as what is inside.
“As a little girl, I would get so excited when wedding invitations would arrive in the mailbox,” says Grace, a Sylacauga native who now calls Vestavia Hills home. “I have vivid memories of poring over the beautiful hand addressing and wondering how on earth anyone could write so beautifully!” That fascination never left Grace, even as she went on to the University of Alabama to secure a degree in the not-so-artsy-but-still-creative field of advertising and public relations.
Following college, Grace’s curiosity was piqued when she heard word of a calligraphy class being offered by local calligrapher Deb Warnat. Immediately she signed up to try her hand at the art. “I took a handful of lessons covering how to hold an oblique pen and the basic strokes that make up the letterforms,” she says. “From there, I practiced for hundreds of hours during a solid year before feeling like I was ready to show anyone my work.”
As they say, practice makes perfect, and Grace’s flawless work soon caught the discriminating eyes of brides, southern—and not so southern—via an Etsy shop, her initial marketing effort of choice. “To my surprise and delight, I quickly had client requests flowing in from all over the country,” she says. Her calendar filling up quickly thanks to her old-school technique and unwavering commitment to the fine details, she became a familiar face at the post office as she shipped envelopes back and forth to brides on a regular basis. It wasn’t long before Grace became the go-to calligrapher for a paper boutique in Los Angeles.
No stranger to the pomp and circumstance of a southern wedding, expanding her business into other parts of the country taught Grace a little about regional wedding etiquette customs too. “East coast brides plan seated dinner receptions,” she says, “so they need escort cards and place cards in addition to my envelope addressing service.” She notes that Texas brides opt for bigger-is-better buffet-style receptions—the same style brides to which Alabama and Georgia brides gravitate—so place cards aren’t typically a necessary element.
Grace’s business continued to grow organically, sets of envelopes at a time, before eventually drawing attention from Birmingham-based wedding planners, stationers and local brides, of whom there were plenty. In addition to her now-closed Etsy shop—traded in favor of an elegant professional website at gracecalligraphy.com—several planners and paper boutiques requested samples of her work to keep handy for potential clients. In addition to her online presence, local brides can check out Grace’s work at Annabelle’s in Vestavia and The Scribbler in Homewood.
While she is formally trained in pointed pen calligraphy—specifically Copperplate and Spencerian styles—and uses a wooden oblique pen holder, metal nibs and an inkwell to produce script styles that date back centuries, Grace has taken her traditionalist foundation and developed a style that is uniquely her own.
Showing no signs of slowing down—she averages 1,000 envelopes per month—Grace is currently designing a line of semi-custom wedding invitations as well as a collection of scripture prints that can be framed for home use. And she recently collaborated with Sugar B Designs, licensing her signature lettering for use on baby shower invitations, birth announcements and Christmas cards you can find on sugarbdesigns.com. “Carrie Beth Taylor of Sugar B Designs is a phenomenal watercolor artist and stationery designer,” Grace says. “She pairs my calligraphy with her art to make gorgeous invitations and stationery.”
Recently, recognition of her timeless calligraphy style hit an all-time high, as Grace was nominated by a publication as “Best of the South.” She finished in the top three. Ever humble, she simply says, “I always feel honored when my work is recognized.” (Add to that coverage in several national magazines and on prominent wedding websites, and Grace has collected enough honors to be considered wedding royalty.) She stays on top of her craft with participation in the International Association of Master Penmen Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH) and a commitment to traveling to continuing education conferences and seminars. She’s also made it her mission to be under the tutelage of top calligraphists.
“Calligraphy is an old, traditional art but because of evolving technology and the many applications for calligraphy, it offers the opportunity to be a lifelong learner. There are currently eight calligraphers in the world who have attained the title of Master Penman, and I have been fortunate to learn from four of them,” she says.
Interested in seeing more of Grace’s gorgeous work? Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @gracecalligraphy.
Wedding Whatnots: Expert Tips for Brides
Reviews of Grace’s work for past brides is summed up by words as beautiful as her calligraphy: “stunning,” “exquisite,” and one D.C. bride who claims she nearly fell off her chair when her “gorgeous” envelopes arrived in the mail. It’s no wonder then, that Grace’s production calendar fills up fast. Below, she offers timeline tips and other advice for soon-to-be-wedded couples near and far.
- Book vendors as soon as the date is set. It’s not unusual for Grace to place brides on her production calendar nine months before their wedding date. “This runs contrary to the advice you see on many wedding blogs,” she says. “They usually say that you don’t have to book a calligrapher until you order your invitations. If you wait that long, I will most likely already be booked.”
- Avoid the guest list stress. “I have learned that one of the most stressful parts of wedding planning is assembling the guest list,” says Grace. “So once a bride and her family book me, I give them an address template to follow. And I am always available to my clients to answer etiquette questions as they compile their lists. For example, the most common question I receive is how to address a couple when the wife is a doctor.” (One other tip: spell out all abbreviations! Wedding invitations aren’t the place for shorthand.)
- Did she say book early? Respect the no-rush art form of calligraphy, and book early. “Wedding season is never-ending for me—I am blessed to stay continually booked,” says Grace, who requires one week for every 100 sets of envelopes that she addresses from her natural light-filled home office. (The light allows Grace to see the fine hairlines of her calligraphy and how the ink is interacting with the paper’s fibers. The view of the magnolia trees is just a bonus.) “I never see a drop-off during the year, and the most difficult thing for me is having to tell a bride that I can’t address her invitations.”
A Calligrapher’s Big Day
You may wonder, with all of the weddings her timeless work has graced over the years, what Grace chose for her own wedding to husband O.Z.
“We planned an elegant, traditional, Southern wedding,” says Grace, who is drawn to old South heritage. She and O.Z. exchanged vows during a late morning ceremony at Reid Chapel, followed by a brunch reception at the Florentine Building. Friend and fellow Vestavia Hills resident/artist Erin Hardin painted the chapel for the couple, which became the inspiration for the color palette as well as the focal point of the paper suite.
“For the Save the Date card, we incorporated the painting with my calligraphy,” says Grace. “And then when it was time to design the invitation, we used the painting of Reid Chapel again on the back of the reply card. The invitation suite consisted of an invitation, reply card, reception card and a double envelope set. I am a firm believer that the invitation sets the tone for the wedding. It is your guests’ first impression of your wedding. Knowing that we were planning a traditional wedding, I chose to use black ink on a very thick and soft luxe paper.” The original oil painting now hangs in the couple’s Vestavia home as an homage to the start of their life together.