I was first introduced to calligrapher Megan Riera last summer, at Boden’s Christmas press event (“Christmas in July” is a big deal in the fashion calendar, FYI). Megan was teaching mini calligraphy workshops throughout the day, and I got to learn the basics from her and discover how she got into the profession. Her career journey is fascinating – beginning in motion graphics and animation – and I’m so pleased that Megan was willing to share her experiences with Coco’s Tea Party. So let’s jump right in…
When did first develop an interest in calligraphy?
I studied design for moving image at university, and after I graduated I went straight into a job at a little boutique agency. I worked on all of their moving image pieces – so anything that had motion graphics or animation in it. I was there for a couple of years, and then I moved on to another design studio that did a lot of title sequence work. So I was always thinking about different fonts and interesting ways that names could appear on screen.
Around that time I started to see a lot of beautiful, modern calligraphy coming out of the States; and I remember one day thinking it would be perfect for a job that had just come through. So I decided to give it a try. I went out and bought all of the kit, but quickly realised it wasn’t going to be that easy. I didn’t use calligraphy for that project in the end, but it’s when my hobby started.
How did you turn your hobby into a new career?
I became really intrigued by calligraphy after that first attempt, and I started reading lots of books and watching video tutorials online every evening. I would sit down after work and practise – this was before my daughter was born, so I had a lot of time on my hands back then. About six months later I used my calligraphy in a title sequence pitch for a feature film, and we won the project, which really got my confidence going.
From there I started offering my services to anybody I knew who was getting married. Anything that I could use my calligraphy for I did, and once I realised I could make a living from my writing I decided to leave motion graphics and go freelance.
Did you feel nervous about leaving your job in motion graphics? Or were you quietly confident that modern calligraphy was about to grow in popularity?
I never have quiet confidence. I was terrified. I’d never been freelance before, so I had no idea if I was going get any jobs. But thankfully I’ve never had to look for work, it’s just naturally come to me through recommendations and word-of-mouth. So I’ve been very lucky. One of the first projects I landed was with the BBC. I did the credits for J.K.Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy in calligraphy.
What does your typical workday look like now that you’re your own boss?
Well, I used to have a studio space in London Bridge. But it took me two hours to get there and back every day, and I quickly realised that I need to use that time for work. So now I have a studio at home. My daughter wakes me every morning at 7am, and I make her breakfast, get her dressed and then drop her off at her nanny’s. Once I get home I make a cup of coffee and dedicate an hour to emails.
I usually plan out the whole week on Monday morning, because I’m always juggling a mix of jobs and need to prioritise what comes first. Every day is different. Yesterday I was working on a project for London Fashion Week, then testing different inks, nibs and materials in the afternoon. And I also do a lot of commissioned work – like wedding stationary and custom prints – so I spend a lot of time at the scanner and making trips to the post office.
It’s always pretty full-on until about 6pm, when I pick up my little girl from nursery and my husband gets home. We’ll cook dinner and then I’ll usually go back to work until about midnight. I find it very hard to get the work/life balance right, and I’m constantly in trouble with my husband. But if you stop you can lose momentum. Most of the time you just need to plough through and keep going.
How do you unwind after a difficult day?
I like to watch rubbish on TV. Anything that’s embarrassingly bad. I love The Real Housewives of… any city, really! They did The Real Housewives of Vancouver, which is where I’m from, and they were probably the worst group ever, so that was amazing. My husband hates it. He’s mortified by my addiction to these shows.
SHOP MEGAN’S STYLE
What’s the biggest challenge you currently face in your career?
The work/life balance is probably the biggest challenge, because I love what I do and I find it really hard to switch off. I’m always thinking about new ideas and I don’t know when to stop. Learning how to say no is a big part of the challenge, but I’m slowly getting better. I had a tendency to say yes to every little job that came in at first, and I would be working all hours of the day.
I run a lot of calligraphy workshops through Quill – an amazing stationary company in London – and as soon as they put up the dates they’re sold out in minutes. And that’s kind of a double-edged sword, because it’s so nice to teach people, but it can take your attention away from creative projects. Before Christmas I was hosting workshops almost every day, and it meant I had to turn down some interesting projects. So now I’m trying to find a better balance and do a maximum amount of workshops per month.
And, on the flip-side, what’s the coolest thing about your job?
Just the fact that every single job is so different. And I’m constantly learning. I was asked a couple of weeks ago to write on macarons, which isn’t something I’d ever done before. Getting to experiment with different tools and learn through trial and error is so much fun. A few years ago I never would have imagined I’d be able to call this my job, but I absolutely love it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Which other women working in your industry inspire you?
There’s an incredible American graphic designer called Jessica Walsh. She’s making big waves in the male-dominated design world. And Gemma O’Brien – AKA Mrs Eaves – is also amazing. She’s an Australian typographer, and the quality and quantity of work she produces is mind-blowing. What she does in an hour would take me weeks!
Finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t look at Instagram before bed! It’s so bad for you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I follow this advice all the time. And whenever I do look at Instagram before bed it makes me go, “Ugh.. I’m not doing enough. I need to be doing more.” It’s so unhealthy to constantly compare yourself to other people. One of my friends, who is also a freelance designer, gave me this advice, but she doesn’t follow her own rule either…
You can catch up on the previous My 9 to 5 interviews here >>