Working with a Calligrapher | The Guest List
Professional calligraphy can elevate your event stationery in a way few things can. It is bespoke. 100% by hand. Each piece becomes its own work of art.
As the practice has experienced a growing resurgence in recent years (gracias, social media), contemporary calligraphers have become an increasingly common presence on wedding vendor collaboration lists. But calligraphers can be a fickle breed. We each have our own creative processes + preferences, each valid + personal to the artist. So, what should you keep in mind when you include a calligrapher on your event planning team? Well, each vendor runs their business differently, so having a general awareness + appreciation of the calligraphy process can be so very helpful for everyone involved. Watch a few videos online, reach out to an actual calligrapher, or better yet, take a class! The more we understand each other, the fewer the headaches!
That said, for this post, we're going to focus on a calligraphy biggie...
the Guest List.
In general, there will be one of two ways your calligrapher is going to want your guest list for envelope calligraphy. You may be asked to send your list in traditional address format using Microsoft Word or Pages. You may also work with a calligrapher who prefers an Excel spreadsheet. I go back + forth depending on the scope + style of the project itself + will communicate my preference (if any) to clients once details have been finalized. My point here, I suppose, is please don't assume. If you haven't been clearly instructed, then ask before you spend time working on a list format incorrectly. We know your time is valuable + we truly don't enjoy sending lists back because we need them done differently.
Now, my apologies up front, because I'm about to get real with you. Basically, I feel it necessary to explain why we're such a picky lot. Often enough, calligraphers end up on the receiving end of comments along the lines of
"ugh, does this reeeeeeally matter?"
Even with event planners + other industry insiders who work with stationers + printers often enough, it can seem like guest lists are thrown together + too often thrown at calligraphers without much (or any) regard to how they want them formatted - and we're the ones left in the position of coming off pushy + high maintenance. Now we're the annoying vendor asking that you add yet another item to your ever expanding to-do list because the simple courtesy of a question wasn't asked. Or we have to do it ourselves, which no calligrapher wants to do. And for good reason. Consider this: we have to-do lists, too. We are incredibly aware that reformatting a guest list takes time. So before you start complaining that we're being so demanding, perhaps ask yourself why you don't want to do it + then ask yourself why your calligrapher's time is less valuable. Truly, I say this with love, but if you want me to spend an extra hour or 2 reformatting your guest list for you, just please don't expect me to do it for free. You are investing in someone who will be spending dedicated time on each individual piece. By hand. Taking the time to ensure your list conforms to their personal process is imperative to making sure your calligraphy comes back to you in a timely manner + with minimal errors. We would much rather not have to edit your list at all + some calligraphers (myself included) actually stipulate this - your list will be calligraphed exactly as it is sent to me. No exceptions. What if I accidentally delete an entry because I had to shift or delete unnecessary cells on the spreadsheet? How would I know? What if something copy + pastes incorrectly? Then it would fall on me. Calligraphers require certain formats because we know what works for us. We require this because we are trying to make the process more streamlined + as error free as possible! We require this because we want to do our best work - for you!
You are investing in someone who will be spending dedicated time on each individual piece. By hand.
Taking the time to ensure your list conforms to their personal process is imperative to making sure your calligraphy comes back to you in a timely manner + with minimal errors.
Oftentimes, your calligrapher may even have a specific template they prefer you use, like one of mine listed below. See? Already trying to make it easier for you! I have templates for both types of lists + will direct clients toward one or the other, again, depending on the project.
WORD Guest Address List Template
I know Excel is easy + all, but it can be hard for us calligraphers to work with in some cases (ie. small font, compact lists). But no worries! If you already have your addresses laid out in Excel, it is very simple to do a mail merge, in which case you wouldn't even need to use the template supplied above. Simply go to the Tools drop down menu in the toolbar in Word + there is a function listed under Letters and Mailings called "Mail Merge Wizard" that will walk you through an easy mail merge into a Word Doc (please don't just copy + paste from Excel! Not the same thing, luv). The template I supply wouldn't support the import function, but it's a good template if you haven't started a guest list at all. Personally, I ask that all Word lists also be numbered for easy reference - which is why our template is already formatted that way! If for some reason we need to update Aunt Myrtle's address, it is far easier to send me an update to #73 than it is for me to scan through pages of strangers' names.
EXCEL Guest Address List Template
Numbered by default + ready to go, this tends to be a favorite template for many clients to work with. As I said, in some circumstances an Excel sheet could just as easily work from the get-go. But unless you have been expressly told by your calligrapher that this is the preferred submission method, then a Word document it likely should be. Just check out the photo above. If it were you, would you rather be squinting to read a cramped Excel spreadsheet or the nicely spaced, appropriated sized Word Doc?
And if you already have an Excel sheet you've been working with, that's great! Just keep in mind that your calligrapher only needs your guest names + their addresses. We do not need to see how many people are in the party or that Uncle Mort is allergic to shellfish. And please just ONE list - please do not send several Excel sheets broken down by his guests + hers. School friends + work friends. Locals + out-of-towners. One nice, beautiful complete list.
So, now that we understand the why behind the format a bit more, let's address some simple concepts in the actual creation of your guest list to help make the whole process smoother for all involved!
consider your timeline.
Again, you are working with a calligrapher, not a printing service. We do not upload + hit print (even printers don't have it that easy, but that's a whole different story). This will not be overnight turnaround. Often, it won't even be a week turnaround - well, it could be, but you're going to pay for it. We get that the average person doesn't understand the intricacies of our craft. So, it's important for you to understand that calligraphers budget their time very carefully. Sitting down to address 175 envelopes in one sitting is simply not feasible + you also need to realize you likely aren't our only client (sorry I know, but yours, while fabulous, is not the only wedding going on, luv). Because we have to budget your order into sittings, you will need to factor this into your overall timeline when considering stationery design + assembly + shipping, meaning you need to consider the fact that you will be without your envelopes for a certain period of time after they come back from the printer (if you are having the return address printed, for exsample) + before you can begin assembling your suite. If you can send your envelopes to your calligrapher ahead of time in the printing process, then all the better, of course. Will your calligrapher be handling any of the assemblage? Postage? Do not assume that they offer these services + ask up front.
Also, while we obviously try to keep mistakes on our end to a minimum, they happen. They just do. Again, we're only human here. Your calligrapher will obviously replace any envelopes that contain errors as quickly as possible, but this may be a speed bump in the timeline you'll want to prepare for.
While each calligraphist is different, it's fair to assume an average of 1 week per 50 envelopes (standard guest address only). Depending on your chosen lettering style, your calligrapher's current workload + their experience level, this timeline may be longer or shorter, so you should expect to discuss this well ahead of time so everyone is on the same page as to when you ultimately need your envelopes back in hand.
Submit your full list. once.
Please, oh please, don't "just send me what you have so far". Sitting down to a long calligraphy project like envelope addressing requires organization + a systematic approach. We do not know your people like you do, so making changes + adding/removing addresses after the initial list submission becomes confusing rather quickly. So check multiple times + submit once. I always suggest have another set of eyes look it over - your soon-to-be MIL, a loving fiancé, a helpful bridesmaid, perhaps? They may see a small typo you missed because you have poured over it so much.
Now, we all know there will be some random friend or aunt that moves or a guest you forgot, so this is certainly something that we as calligraphers can accommodate - we aren't irrational + heartless - but we truly need to keep those sorts of things to a minimum to avoid mistakes! A properly vetted list from the beginning is essential.
submit your list exactly as you want it written.
We aren't mind readers. If you want the city + state fully written out (as proper etiquette in nearly every situation calls for) then write out the city + state on your list. If you submit your address lines with abbreviations, you will get abbreviations. Just keep this in mind: you have put great care + thought into hiring a professional calligrapher. Wouldn't you rather see Avenue as opposed to Ave. on your wedding envelopes, especially after investing in such a beautiful custom service?
Every country has its own mailing address format. Be sure to take the time to confirm that you are using the correct format to ensure your guests get their invites without delay - not factoring in customs, of course. Depending on the envelope's final destination, some may make it abroad in a few days, some may be held up in customs for weeks. Sadly, this is just to be expected in some cases + is in no way something your calligrapher or stationer can control.
check it again, luv. seriously.
I have already told you to proofread your list. You may have glanced over it again. You may have had your beau glance it over, too. But glancing isn't enough. Carefully proofread it again. Far too often, even after stressing this point nearly to death, I receive incomplete or incorrect lists. If you have a few envelopes going to the same family at different addresses, make sure the last name is spelled correctly throughout. Your calligrapher simply does not have the time to suss out if The Matterson Family in San Clemente should or shouldn't be the same as The Masterson Family in Boston. Starting + stopping a calligraphy session to confirm spellings + look up missing zip codes is not only impractical, it's annoying as all get out. Calligraphy is a physical practice + every time we have to break away, it adds unnecessary + fully avoidable delays to our workflow. So you have been warned, luv. If you spelled Jenny with one "n," I'm not questioning it. Just like abbreviations, you will receive back what you submit.
Check. It. Again.
Oh, guest list etiquette. That's just a whole other post. But for now, just let me point out that your stationer and/or calligrapher, if they are experienced, has very likely dealt with every type of "how do I address this?" situation you can throw at them. If you aren't sure how to properly address your district court judge aunt married to her pediatric physician husband who have children both under + over the age of 18 with different last names, who will be summering in France - because they're ballers - when your invites are going out, just let us know. We will be jealous of your rockstar aunt, but surely happy to help format the recipient address.