Spotlight On: Lisa Ridgely

Back in late 2013 when I've just gotten into pointed pen calligraphy, I started actively being on Instagram to ogle at calligraphers' works and posts about their tools. At that time, there were not many Filipino calligraphers so my feed was mostly filled with writings from all over the world.

One of the most recognizable freehand styles was Lisa Ridgely's. There's a very controlled feel and absolute uniqueness in her script. To me, freehand exuded so much confidence: to write how you want and not conform with what others expect calligraphy to look like. Her practice words, the Botanical Alphabets, also made me want to make my own. I thought that one day, I'd write my ABCs of the cities I would love to travel to, or go re-visit. (I finally did it! Click here to view my Instagram post.)

For a time, Lisa's Instagram calligraphy account (@lisaridgelycalligraphy) somehow vanished and while I did find her back on instagram, her new account was a stream of gorgeous floral photography. If I were a watercolor artist, I'd definitely be so inspired to paint as soon as I browse through her photography account. (See more of Lisa's photos here.) I was glad to see her writing again early this year, though not as much as she used to; she is doing photography professionally and approaches calligraphy as an occasional hobby. Such talent, eh?

A Leonardo da Vinci quote written in Lisa's freehand script. Photo from Lisa Ridgely. 

A Leonardo da Vinci quote written in Lisa's freehand script. Photo from Lisa Ridgely. 

Lisa is a loving wife, and mother to Madilyn. She is based in Pennsylvania, where she works as a professional photographer. In addition to calligraphy, she also loves God, nature, photography, blueberry soda, documentaries, particularly long walks, tea lattes, bocce ball, reading, Orioles baseball, museums, and spending with family and friends. 

I reached out to Lisa for my first ever "Spotlight On" post to ask her about her calligraphy, and most importantly, her freehand style. 

Tell us about how and when you started with calligraphy.

Since childhood I have been conscious of and delighted by beautiful letters - my mother, aunt, and grandmother all have unique, lovely handwriting. Perhaps as much by nature initially as intent, my own handwriting became something that people frequently commented on and a talent that I enjoyed. I received my first calligraphy set in middle school, and bought another to experiment with just after college graduation (2005), but it was a couple years later one night in fall semester 2007, while sitting in a class in grad school and drawing letters in the margin of my notebook, that I thought that perhaps calligraphy was something I might seriously pursue. I then began researching, studying, and practicing quite intensely. There were far fewer resources then - the calligraphy community was much different from what it is now. I began by first learning broad edge italic, and then practicing pointed pen. In 2009, I took a Julian Waters workshop on broad edge foundational hand; beyond that my study and practice have been self-guided. 

How did you develop your freehand/own style?

My development of a signature style was intentional from the beginning of my calligraphy practice, and has been ever on-going. When I started addressing envelopes, I wanted to offer style options that were cohesive with each other and distinctly my own – developing hands was something I began to do from the outset, though this is not an approach I would advise now that I understand the art better. In time I developed and distilled the several related hands I worked in down to one personal style that I continue to refine. 

Her ABC with countries is just as gorgeous as her Botanical Alphabet! (Photo from Lisa Ridgely)

Her ABC with countries is just as gorgeous as her Botanical Alphabet! (Photo from Lisa Ridgely)

Are you learning any other style / script at the moment, or any time soon? Why or why not?

I love learning and thrive on studying and teaching. I devote a significant amount of time to researching historical hands and analyzing letterforms, though I've found that my most significant progress has come from studying my own work. While I love nearly all forms of calligraphy and certainly admire those who work in many hands or with many tools (and recognize that doing so is often part of the calligraphy journey, mine included), I am at a place where I am most interested in becoming excellent in the art of executing my own signature hand, rather than becoming proficient in multiple prescribed hands. As a result, my way of progression is to study many hands, but practice only my own. I view this, though, as an entirely personal preference - definitely not as the only good way, or the universally best one. It is simply the way for me.

Botanical Alphabet by Lisa Ridgely--one of my most admired exemplars when I was starting (trying) to develop my freeehand style. (Photo from Lisa Ridgely)

Botanical Alphabet by Lisa Ridgely--one of my most admired exemplars when I was starting (trying) to develop my freeehand style. (Photo from Lisa Ridgely)

What tips would you share with beginners trying to "make" their own freehand style?

I have so many thoughts on this topic – far beyond the scope of this discussion! – but will mention a few elements I consider most essential.

Most importantly, thoroughly learn a prescribed hand first. I believe that learning whichever hand you are most interested in will serve you best. The vital point is to learn a hand that maintains consistency and coherency as its fundamental characteristics. Historical hands taught by experienced teachers are a typically reliable choice, but there are some (choose very, very carefully!) modern hands and teachers that meet this criteria. This will develop your awareness of the principles of related form, spacing, slant, weight - the elements of a hand - and will train your ability to manipulate your tools to achieve what you envision. You can then translate that understanding of principles (whether you choose to follow them or mindfully alter them!) and technical skill to the development of your own hand. 

As you are developing your signature style, focus on reflecting your personality in order to instill your hand with originality - emphasize your own technical strengths and your natural unique characteristics and aesthetic preferences. When you've identified a stylistic element or a stroke of a letterform that accomplishes this, explore how you can cohesively carry that characteristic across your alphabet.

Finally, keep analyzing and refining, even after you've established your style. It is an ever-incomplete work.


I hope you enjoyed this short "interview" as much as I did. Follow Lisa on Instagram @lisaridgelycalligraphy and @lisaridgelyphotography. For more on her photography work, do visit her website or send her an email