Speaking with someone you admire professionally is probably high up there on the list of ‘career achievements’, but having the opportunity to visit the place where all the magic happens at the same time must make for a pretty perfect day. That is exactly what I was lucky enough to have the chance to do, when I arranged with professional calligrapher Paul Antonio to visit his studio in London.
From the outside of the studios Paul works from, you would have no idea of the magnitude of creativity and talent that hides within. The Paul came down to the front door to meet me, he was just as friendly as I had gauged from his emails and phone calls, and his smile quickly warmed me after a pretty wet and miserable journey in the typical British summer weather.
From the second Paul invited me through the door of his studio, all I could see were books. Floor to ceiling, and walls of them. it really felt like walking into a library and I did wonder if we were needing to walk through somewhere else to get to his studio. When the corridor of books opened up, we were in his studio which was full from end to end with tools, materials, jars full of pens, pencils, pots of inks, and of course, many more books. Shelves as high and far as they eye could see. Everything seemed old, and I do not mean it all looked like it had sat there for years, but it all had the sense of being well loved, and very, well used. There was a warmth to the studio that was certainly nothing to do with the weather outside, and as Paul guided me around examples of his work, I could also tell he was extremely well organised. i supposed you would have to be with so many different tools to choose from.
Wedding invitations are something he has done for a very long time and in lots of different, and stunning styles. So there were albums and files filled with examples so that he could easily find what he needed to show a client.
He opened some huge drawers and started pulling out pieces of absolutely beautiful calligraphy for me to photograph. I was almost scared to touch some. So many of these pieces I had previously admired through social media, along with thousands of other people, but to see them in the flesh was pretty surreal!
I needed to get some photos of Pauls work, so he cleared a table for me, while he prepared to do some table place settings. The last thing I wanted to do was keep him from his very busy schedule for too long, and in all honesty I really wanted to be able to see how Paul worked everyday. Whilst I was snapping away, we chatted. About how he has worked for the Queen, about the piece I was holding that had been created for the film ‘The Countess’ and about his work in Egypt, but I was aware of how long it was taking him to my side to get set up to write out these place settings.
Asking him about this, he explained to me about how he gets everything prepared, if he doesn’t have the perfect guidelines for underneath his work he will have to draw out some new ones, which he was doing. He showed me how he works out the spacing and, very importantly, how he gets comfortable ready to begin working. I was absolutely fascinated by the sheer amount of care and preparation that Paul puts into everything. Here is where his professionalism for the work he does truly shone through. A
At one point during the day, I asked Paul about the book he first read as a child that made him explore calligraphy. I had already heard this story, but it fascinated me. To my surprise, he had that same book right there on one of the shelves, pulled it down and opened it on the exact page that he was first drawn to as a 9-year old. I could not believe I was looking at the pieces of paper that bought about this whole fascinating life. The pride on his face was unmistakable when talking about his journey, and especially about how he had his dreams as a child of, for example, working for the Queen, and how his Mother just didn’t know how she could ever help him achieve dreams as big as this.
The stories Paul had to tell about growing up in Trinidad and about his life beyond then all had me mesmerised. He speaks with such passion, not only for his work, but also for his friends and family. One thing I also noted when chatting, is that Paul feels very strongly about passing on the skills of calligraphy to ensure that the art never dies. We can tell this already by how excited Paul has been about our new magazine!
Before leaving the studio, with my head swimming with inspirational tales, and my camera full of beautiful images of his artwork, Paul asked me to wait whilst he wrote something out for me. He had a mischievous look on his face, enough to make me ask what he was up to! And then he began writing out a little thank you note to me, in the most elegant font I had ever seen. Signed and dated in the tiny script that Paul is so well known for, it is something that I will treasure for many years to come. Imagine getting the autograph from your most admired pop star when you were younger…that was how this felt to me!! A treasured memory from a wonderful day with the most inspirational person I could ever imagine meeting. I am so very grateful to Paul for allowing me to take the time out of his very busy schedule, and for being so willing to share his life and work with us all.