Columbus calligrapher struggles in digital age

September 24, 2018

The sound of chirping crickets cuts through the silence of Laurie Zavodsky’s basement workshop. The Columbus-based artist sits at her desk with dip pen in hand. She sinks it into the ink and begins to write. This is her craft.

“Calligraphy is the art of beautiful handwriting,” she said. “It is an art form that’s going away.”

Zavodsky, 59, has been working as a calligrapher for almost three decades. Most of her commissions are for designing custom wedding invitations and envelope addressing. But in the digital age, she said the demand for her work is in decline.

“The last few years have just been really slow, so I’ve kind of had to figure out what else to do with my calligraphy and not just sit,” she said. “I don’t have any work, so what do I do?”

Zavodsky first discovered her talent for penmanship while studying advertising at the Studio Academy, School of Advertising, Art and Design in Omaha. She said in the early 1970’s all advertising and design work was done by hand. Even so, her hand writing skills stood out.

“I guess I have a natural talent,” she said. “I did a paper in college and I got a C on the paper, but I got an A-plus from my professor for having nice penmanship.”

At 23, she moved to Charleston, South Carolina. It was there that one of neighbors asked Zavodsky to design her wedding invitations. The woman was so impressed by her work that she got the artist in touch with a stationary company. Two weeks later she had a job and did calligraphy work there for the next two decades.

The calligrapher has designed the wedding invitations for several of her friends, such as Doreen Beaudette of Fremont. She said she’s impressed by the quality of Zavodsky’s work.

“You either have it or you don’t,” she said about the art of calligraphy. “And she definitely has it.”

In 2003, Zavodsky moved back to Nebraska to help take care of her mother. But unlike Charleston, she said the market here for her work is vastly different.

“I guess it’s just the mentality of the Midwest that we’re all thrifty. And when it comes time to the wedding budget, a lot of times, you’re kind of kicking out all the frivolous things,” she said. “A calligrapher to them is a waste of time and money.”

While in Nebraska, Zavodsky has worked part time doing calligraphy projects for a company out of state, but said she hasn’t received work from them since April. She attributed the decline in demand to computerized digital art programs. These softwares are able to clean up a person’s handwriting to near perfection. But Zavodsky said she thinks the art loses something when not done completely by hand.

And her friend of 20 years, Eugenia Morgan of Charleston, South Carolina, agrees.

“I think it’s a shame because they’re going to lose something. They’re losing an art and there’s no way to replace it once it’s gone,” she said. “Because I’ve seen it when they do it, they do it computerized, and it just kind of loses something.”

Looking for new outlets for her art, Zavodsky has expanded to designing her own greeting cards, calendars and art books which she sells at craft shows. She said that her calendars are quite popular and from start to finish takes her three to six months to produce the batch.

Zavodsky said she’s reached out to an out-of-state greeting card company and a religious retreat in hopes they’ll be interested in her work. Not wanting to let her talent go to waste, she said she hopes business picks up again soon.

“God has given me this talent, and I want to make sure that I don’t tell him that I don’t want it,” she said. “I know it sounds funny, but I know God has a purpose (for me). I don’t know what that purpose is yet, but at least when he says go, I’m ready.”

For more information on Zavodsky and her business, Just Write Calligraphy Co., Ink, visit www.justwritene.com.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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