FOLLOWING HER SCRIPTFor 22 years, Deb Warnat has turned wedding suites into artwork with her calligraphy.
By Emily Sparacino
Photos by Dawn Harrison
Calligraphy was a regular part of the curriculum at Deb Warnat’s elementary school in Indiana. Like math or reading or history, it was something everybody had to do. For Deb, however, calligraphy became a favorite pastime, and eventually, a career.
“I started loving calligraphy in the fourth or fifth grade,” she says. “It just really latched hold. It’s that time in your life when you love notes and paper and pens. Just being able to create something was just really magical.”
Deb’s love of calligraphy – the art of creating decorative lettering by hand – never waned, but she put it on the back burner of her busy adult life. In 1995, she picked up her pen again to take a calligraphy class, and it was like riding a bicycle. The muscles in her hands remembered the familiar feeling of pressing pen to paper as if she were in school again.
“Once I got started in the class, it was like, ‘Oh, I remember how I love that,’” Deb says. “It was just kind of that love I had as a child.”
She was living in Birmingham then, and continued taking classes. Ann Erickson, the long-time calligrapher who taught the first class Deb signed up for, also got her involved in the local guild. Owning a calligraphy business wasn’t in her original plan, but it seemed to be a natural next step for her.
In 2005, Deb started Deb Warnat Designs. She offers calligraphy, illustration and engraving for invitations, save-the-date cards and wedding suites. She also teaches calligraphy classes at Studio Bham in Homewood.
Deb emphasizes the power of watching seasoned calligraphers as they work. She remembers watching one of the White House calligraphers during a class in Birmingham, and walking away with a better sense of how applying certain amounts of pressure produces different results.
“We were all huddled around a table just watching her,” she says. “It’s almost hypnotic. It’s just so beautiful to see the flow. It’s so graceful.”
Deb says a “revival” of scripts and handwritten letters is taking place, and calligraphy is at its core. “To me, it really connects arts. When you create something, you create it from your heart to give to somebody, and when you receive it, you recognize that––that it’s something special, something unique, something that somebody has taken the time to really plan out and be thoughtful about.”
Deb does 29 different hands (a calligraphy term for fonts) and often uses a script called copperplate. Deb tries to cater to people’s requests, no matter how unique they are. She once created 13 wedding invitations – each with calligraphy and watercolor embellishments on handmade paper from Spain – for a couple getting married in California.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with brides a lot,” she says. “It’s almost like you start becoming part of the family. I start following my brides, they start having children … it’s just really sweet.”
She also makes hand-lettered awards, certificates, mirrors, chalkboards and “anything that doesn’t move.”
When she’s not working on materials for clients in Shelby County, Hoover and the greater metro Birmingham area, Deb is teaching, sometimes at her home studio in Indian Springs, sometimes at Forstall Art Center or Studio Bham and sometimes at her church. As long as she’s practicing calligraphy somewhere, she’s content.
“The main thing is the practice that goes into perfecting it,” she says. “When I teach, that’s one of the main things I emphasize: You’ve got to keep up the practice. Like any skill, you’ve got to use it.”
For Deb, calligraphy is an art form that connects people today to the past, when letters were inscribed on the walls of caves with rocks. It’s also a therapeutic outlet.
“Sometimes, I’d have women (in class) that were really going through something, and they would say for those two hours they’re in class, they totally forgot about everything that was going on,” Deb says. “It was a relief. It’s good for your brain development as you’re creating new pathways in your brain. There’s something, too, about the eye-hand coordination that really helps your memory. It becomes part of you.”