Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday, Heather Spooner of Ampersand Lettering Lab
Somewhere in the process of deciding to focus this years foray into more storytelling about what it is that I do, and what it is that we do as a collective wedding industry, I became really, really excited by the idea of just how wide the wings are that this industry rests on.
Planners and photographers and chefs and venue managers. Videographers and florists and people who make rings and people who sell rings. Dress makers and boutique owners and makeup artists and hairstylists. Musicians and DJs and officiants. Cake bakers and stationers and graphic designers and live painters.
Collectively we are made up of so many roles and responsibilities dedicated to a single event, and I've often wondered, is it really weddings that holds our passion for this together? Or is it something else. Are we really all that connected to love that we are dedicating our lives and our careers to something as ambiguous and ambivalent as it?
And I can't say with certainty we are. Sorry. I'm just not buying that we all fawn and swoon over romantic stuff and weddings enough. But I see some common threads.
We love being around people. We are gifted at serving others. We are attentive to needs. We value experiences. We are artists. And storytellers. And I believe, maybe not so much that we say it out loud, but on some level we believe that love can be exhibited, and put on display, and made to shine. That it does have a presence that can be qualified and quantified. That it can be seen and captured and revealed and eaten and danced to and recognized. That maybe it isn't so elusive after all.
With this mindset, I feel that weddings are simply our chosen medium for believing in love.
But it's not just weddings that inspire us.
I see so many people in this industry spread their talents in unique and interesting ways. They volunteer for community events. They have a personal shop full of things they create for themselves, because they want to. They take on custom projects and commissions. They promote art in their community. They lead workshops and mentor students and hosts events and write and encourage other business owners and entrepreneurs.
Progressively, the wedding industry has evolved to include more artists, and artisans, and craftspeople. It's part of what I perceive a larger cultural shift of returning to an appreciation of where and how things are made, and who makes them. And being willing to invest in that movement and those people.
It's an exciting time to be in the wedding industry, just like it's an exciting time to be an entrepreneur. Where some of these makers haven't exactly intentionally chose the wedding industry as a market, the market has found in them a source for authentic, original, quality, locally made products that their buyers connect to. That are intentional and represent them. Yes, in recent times we have personalized weddings to an almost comedic level. But this sort of attention to the two people getting married - their likes and personalities and interests - has also expanded weddings. It has included more types of people. At different stages of life. With vastly different love stories. It has made their unique story something to celebrate.
The person whose story I think this coalescence of what our industry represents, and where it's going, and why it has so awesomely started to include more small business entrepreneurs and creatives is Heather.
I met Heather last winter when a new friend and I decided to host a winter rafting trip as our antidote to a long Michigan season spent inside and presumably, inactive on the couch. Not only did people come (a surprise we honestly weren't expecting), but Heather came.
Heather was loud. Heather was tall. Heather had amazing sunglasses. Duh.
Heather was intoxicating. Double duh.
Heather gave one of the most memorable hugs of MY LIFE. Duh.
Confident and able to get and hold a crowd's laugh and a rapturous storyteller and fiercely, unmistakably, unapologetic. I immediately felt like I had so so much to learn in the way of being able to deliver my own business story with authority. With passion. Without a tinge of needing your opinion.
Heavens to betsy. How the hell do you even become THAT person. The Heather.
Obviously, watching Heathers won't get you anywhere. To know how she is able to carry herself, to present herself exactly as she is, to have a successful business that puts her personality at the forefront is to understand that somewhere down the road, she made a choice to love. To love others as they were and forgive them as needed. To love herself as she was and forgive herself as needed. To love the person she was destined to love and to forgive the fact that for them, it wasn't a guarantee. To choose love as the antidote to chaos.
You probably won't see Heather at your wedding. Just like you might never meet any of your stationers, calligraphers, or signage makers. But they are there through their work. They care about your story, and because they may never meet you, they become experts at the details. The nuances.They use words, and language, and skilled craft, and prose, and art to convey what they want you to know. This is all so, so temporary. This day and this moment. But love wins. So take good care of yours in the intimate sense, and be generous with it towards everyone else.
K let's do this. I'm emotional. Thank you Heather for leading this month of letterers.
Photo by Allen-Kent Photography
My theme for February is Letterers of Love. I feel like you are a really good person to start with. Last year, you started creating pieces with the words "All Love Needs is You" on them. Can you talk about what inspired that?
The All Love Needs is You artwork was originally a piece of artwork I designed for an event for Up North Pride. I wanted to take words people were used to seeing and shift them just enough that it made people stop and read them. Love is an action. Love takes work. It takes us to make love work. Loving is a choice. I want people to understand that love doesn’t happen without us. Naturally, after Up North Pride people wanted this phrase on a tangible small object that they could carry with them as a reminder to love one another.
You kind of do it all, a Jane of all hand lettered things. For those who don't know you, tell us about some of the products or projects you work on.
The most popular product I offer through my website is hand lettered globes. I have a collection of found, vintage and unique globes that are available for customization. I also do quite a bit of large scale mural work as well as wedding signage and workshops. A list of upcoming workshops can be found on my website at www.ampersandletteringlab.com/shop. Those of you who are in Northern Michigan, be sure to snap a photo with my #wearyourwingstc wings that are on the side of The Coin Slot downtown.
Madam Butterfly in front of her mural in Downtown Traverse City. To find it, head to The Coin Slot.
You rebranded from Spoonfeather Designs to Ampersand Lettering Lab a year ago (congrats!) What's a Spoonfeather? What's an Ampersand?
Spoonfeather Designs was a name that came easily to me being that it is essentially my name flipped with a letter change. It was feathery and lacy and pink. It was everything I am not but was convinced I had to be to “fit in” in a community of pretty hand lettered things on Instagram and Etsy. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a much bigger story that I didn’t know I needed to tell yet. Ampersand Lettering Lab is an all-inclusive brand of hand lettered goodness that is born out of a desire to share my story and my talents with the world. I made a promise to myself when I re-branded that whenever someone new met me they would never feel like I was something different than how I present myself online. An ampersand is also the ligature used to represent the word “and” and it is also the symbol my wife and I used in written notes to tell each other “i love you” before we were out as a couple. We hid behind the ampersand so no one would know we loved each other and would mistake it for a typing error. Now it’s a symbol that I wear proudly as the logo of my brand but also as a reminder that I have nothing to hide any longer.
Your love story is epic. The perfect coalescence of chance and opportunity. My question is did you and Christy choose the same airplane snacks that day you met and sat next to each other on a plane? And if not, what is your go to and what is hers?
For those who don’t know, my wife Christy and I did meet on an airplane on a flight back to Michigan from Georgia. We were both living and teaching elementary school in Georgia and were flying home for summer vacation. We gave up our seats for free tickets, she took the flight at the last minute and right before take-off I was pushed onto the flight and had to take the only open seat, which was next to her. I don’t remember snack choices that day but she remembers what I was wearing! When we travel now I almost always default to the salty pretzel/snack mix option and she goes for the granola bar/cookie option. We did have Bischoff airplane cookies and pretzels as favors at our wedding shower!
You were a teacher in your past life. Why is teaching handwriting important to you? Why is teaching a creative art important to you? Who are your 'students' these days?
Even when I left the traditional classroom setting I knew I would always be a teacher. Teaching lettering workshops gives me the opportunity to teach something I’m passionate about with people who are looking to learn something new. In the public education setting, I was not teaching things I was passionate about but rather things I was being told were important from people who never set foot in a classroom. Teaching a creative art gives my students the opportunity to go analog for a few hours. To exercise their brain in a way that they may not have explored since childhood and to put down their damn phones. My students these days range from 10-90 years old and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and identities and I’m 100% here for it! Come one, come all. There is always room at my table.
Recently, we talked about parents and how their careers look/ed so different from ours. I feel like their opinions always matter, no matter how much we try to minimize them. How have you maintained your parent's respect as a creative entrepreneur, and how much did it matter to have that respect?
I think it is vital to keep an open channel of communication with your parents in order to garner their respect. There is no way they can have respect for what you’re building if you don’t give them the opportunity to watch you building it. I grew up in a blue collar home with a dad who has worked the same job since he was 17 and a mom who stopped working outside of the home when she got pregnant with me. Throughout school I had my heart set on getting an education degree and becoming a teacher. After spending years in the classroom I realized it wasn’t where I was meant to be. Besides coming out, explaining that I wasn’t going to teach anymore was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. There is nothing more upsetting than feeling like you’ve disappointed your parents. Nevertheless, I knew that my heart could not stay in a profession that I didn’t feel served me. Over time the quiver in my voice subsided and I was able to talk to my parents with confidence in what I was doing. The more confident I presented my ideas and my goals the easier it was for them to jump on board. I’ve found that the most difficult things for us to understand in life are difficult because we have never experienced them before. I constantly have to remind myself that no one else in my family has traveled the path of self-employment and just because it’s different than what they do doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Left handed or right? What's one unexpected thing you do with your non-dominant hand?
I am right handed but I throw a frisbee and bowl left handed. I also paint my nails quite well with my left hand.
Your nails are always lovely. What's your *SIGNATURE color?
Speaking of nails…I don’t have a signature color, but I do almost always have my nails painted. When I was young I had a really traumatic short haircut and painting my nails made me feel less likely to be misgendered by the bagger at the local supermarket. It was a coping mechanism then. Now it’s a power move.
Talk to me about wedding signage in 2019. What are the three essential pieces a couple should consider having hand lettered?
In 2019 I think every couple should consider having a hand lettered welcome sign, a signature drink sign at the bar that makes a statement and a unique hand lettered seating chart. I’m also dying to letter some acrylic ghost chairs for a couple. If you’re that couple, I’m ready for you!
Some of Heather's wedding day signage custom pieces. Wedding planning and design by the babes at Fox and Fern Events!
If you were forced to write one word 1000 times which one would be a pleasure to letter?
If I had to write a word 1000 times it would probably be the word minimum. Which I realize is ironic, but the shape of that word is SO good! I’d also favor any word with a lower case y or g. That being said there is a really good chance if you were to ask me this next week my answer would be different.
So many of us have a role model in our industries. Who is your leader/champion of calligraphy and handwriting? I'm super curious.
I have so many hand lettering and design idols. There are so many people doing really important work with art they create. I am obsessed with a letterpress shop out of Colorado called Ladyfingers Letterpress and too many hand lettered mural artists to name!
You can follow along on Heather's lettering journey @ampersandletteringlab and join her at one of her upcoming lettering worksops!
Please please please reach out if you or someone you know is in need of LGTBQ+ wedding planning resources. We have dozens of great vendor recommendations throughout Michigan! Send any questions to email@example.com.