The path that Alex Estes is on, like most of us, looks very different than what she had imagined when she graduated college. But what is quite unique about Estes, is that her current path makes complete sense once you look at her background.
After college, Estes worked at a charter school in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. After a few years where Estes said she “burned herself to the ground,” she was recruited to work for Teach For America in Oklahoma. Although smack in the middle of the bible belt, surprisingly (maybe just surprising to me), Estes stresses the artsy and progressive vibe of Tulsa, evoking images of that famous Portlandia skit. “It has been so easy to build connections in Tulsa,” Estes said.
It’s always fascinating how moving out of New York brings on creative success for people. Smaller communities somehow makes it easier to explore, fail , and try again and this is exactly what happened to Alex. Before moving to Tulsa she had done “some calligraphy.” “When I was little I had good handwriting,” Estes explains, “I had a weird tick where I would write lists of of names.” Estes also convinced her parents to buy her a cash register when she was little. Combine these two things and you have Estes’ business “Prairie Letter Shop.” Her company specializes in made-to-order products, from envelopes to wedding stamps.
Estes, who assumes all kids who grew up in the 90s thought crafts were cool, comes from a family of crafters. Her mom is a teacher, a profession that requires inherent craftiness, her grandfather was a mechanic and her grandmother was a self-taught seamstress. Estes admits that crafts was her favorite part of teaching.
Six month’s ago she decided to leave teaching and started the Etsy shop “on a whim” as she describes. “If you would have told me that after college I’d be living in Oklahoma doing calligraphy full-time I would’ve thought you were crazy,” she says. But Estes did just that. She says now she looks back at her early Etsy products and “ I can’t believe people paid for it,” but she notes that the transition has helped her learn the great value of her talent.
Estes began with lettering and was very hesitant to take a calligraphy class. “I have a very short attention span and [in calligraphy] you make a line 75 times.” "Taking a [calligraphy] workshop blew my mind with how much better I got.” Thousands of hours of practice later and Estes beams at how much she’s grown.
The word calligraphy might invoke images of monarchies and stuffy stepford wives but Estes strives to be the opposite of that. “I want to be really approachable” and stresses making her products affordable and not a luxury. While “as a calligrapher you have to fit the style of someone else,” Estes says helping other people do their thing really inspires her, as does scripture and her faith.
Estes says she enjoys the lifestyle of owning her own business and says this ‘is what she was put on this earth to do.” She has even joined forces with another former TFA alum, Brittany Viklund, who is an illustrator with a focus on watercolor to create the ‘Brush and Pen Workshop’ where people can explore their own creativity.
In this digital age it seems almost counterintuitive to be talking about calligraphy and snail mail but Estes completely disagrees. Digital communication is a really important tool, Estes adds “anything on paper can be made digital.” In this age of digital communication Estes thinks technology is actually helping her business. “Anything we’re going to put in the mail is going to be a rare and unique treat,” Estes said, “it’s going to be beautiful.”
Check out Estes’ beauties on her Etsy shop “Prairie Letter Arts” or sign up for one of her classes at brushandpenworkshop.com !