The $277,050 Calligrapher

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Chuck Davis
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Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:09 pm

The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Chuck Davis » Wed Mar 13, 2013 10:32 am

If you haven't heard... it was revealed recently that the White House calligrapher makes $277,050 a year.
So a T.V. station in Virginia decided to make their own and compare. ... Cheap-Fake


Which do you prefer-- the font (left) or the hand lettering (right)?

Personally, I don't like the long beginning strokes she makes at the start of each word.
I don't think I've ever seen anything like that.

erik winkler
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by erik winkler » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:42 pm

Hello my best friend Chuck!

Chuck I like the comparisson you pointed out here, but I think we all agree if you want the personal touch it must be handmade/handwritten.
From a distance most of us will probably not be able to see the difference, but when you are in hands-reach you can see the paint and in this case the ink strokes on the paper.
In these days, true lovers of handwork relish for these kind of details.

Is the Caligrapher highly paid? Yes, he is.
And maybe he should for the following reasons:
1. He is allways stand by 24-7-365 days a year.
2. He learned the calligraphy probably not in one go.
3. How many invetations or thank you letters are written a day by the white house you think?
4. He is bount to an oath not the talk about anything he has written down.

Personally I like the long beginning strokes, the bigger the better, but that is just me.
Realizing we are in the 2nd renaissance of the arts.
Learn, copy and trying to improve...
Still in the learning phase ;-)
Amsterdam Netherlands

Chuck Davis
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Chuck Davis » Wed Mar 13, 2013 3:50 pm

Interesting points Erik.

But I disagree...
I'm ok with having them hand-lettered if the result is better.
This is a case where I don't think it is.
I think the right font (this isn't it) could be just as effective.

Maybe when the White House is open again for tours, I will think differently.
Until then, I see many ways in which our government needs to curb spending.

So as a taxpayer (and therefore her employer), I wouldn't be heartbroken to see this calligrapher's wages cut
and the money better spent elsewhere. Or better yet, given back to the people.
Last edited by Chuck Davis on Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

Tyler Tim
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Tyler Tim » Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:37 pm

What I'd heard they had 3 of these highly paid pen men.

Erik I highly doubt that that these folks are taking notes at the State Department. They mark seating cards and such that 90% get tossed. So with 16+ Trillion $ hole and getting deeper. The White House cancels Tours that are given by volunteers due to sequestration. :roll:

Sorry we the people just can't afford waste like this.. One pen plotter at 1/10% of one salary could knock these out hour after hour at great saving to the public trust.

Now if they want to spend private money to have hand crafted parchment penned... fine.

Sorry for the rant... :shock:
Sure I paint thing for my amusement and then offer them for sale. A brushslinger could whither en die from lack of creativity in this plastic town my horse threw a shoe in. :shock:

erik winkler
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Location: Amsterdam Netherlands

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by erik winkler » Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:14 pm

I understand the political view here.
I just appreciate handwork.
Realizing we are in the 2nd renaissance of the arts.
Learn, copy and trying to improve...
Still in the learning phase ;-)
Amsterdam Netherlands

Aaron Aziz
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Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2012 2:08 am
Location: North Dakota (eastern)

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Aaron Aziz » Wed Mar 13, 2013 7:48 pm

I thought this was the one place I could come and just enjoy the art, the talent and the dedication that it took this Artist to master his craft. If I can get a job based on my talent that pays this well and serves my country then you better believe its a job worth being proud of. Take your political BS else where please!

Chuck Davis
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Chuck Davis » Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:20 am

Looks like I hit a nerve.

I hear where you are coming from Aaron, but my intent was to see which version people preferred.
Which version do you prefer Aaron?

Is the hand lettered version better than the font version?

Mike Jackson
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Mike Jackson » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:30 pm

Speaking as one of the administrators, I don't see a problem with Chuck's question. He simply asked which do you like better?...and not should they can the calligrapher? It might be implied to some extent, but it took other comments to bring that out.

I suspect there are LOTS of calligraphers out there that would love to get paid $100,000 per year job to get to do calligraphy. Bill Hueg used to make a pretty good income hand painting billboards, but technology eventually put an end to the need for his services in that industry. Aside from the issue of the salary, I suspect the time clock for the end of the National Calligrapher position is ticking away towards elimination.
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Guy Tamam
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Guy Tamam » Fri Mar 15, 2013 2:54 am

From the artistic point I prefer the calligrapher hand, even when using the best script font
This style call Copperplate or English round hand, the big different IMO is the accidental qualities that happen while you write, something you can never get from a computer which is always look the same and they right (in the link title), Cheap.

From the other point, can't say, since I'm not from US, but I think that if its not a calligrapher it's a graphic designer, and it won't cost less, after all, us government can't afford themself a bad spacing typography.

Kelly Thorson
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Location: Penzance, SK Canada

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Kelly Thorson » Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:53 pm

I too prefer the hand rendered look, but then what did you expect to hear on "The Hand Lettering Forum"? :lol:
I believe there is no shame in failure. Rather, the shame lies in the loss of all the things that might have been, but for the fear of failure.

Guy Tamam
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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Guy Tamam » Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:49 pm

I just find out the the 277,050$ is for all three. Which is around 95k per calligrapher.

Robare M. Novou
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Location: Milwaukee

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Robare M. Novou » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:27 pm

From the reports I have seen on the internet, the $277,050.00 is for a calligraphy staff of 3 at the White House.

Not sure if the amount of money reported is just for the salary of those 3 calligraphers.

The cost of materials might also be involved in that reported total, as well as other costs.

It's nice to see someone get paid well for their ability to Hand Letter! Be it calligraphy or sign painting. ... lligrapher

The "long beginning strokes" may be a variation preference of the calligrapher.

Further examination of the White House Calligraphy Staff and their abilities would seem in order and not just falling prey to the latest "The Sky is Falling" headlines that are designed to do nothing more than misinform and Infuriate the ill-informed and ignorant reader.
What's On Your Book Shelf ?

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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by BruceJackson » Sat Mar 16, 2013 4:37 am

I think it's a great tradition. When you think about the amount of documents, awards, invitations that could be generated by such a large nation of 50 states, a staff of three hardly seems excessive. Imagine you are fortunate enough to be awarded some certificate of appreciation or invitation to the white house, a printed version seems pretty bland by comparison.

Does the printed version look good?...sure...nothing inherently wrong with it...but one doesn't compare printing/hand-lettering based on function. You compare them based on soul.

What is in your nation's soul? expression of humanity and personal connection, or an expression of efficiency and accuracy.

Dan Seese
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Location: Fort Collins, CO

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Dan Seese » Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:20 am

Very interesting post!

It's pretty difficult to judge a preference from the picture Chuck posted - which was taken directly from the news story. They look pretty comparable and I doubt if I would have a preference based on that single example, alone.

Having said that, I think if I were to receive an invitation or attend a White House event, I would want it to be hand lettered. (I check my mail box daily but no invitation yet!) The links Robare provided are illuminating. In the C-Span story you can see where each invitation or place card is not only hand lettered but hand painted to match the chosen color pallet.

I think Bruce stated it well. Both versions look fine but there is something intuitive about conveying the soul of a nation through the head of state. Is efficiency our highest value or are there other more human attributes we want to maintain. It's symbolic, but symbolism is not devoid of substance.

As a fiscal conservative concerned about the behavior of congress, our compounded debt and the machiavellian tactics of the current administration, I nevertheless honor the office of the president and think it is appropriate that these kinds of formalities and traditions remain. It is an expression of honor and humanity as opposed to pure, calculated efficiency. There are other ideologically driven wasteful programs not germane to the function of government which could and should be cut.

So in reply to the question implied by Chuck's post, I think having a White House calligraphy staff is entirely appropriate and I wouldn't want to see them replaced with a computer.
"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne."
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340 - 1400)

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Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by oatis » Thu Mar 28, 2013 11:44 pm

I'll take a chomp. Them that knows me would be be disappointed if I was to take a pass. And I'll brook no scold for my few moments in the fray. The tenor of the discussion was well underway, 'ere my logon.

As to the presenting issue: It's the example on the right, hands down, of course. The part-time secretary who set the "fake" one couldn't kern her way out of a paper bag.

And of course, the skilled folks in question (who we are privileged to have representing the very traditions we honor here) certainly create no end of traditional engrossed proclamations, testimonials and certificates; facts somehow accidentally omitted by the authors of the expose. But those investigative hard-news types are on to their next assignment: to prove you can get a perfectly good mural printed down ta th' FEDEX Kinko's at the mall, without having to support some tempermental artist, living it up on the dole. And what about that doggone National Poet Laureate? They've had one of THEM suspicious characters on the payroll for a hundred years. My kindy-garden kid can do that!

I am reminded of a great 1980 speech I heard by a school arts administrator, alarmed by the proposal of the then-administration to slash funding for the arts. He came with charts, facts and figures to demonstrate that the national arts budget could be saved ---for ten years--if the defense contractor building the next nuclear submarine could just build the thing an inch-and-a-half SHORTER. Everybody chuckled. Wotta CLOWN! Oh yeah: that was the same year they made ketchup in school lunches a "food".

A society is known by the value it places on the arts: the no-nonsense, sacrificing "Greatest Generation" grew up with art teachers in it's classrooms: a shameful--and revealing-- rarity today.

So, I'll take the hand lettered one any day, just---because. Guess that makes me a Letterhead!


Lee Littlewood
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Location: Portland, Oregon

Re: The $277,050 Calligrapher

Post by Lee Littlewood » Sat Mar 30, 2013 11:12 pm

You know, another way to feel the effect of an inscription is one we all do frequently. I probably get 3 letters a week that are addressed to me in a type that mimics handwriting, and I'll bet most of us get about the same.

How does it feel?

Here there is no question of skill, of practiced form - they are just trying to look personable, like a regular person's regular handwriting. Sometimes in the same mail I will get a real letter with a real handwitten address so I can make an immediate A/B comparison. It always comes out the same, and I'll bet most people will pick the written envelope over the printed writing.
Why? some sort of a feeling that the interaction is on a person-to-person level, that there is no machine in between us, that the sender cares about me,,,, I could (and do) go on, but that feeling is my point - both envelopes were legible, both had funky, non-technical lettering, the visual difference is pretty small but the emotional response (by gawd, I do go on) is strongly different.

Now imagine that you are The White House. Don't you want your guests to feel appreciated, to feel special? But you still need to look clean, professional (and probably traditional, sigh), so you employ professional engrossers to get a professional product.

Well, to return to Chuck's original question: if the type and the calligrapher were both working from the same model, so the final results looked very similar, I'm pretty sure I would still prefer the hand-done version even if I really didn't know "why" - it would just feel a little less type-perfect, a little warmer. The comparison would have to be done in the hand, of course; very few of the important differences can survive a camera or a computer screen.

Thanks for the discussion
where am i? Now, when i need me...

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