Olive Branch & Co

July 14, 2015 , In: Design, Entrepreneur, Living , With: 2 Comments

Olive Branch & Co | RoastedMontreal.com

Olive Branch & Co is the brainchild of the talented Melissa Chan whom I recently had the pleasure to meet.  Her calligraphy is absolutely stunning and I was drawn to her beautiful work.  I bought a card for my husband for our anniversary and she offered to write his name on the envelope.  My husband and I can’t stop staring at those delicate loops and we actually stuck the envelope on our fridge so we could admire it every day.

Olive Branch & Co | RoastedMontreal.com

Her work includes cards, custom work for weddings (invites, place cards, etc.) inspirational prints and logos.  I love the idea of a custom print for the nursery, framed wedding vows, or an inspirational quote for the office (mine would be ‘Get The Hell Back to Work’ ;).  She also has a gorgeous Instagram account that makes me want to practically eat her calligraphy it is so pretty.

I’m thrilled to have Melissa share some of her insight and wisdom into her beautiful world of calligraphy as well as sharing career advice for those wondering how to get into calligraphy and a creative field.  And she explains… what is a guitarlele?

Olive Branch & Co | RoastedMontreal.com

How did you stumble into calligraphy?  It seems like something you have to very specifically want to do and learn.

My dad was actually my first introduction to calligraphy, when I was a kid.  He had learned English as a second language, and learned how to write English in an italic style of calligraphy with a fountain pen and all. So he gave me my first set including a pot of purple ink which was my favourite colour at the time. I didn’t pick it up again until 2013; I had been in Montreal for a few months, and I was working part-time as an English teacher, but I found myself still struggling with the transition, and I didn’t really feel content with what I was doing. I’ve always loved words, and I found myself clinging to words of wisdom and truth at this time, wanting and needing to remember that I didn’t want my joy or peace to be found in circumstances. Before, I had always just written stuff down on little sticky notes, but, wanting to make it look nicer to reflect the beauty in these words, I found myself drawn to the world of calligraphy. I bought a cheap set at Chapters, started following a bunch of calligraphers on Instagram, emailed a few of them as to how they got started, and practiced every night, writing out quotes, words of wisdom, truths that I wanted to remember. I eventually got some proper tools, but a lot of what I’ve learned has actually been from forums or online videos.

Olive Branch & Co | RoastedMontreal.com
Your calligraphy is stunning.  It can be used for all sorts of uses – people think of weddings right away, but what are some of the more everyday uses?
Calligraphy as an art form is so interesting because it can be used in for special occasions but also just for the everyday reminder on your bedroom wall that you are loved, or on your wall as you leave the house for the day that today is going to be a good one. There’s a proverb that talks about how words have the power of life and death, and I want calligraphy to be a way that shows off the life-giving power of words – and that’s what it first was for me! I first used calligraphy as a way to be reminded of truth, so I love the idea of using it as art for your home/work space, that the words might remind us of truth or of defining moments in our lives. I get a lot of custom orders for wedding vows or wedding readings, but I’ve also done poems for nurseries, professional oaths, and all sorts of quotes or poems as gifts. I’ve started creating cards with calligraphy more recently, which has been fun!
Where do you see Olive Branch & co in the future?
My vision with Olive Branch and Co from the start has been to create what gives peace, whether it’s writing words that are affirming and life-giving, or whether it’s in a gift that you give to someone that shows you honour them and love them, so I just want to keep doing that. I think I’m still figuring out what that actually looks like though. Olive Branch and Co feels like a baby to me – I only started really doing this in the fall of 2014, so it hasn’t even been a year! I’d really like to do more cards and prints – I’ve been dreaming of doing a line of prints or even a calendar of words to live by, with quotes that resound and are life-giving to me. I currently do a lot of wedding stuff and what I love about that is that each piece is unique and made just for that person or couple, but I’d also like to do more calligraphy for the every day, whether it shows up on a print or a card or a phone case, so I’d love to design a line of paper goods and cards and get into wholesale stuff or do a stationary show. I’d also really love to share the love of calligraphy and teach calligraphy classes! I’m hoping to possibly do that in Montreal at some point, so hopefully that will come sooner rather than later!
Was there a moment where you realized that you could make beautiful calligraphy for a living or was it a gradual process?
It was definitely a gradual process! I was doing a bunch of calligraphy for my friends’ weddings, and someone recommended to me to start an Etsy shop. It all just grew from there! I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, okay, I think I’ll be a calligrapher. It was more of trying out different things, and then people offering this or that opportunity to me. I remember the first time a photographer emailed me and asked if I could be part of his styled shoot – at that point, I remember thinking, are you sure?! I’m just doing this out of my living room…! It’s been a lot of little steps, but I’m thankful for that, and I feel like I’ve slowly learned to embrace being a calligrapher (!) step by step.
Olive Branch & Co | RoastedMontreal.com

What are some of the hardest aspects of being a creative entrepreneur and how do you overcome them?

One of the hardest things for me is having so much control over my schedule. I used to work as a teacher, which meant that I had my schedule completely laid out for me. Now, because I work completely on my own, I can wake up whenever I want, eat lunch whenever I want, so I’ve definitely had to learn to create a schedule for myself and force myself to stick to it! I have a pretty intense agenda where I mark off what I have to do each day and schedule in time to eat, check my email, everything. One of the other tough things for me is learning how to price my work. Especially at the beginning, I felt like I was such an amateur that I didn’t really want anyone to pay me for anything! I’ve learned now that part of pricing is also part of appreciating my own work and seeing its value. I feel more comfortable now with pricing, but it was definitely a trial and error process!

I LOVE the fact that you give 10% back to ending modern day slavery and human trafficking.  These stories always make me so so sad and I always wonder how I can make a difference.  What is it that draws you to this cause in particular?

Human trafficking sticks out to my heart because it feels so close to me; I feel that if I was born in a different place or in a different time, it could be me, or my sister, my loved ones. I hear and read stories about how it is so fundamentally against being human, about how it strips people’s humanity on both sides, and I feel like I can’t let that go. I think the common response in the face of so much tragedy and hurt is to feel incredibly helpless, but I think I started really wrestling with that when I was learning about human trafficking. I remember specifically being shown a documentary on human trafficking, and at the end, feeling overwhelmed and wondering what I could possibly do. On the way home with a friend, we talked about the importance of doing the little things and making waves in the contexts we’re given, and I recognized that for me, that meant using whatever platform I had to talk about it, whether it meant showing the documentary to my friends or talking about human trafficking with the people I know. I realized too that part of it meant supporting people who were in roles or spheres of influence where they could make a direct difference, which is what led me to be give to International Justice Mission, an organization which does such great work in that realm.

Why did you make the move from Toronto to Montreal?  What attracted you to the city?

My husband and I actually moved to Montreal for his work; he’s an animator in the film industry, and there was a great opportunity for him to work on a film here in Montreal. We moved here pretty much right after we got married – we got married in July of 2013, went on our honeymoon, and then moved to Montreal in August! Montreal was a tough city for me to be in at first because I didn’t really speak French, but now, I really appreciate how much this city loves arts and culture, and summers here are really just amazing. Coming from Toronto, I love that Montreal is a smaller city; I feel like everything is so close together and it’s so easy to get from place to place!

What is a guitarlele!?  You mention in biography that you play this instrument.  

A guitarlele is the love child of a guitar and a ukulele! It’s played like a guitar, but it sounds soft and beach-y, like a ukulele. Our guitarlele is actually a gift from a friend for our wedding – I had no idea what it was or that it existed until we received it!

Thanks to Melissa for answering all my questions! 
Please check out her website, Instagram, Facebook and Etsy Shop.
(Photo credits: Photos of Melissa by Charlotte Kluftinger, Photo of four cards and ribbon by Laurelyn Savannah)

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Michelle Little

Writer & Photographer

Originally from the prairies and now in Montreal, I love exploring new places, eating great food and modern design. I'm mom of two wild things and paper and cake make me happy. Photographing your cutie family would make me very happy.

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