Several years back, Allison Banks came to work here at Hoffman Media. She was a very artistic person and had wonderful style. Allison’s monograms and lettering had intrigued me from the time I met her. Working with her was so inspiring, and I was delighted when she decided to branch out on her own and start her own company. It was just something that had to happen!
I have been the recipient of her beautiful monogram work; in fact, our wedding gift was a new hand-drawn monogram by Allison. I hope her story inspires you as it did me. The love of pen and ink is a part of my soul, and I suspect many of you feel the same way. There is such beauty in hand-drawn lettering. Her work is in great demand, and you will see why.
I’m a firm believer that things will happen when they should. This is actually my second career; my first was as a photo stylist and editor in publishing for eight years. Recently a friend asked, “If you could do things differently, would you have started your monogram and design business years ago?” I can honestly say, no! I loved my time as a stylist, and over the course of freelance and full-time work for publications, I learned priceless lessons about business and about myself. If I had started Allison R. Banks Designs any sooner, I don’t think I would’ve appreciated what I have or been ready for what was to come!
I grew up surrounded by art. My parents are professional musicians and teachers, and my sister and I often did homework in the back of a concert hall. Through their work, my parents were able to travel and show us the world at a young age. I couldn’t get enough of the museums and theatre, bookstores and architecture—there was so much inspiration everywhere! We were always encouraged to be creative and expressive. I never felt that I had to go into the arts; it was just a natural fit.
At 15 years old I found a job answering the phone for a local hand engraver, Bob Rosser, during his busy Christmas season. I was a typical teenage girl obsessed with getting my driver’s license and doing typical teenage things. I never imagined that a holiday job could spark a love for lettering and one day launch me toward my own business.
When I wasn’t answering calls or helping with clients, I sketched on graph paper to pass the time. Surrounded by silver flatware, goblets, jewelry, and beautiful antiques waiting for custom hand engraving, I was fascinated! Bob noticed my sketches, realized that I had an eye for balance and symmetry, and asked if I’d be interested in learning how to do layout and prep work after school. It would involve a lot of drawing, and he could teach me the styles and type of work that would help cut down his own prep time and increase his production time. I was in! It started out as a high school job, kept on through college, and continued into my 20s as I started working in publishing. The hours were flexible, and I got to draw on a commission basis and learn from Bob’s amazing talent. What could be better than that?
Early on, as a teaching tool, Bob suggested I use fountain pens and paper to get a feel for different fonts from classic script to Old English. Over time I graduated from felt-tip pens to fountain pens and then to dip pens with bottled ink. Dip pens became my favorite tool, and I started drawing monograms in ink to see what I could do with them.
￼After a few years of developing my style, clients started asking if I could design their monogram for printed stationery or do calligraphy for a wedding, and before I knew it I had great freelance work coming in through word of mouth.
When I decided to start my business, I saw a need in the market for custom monogram artwork. Options for monogram designs were either to scan old monograms from engraving books and linen patterns, which meant that you could not always find your letters in the right style, or to settle for a design by computer with set fonts that may not have the character and details you had hoped to include. Drawing a monogram by hand gives you the style you love from antique designs, and converting it for printing gives you the flexibility to use it on a computer for a variety of uses—the best of both worlds!
“Do you draw everything by hand?” is a question I’m often asked. The answer is “Yes, I do!” Each monogram starts with a pencil sketch, is drawn in ink with a dip pen, and lastly is scanned and converted into high-resolution files. The same goes for all hand-drawn invitations done in calligraphy, but I will sometimes incorporate block fonts for invitation designs to show a visual contrast from the block to script styles. While I can draw block letters by hand, the style is very different from a typed font and shows the little imperfections you want to see in custom artwork. Those design choices all depend on the project and what fits the client’s personal style.
I’m constantly looking for new inspiration to keep things fresh. Fashion magazines are the perfect place for color ideas because what’s on the runway this season will be in home interiors and products the next season. Antique documents and books are a personal weakness with their stunning details that can influence any number of my designs. And architecture—I’m a repeat offender of walking into parking meters because I was looking up at the 1920s molding on a city building!
A favorite project from a couple of years ago is a great example of inspiration. The mother of a groom asked me to design a new custom monogram for her son and soon-to-be daughter. The wedding reception was going to be held in a hotel that was built by the bride’s great-grandfather, and she wanted some elements of the monogram to come from the building’s architecture. Photos of the hotel were taken, and when I saw a stunning floral wreath on a column in the lobby, I knew we had our design direction! The monogram gave a sweet nod to the past and the perfect representation of their future together.
Something I love about my work is that no day is the same and every client is different. Today I’ll be working on monogram sketch proofs and then tomorrow I might meet with a bride to design her wedding suite. Aside from the books and documents and architectural details I love so much, I think clients are my best inspiration. Everyone brings something new to the table, and by designing each item with them in mind, I’m always challenged in the best ways—the possibilities are endless.
January will be the start of my fifth year, and it’s amazing how fast the business has grown. I’m excited about plans for future projects, I have a website refresh on the way any day now, and I can’t wait to start showing new designs and the launch of a wholesale stationery line (coming soon in 2015!). Bringing joy to my clients with their custom monograms and designs and getting to be a part of their lives and special events is such a blessing. I know how fortunate I am to do what I love for a living, and I give thanks for that every day.
What do you think of Allison’s designs?