Words and Photos by: Olivia Bauso
If you can live without it, you should. This is the saying that has governed Anna Vos’ career path since she graduated from Roberts Wesleyan College with a degree in vocal performance. As a stay-at-home mom, Anna isn’t using her opera training for much, and that’s okay. She’s found something that she can’t live without— a few somethings, actually.
As a woman of many talents: mother, calligrapher, baker, chef and musician, Anna is a hard woman to keep up with. Her inviting smile and warm sense of humor also makes her the perfect teacher. Anna lives in the Highland Park neighborhood with her two kiddos Ruby (3) and Rory (7 months), and her husband of six years.
Tell me about the process of first learning calligraphy. What prompted you to begin?
I have always had a fascination with calligraphy and the aesthetics of words in general. I have loved the “hand lettering” style that’s been popping up over the last few years, but I assumed it was too hard, or that you had to have some formal training to make letters that pretty. Then a friend of mine started posting some of her work on Instagram, and I kind of had this, “If she can do it, I can,” moment. I asked her what kind of pens she used, and she pointed me in the direction of some Instagram accounts that might be helpful to follow as I began to learn. I really learned in the beginning just by copying things from Instagram and googling free things.
Dawn Nicole is a blogger with a lot of free resources, and those were helpful early on. Once I tried lettering, it was immediately apparent that it was something I really enjoyed doing and practicing, and that it could be mine, in a season of life where most of my waking hours revolve around my kids.
You describe yourself as “mostly self-taught.” What other courses or methods have helped you grow your calligraphy skills?
Lisa Smith’s class has some great foundations, lots of videos and practice sheets, and a really supportive Facebook community, so it was definitely a stepping stone in my learning, but it also took a lot of trial and error for me to learn. As a lefty, it was hard to figure out how to hold a brush or pen in a way that wasn’t causing a lot of friction with the page but was still producing nice shapes. My early practice pieces are shaky and the edges are not very smooth. Once I figured out how to hold various pens and brushes, things became a lot easier. I also learned a lot just from trying to copy what I would find on Instagram — not to claim it as my own, but to try to see if I could make those shapes or figure out how to make my shading look as good.
What have you learned about yourself throughout the learning process?
That’s a hard question! I’ve actually been surprised at how much I want to practice lettering and calligraphy. I wanted to be an opera singer, and I never wanted to practice that as much as I want to practice this. I’m kind a of a serial crafter, so it’s so nice to have a craft/art that I really love and want to explore as much as possible.
Do you consider yourself an artistic person? What other artistic interests do you have?
I consider myself to be more of an artistic/verbal/emotional person more so than a scientific/mathematic/analytical person, but I have never considered myself a visual artist. I’ve been making music since I could talk, so I’ve always considered myself a musician.
How have your children influenced your career path?
I was working as an administrative assistant before Ruby was born. We knew pretty much right away that I would stay home, so since then, I’ve just been sprinkling in little side hustles where they fit. The pierogi classes were the first thing I did, then I worked for Le Petit Poutine for a while, which was awesome, but the late nights made it not a good fit for me. More recently I’ve started working at the group homes, and now I have the brush calligraphy course coming up. It’s been really wonderful, because my side hustles have given us a little wiggle room. Last year, my pierogi classes paid for my daughter to attend a preschool play group.
How did you get from an aspiring opera singer to where you are now?
After I graduated, I “took a year off to practice” before a second round of grad school auditions. I hadn’t gotten in to my first choice and wanted to practice some more and try again. But when it came time to start my lessons back up, I realized I hadn’t missed practicing, and that was a big red flag. You really have to get in the practice room every single day and work hard to make it. Plus I was realizing it might not be healthy for me to be in a field that requires almost ruthless self-promotion. It just wasn’t the life for me.
It was becoming clearer to me that I wanted a family and a more predictable life, so at that point, I waited tables and worked a couple customer service jobs until I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. After Elliot and I got married, my dream administrative assistant job opened up at my alma mater, and I got the job. I ran the music department at RWC for two years before Ruby was born, and I loved that. Being a teacher at the Brainery has been immensely helpful to my sense of self, since it’s helped me figure out what things I love and know enough about to teach. And it’s so fun helping other people learn fun skills!
What prompted you to not only practice calligraphy, but then go the extra step to teach it? How do you feel about teaching your first class on October 24th?
This is my first calligraphy class! I love teaching my pierogi class at Rochester Brainery, and I often have people ask me what else I teach, but up until I started lettering, there wasn’t anything else I really felt like I knew enough about to teach. I kept trying to make time to take the watercolor lettering class there, and then realized there wasn’t a brush calligraphy class on the schedule and thought it might be helpful for others starting out to have an opportunity to learn in person, rather than trying to cobble together materials online or paying a lot of money for a course.
Similarly, what prompted you to want to teach a pierogi making class?
After my daughter was born, I went on a bit of a Brainery bender. I had to GET OUT of the house! I took a bunch of classes, and it got me wondering if there was anything I could teach. We are really into pierogi in my family, and I think they can seem like a tricky food to make, so I wanted to share what I know.
How did you first learn to make pierogi?
My grandmother taught me to make pierogi a long, long time ago. Her parents came over to the US on a boat in the 19-teens from Poland, so they ate pierogi and lots of Polish food growing up. She still makes them every year for Christmas Eve, with fried fish and kapusta, and I make them every year for a big dinner party I throw.
Do you think teaching pierogi making is in anyway related to teaching calligraphy?
I’m not sure yet! I am sure that some of the things I’ve learned teaching pierogi will translate over to calligraphy, such as how to structure the class and hopefully how to explain things in a clear way.
What is your favorite thing about teaching a class? What is the experience like for you?
My favorite thing is meeting all the students. People get really excited for pierogi! I love when I have families sign up together. They tell me about their Polish or Ukrainian heritage, and I get to share about my family. It’s just a really fun evening, and people learn that they can make pierogi, even if it seemed daunting at first. I go home tired but always energized.
What would you tell someone who is interested in calligraphy but doesn’t think they are creative or artistic enough to try it?
I would tell them to just go for it! It’s cliche, but you never know if you can do something until you try it. And secondly, I would tell them that once they go for it, to practice and practice and practice! Once you learn the basics, it’s all about spending the time practicing to learn the shapes and strokes by muscle memory, so that you can find your own style.
You can find Anna on Instagram at @owlpostlettering, and on Etsy. If you missed the change to sign up for her Brush Calligraphy class on October 24th, that's okay! We've added sessions on November 8th and December 12th.