Remember when you learned to write in cursive? I practiced my first loops in a little diary someone gave me for my birthday. I’m not sure what secrets a third-grader would need to guard from prying eyes, but I remember that it was lockable, and I used that feature. With three brothers eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to mock me, I guess it seemed like a good idea.

My third-grade teacher Mrs. Boots would be disappointed to see how my cursive has deteriorated after years of rapid note taking. These days, no one cares about handwriting. It’s all about keyboarding. Well, actually a few people do care. My friend Emma Hammontree is building a small business based on this forgotten art. “My Grandma—my Dad’s mom—thought it was important for all of us to have nice handwriting, so we grew up practicing our cursive in journals,” Emma says.

Sidestory: Emma and her siblings were homeschooled through high school. It’s fair to say that they received what can only be regarded as a classical education, and thus, they were able to make such things part of their curriculum when the rest of the world stopped doing so.

Throughout high school Emma doodled a lot, especially when she was supposed to be doing her math homework. (I got that straight from Emma’s mama, my everlasting friend Melanie Bingham.) All that practice led to a unique style of writing, and Emma soon discovered it was marketable as inspirational décor.

People started asking her to create and frame custom artwork of their favorite quotes or Bible verses. To scale the business up, Emma teamed with two friends. She started developing techniques to reproduce popular handmade designs and gradually became less dependent on custom orders.

After college, Emma got married and moved to Elmira, New York, forcing her to strike out on her own and start Red Lettering. Her designs are now sold on Etsy and at craft fairs and events. She uses Facebook and Instagram (@red.lettering) to market her work. 

Inspired by literature and scripture

An avid reader, Emma loves working in collections based on her favorite books. The Avonlea collection, for example, is a celebration of the old-fashioned comfort and joy found in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea. Red Lettering designs are handmade using watercolor paints and markers on high-quality paper. They are sealed for longevity, exquisitely framed and ready to hang, which makes them perfect for gift giving.

Reading is Emma’s primary source of inspiration. “A lot of my books are underlined with quotes that stand out to me,” she says. “I love finding tidbits that make me excited, and coffee is always involved.” Married to a DIY enthusiast who is also talented with his hands, Emma says they enjoy walking through malls and stores to see what’s trending. The newlyweds love decorating their rented house, building things and the creative energy they share, dreaming up ideas for things they could make together.

The challenges of owning a creative business are manifold. She can rarely charge enough to recoup the time and materials in each piece, and standing out in a sea of original and not-so-original work isn’t easy. Similar products can be found at Hobby Lobby for half the price.

For those reasons, Emma tries to set a high bar on originality. “I do think that, for the most part, people understand when they buy from artists like me, that they are supporting something more personal, like a couple who are saving money to start a family or buy their first house,” she says. “Even if they don’t really understand exactly what goes into each piece, I think my buyers are people who feel it’s worth the extra cost to have something handmade.”

Emma admits that she occasionally gets discouraged, but overall, her work seems such a positive force that she doesn’t give up. “What I make is inspiring and spiritually based, so I get satisfaction in it as a ministry,” she says. “It’s not just one more material thing to buy; it offers encouragement or inspiration to someone who might need that verse or quote, so I feel that it’s more than just my creativity at work, but something God says or something that touched my heart and I want to share.”

Emma’s Etsy site has SO MANY lovely pieces. I recently selected this one, which I’ll hang in a space above the kitchen sink in our little weekend retreat. I hope you’ll remember Emma’s Etsy site the next time you need a gift or a good dose of inspiration. I feel so good about supporting independent artists, especially when they are people I know and love so much.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.