My interview with calligrapher Joyce Lee on her personal journey to overcome deeply held fears in showcasing her calligraphy to the world and turning it into business through her brand Artsynibs.

Artsynibs Calligraphy
Summary below or jump straight to the interview

Joyce bravely opens up to us on an incident back at school in Singapore, which resulted in her hiding her artistic talents for over 20 years.

I delve deeper to understand how Joyce pushed through her fears to share her calligraphy artwork to the world via her alter ego Artsynibs.

We discuss how Joyce transitioned from using social media in a very private and personal way to communicate with friends and family, to opening up and using social media as a professional medium to promote the Artsynibs brand via Instagram, Twitter and her blog.

Joyce shares her ambitions to create a sustainable business out of her passion for calligraphy. As a talented craft-maker, Artsynibs is now selling calligraphy artwork and custom requests through her personal blog and Etsy store.

Etsy has made accessible creative opportunities for craft-makers like Joyce from all over the world to sell their work. In their most recent study, they found:

Etsy sellers are predominantly female — 86% are women. They are twice as likely to be young adults (under age 35).

Nearly half (45%) had never sold their goods until they sold them on Etsy. By making it easy to buy and sell goods, Etsy makes entrepreneurship lower-risk and accessible for these populations.

2014 survey of more than 4,000 US Etsy sellers
(Building an Etsy Economy: The New Face of Creative Entrepreneurship)

It brings me to ask the question, how do we as a nation measure and value arts and crafts in the modern economy? The Arts Council England in their latest report Contribution of the Arts and Culture Industry to the UK National Economy aim to answer this.

In their report they find:

Arts and culture sector (a sub-set of the creative industries) contributes £7.7bn to the UK economy annually, an increase of 35.8% between 2010 and 2013.

More than one in 12 UK jobs are in the creative economy, with employment increasing 5% between 2013 and 2014, more than double the 2.1% jobs growth in the wider economy

(Crafts Council)

I whole hardheartedly agree with Richard Russell (Director, Policy and Research Arts Council England) in his assessment of the outputs from the arts, crafts and culture economy giving us something that is ‘most precious to all of us entertainment, inspiration, happiness and wellbeing‘ (Contribution of Arts & Culture Industry to UK National Economy, 2015: p6)

We see that inspiration and wellbeing shine through in the journey that Joyce is now on as Artsynibs, and there is no holding her back.

From collaborating with other artists and running calligraphy workshops in Manchester, Joyce still has fears following her dream to venture but now lives by the motto if you don’t try you’ll never know if works or not.

On to the interview – 5 min read – transcribed from our audio podcast

Hi Joyce, lets talk about your amazing alter ego Artsynibs

Oh I’ve never thought about it as my alter ego 😀

It’s a funny story of how we got to know each other, it was through Instagram …

Yes and through our mutual love of coffee.

We do love our coffee. You know Joyce, there was one post on your Instagram that really caught my attention. You talked about a time at school of how a teacher was dismissive of your interest in calligraphy and art …

Yeah it was pretty bad.

Growing up I’ve always told myself art is something I would never ever do since that one incident [at school].

It was only until last year I finally decided that I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to do my calligraphy and see how it goes.

That’s a long period from when you were a little kid at school to now

Exactly, and I think it was more of an emotional journey than anything else. Because growing up and constantly telling yourself that you’re no good at art, and then trying to make it into something that is out there for the world to see, something that’s public, took a lot for me to do.

When you talk about art, we are talking about calligraphy

Yeah, because to me when it comes to calligraphy it’s not about writing the words. Its more about the way you draw them out and how you incorporate colours, drawing from skills similar to the way graphic designers work.

Artsy Nibs Calligraphy Artsy Nibs Calligraphy Artsy Nibs Calligraphy
Artsynibs Calligraphy on Instagram

That’s a good analogy. With typography and calligraphy you have different fonts, weights, scripts, its like they have their own personalities …

Exactly, yes …

So you match the personality to the types of work and meanings your trying to convey?

Yes, essentially that’s art isn’t it? Like a painter you want to match the colours to the mood or a theme.

Like when I showed you my happy birthday doodle script and you very kindly called it the microsoft comic sans font!

But it is, it did look like that 😀

Now I know how you felt with that teacher, I’m going to stop right now with my doodles and do a lot more practice before I show you again

You know the funny thing is, what I’ve learned is that when it comes to writing, calligraphy or even typography, its not how nice the letters look but it’s how consistent they look.

So even if we have what you call ugly handwriting [ Joyce looks directly at me when she says this ] but if it’s consistent, it looks nice. So I wasn’t exceptionally being unkind to you, I was being honest [ Again, Joyce looks directly at me when she says this ].

Lets agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Exactly 😀

Are you looking to create a business out of your calligraphy?

In some ways I do hope it will develop into a business. It’s not often people from my background would strike out on their own and try to make a business out of calligraphy.

It will be a long long journey to make it sustainable. I’m just taking it a step at a time and seeing where it leads.

Did you have any fears starting out and showcasing your talents to the world? How did you overcome them?

I had to battle a lot of demons. Even before I thought about changing my Instagram handle to Artsynibs because it kind of makes it more official.

Your Instagram handle before was Joyce Lee

Yeah, I used Instagram as my personal account and it was only last year that I made it public. I think of myself as a private person and its not in my nature to put work out there for people to see.

But when you decide to make it into a business you have to open up, and that was a really long emotional journey.

I’ve seen you as Joyce Lee transforming into Artsynibs on Instagram and growing your following.

You said you’re a private person, how have you overcome those fears to reach out to the wider Instagram community?

I’ve been lucky. When I fist started Artsynibs and made it official, I had a couple of friends who approached me and said why don’t we do a social media collaboration.

Social media is really huge in Singapore and its quite common to do collaborations, so I thought why not?

I’m lucky to have friends who helped me and its amazing how friendly people can be, because its not an issue of competition with people saying oh you’ve got more followers than I do, but its more like I’ll give you a helping hand.

That’s fantastic Joyce. So what do you post to engage your followers? Is it all calligraphy posts now or do you mix it with some of your personal life too?

It’s less my personal life now and more my calligraphy work, mainly because I naturally revert to my personal life as being private.

I guess it’s good that people do see a more personal side to you and there are many people who are on this calligraphy journey as well as me out there.

It’s been great for me that some of the people whom I’ve spoken to saying hey you can do this, and that the challenges I’m facing are common when you are starting out practicing calligraphy. So for me I want to do the same for other people starting out as well.

It’s kind of the more you give the more you get.

You’ve come over to Manchester from Singapore with your husband who’s doing an MBA and settling into a new city, a new culture.

How have you engaged with the local community? I’ve seen that you’ve started a Facebook calligraphy page to try and gauge who might be interested in calligraphy here in Manchester.

How was it doing that?

I have my reservations about it each time I make a post onto the Facebook page. However on this journey and experience one thing I’ve learned is to just do it. With all the doubts, what if people don’t really respond to you, I guess you just have to take it all in your own stride.

If you don’t try you’ll never know if works or not.

Like we just did here at Foundation Coffee House. We needed a space where we could talk and the very cool guys Darryl and Kyle kindly said go use our meeting room

Yeah, so it’s always good to just put yourself out there to ask. You really never know what could come out of it.

What is the ultimate dream, you’re at the beginning with Artsynibs, have you got an end vision?

It’s a far-fetched one, I used to teach in Singapore, and I’m inclined to teaching.

The dream would be to teach calligraphy and work on more traditional calligraphy scripts and hopefully by the time I get more versed, maybe even branch out to making my own calligraphic penholders.

I like the way your thinking, so expanding the Artsy Nibs brand and portfolio?

Yes that would be great.

Were there any other challenges or fears you’ve had to overcome to get to this point?

Oh yes, on every step of the way I think what if people don’t like my work. I guess this is what every other craft maker would face and especially more-so with something as small as Artsynibs right now.

You try to tell yourself that my work is the way I see it. But sometimes from responses you get back from the public you can’t help but draw different conclusions of what they think of your work. So that’s one main things I’m working on every day.

If you could give advice to that little girl back at school when the teacher was less than encouraging to you, what would you say so that you could have embarked on this journey a lot earlier?

I don’t think I would say anything.

Lets change this up a little a bit. If I were the teacher, I think I wouldn’t have made it into such a public laughing situation.

Like you said earlier, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people progress and develop at very different paces. Don’t make hurtful statements because it can stay with kids for a long time, it’s been 20 years for me.

Thanks for sharing your Dream 2 Venture Joyce.

You can find Joyce aka Artsynibs on Instagram at @ArtsyNibs, on Twitter at @ArtsyNibs and at

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