How can I make money with calligraphy

Her profession is pen and paper: Tanja Cappell alias Frau Hölle is a lettering artist - by profession. The graduate engineer from Munich discovered sketching and beautiful writing at some point and built a career on them. Today she teaches both in workshops on “Sketchnotes” and “Hand Lettering”. We met the 32-year-old native of Nuremberg at a lettering workshop run by in Hamburg and talked to her about the rediscovery of beautiful handwriting, calligraphy and doodles as a form of expression and about her independence.

femtastics: You are a “visual coach” and “lettering artist”. What is your job?

Tanja Cappell: I made up this name for my work myself. The first term describes my “Sketchnotes” coaching, which means that I teach people how to simply draw and work with imagery. "Lettering Artist" describes the beautiful way of working with letters.

How did you get into lettering and illustration with pen and paper?

Via the internet, especially via Instagram. I discovered hand lettering three or four years ago when it was a little bit spotty. I've tried it - and it didn't work.

But at some point it will. Do you remember how long it took you to learn hand lettering?

My first attempts were unsuccessful. But I tried to teach myself step by step - only then there were few tutorials or instructions ... It probably took half a year, with breaks.

At the workshop, Tanja teaches the participants how to hand lettering - there are also beautiful flower wreaths and delicious food! Participation could be won at

Do you really have to have beautiful handwriting to be able to hand lettering?

No, they have nothing to do with each other. The only thing that handwriting and hand lettering have in common is the letters (laughs). Hand lettering can also be learned by someone who has an absolute beastly claw!


Because there is a methodology behind it that anyone can learn.

Hand lettering can also be learned by someone who has an absolute beastly claw!

How long does it take to learn hand lettering?

I think you get a good feeling for it after a workshop. If you've practiced for a few weeks, I'm sure you can do it pretty well. But you also have to take breaks, it is exhausting to train your hand muscles and to concentrate.

What materials or tools do you need?

Smooth paper, felt-tip pens or colored pencils for hand lettering with block letters, and a brush pen for brush lettering. You can of course also work with real brushes, but that is even more difficult. The supreme discipline is calligraphy with an ink pen. I would suggest starting with block letters to get a feel for writing by hand again, and then practicing brush lettering.

First print, then cursive - you feel your way up to hand lettering step by step.

Did you have anything to do with design before you started your own business?

I have a degree in engineering with a focus on media technology. I programmed websites and designed them visually. I later worked as a digital product manager, most recently at Hubert Burda Media in Munich, where I looked after “Elle” and “Instyle” digitally. Digital design was already part of my work and I also worked with scribbles - that's how I came into contact with the topic in the first place ...

All I teach is method and technique. You just have to learn it and then you can do it as well as I can.

You are currently addressing the scribbles you are working with in your Sketchnotes workshops today. “Visual Thinking” has been a buzzword for several years ...

Yes that's funny. Both topics that I work with have appropriate English terms and difficult German translations. "Visual Thinking" is the English term for "visual language", and "Handletting" is the English term for "writing art" ... But I don't see myself as an artist. In both professions, I'm not an artist, but a technician who has taught myself something.

But creative work is also part of your work.

Yes, but I think you need artistic genes for art. And I don't have that. All I teach is method and technique. You just have to learn it and then you can do it as well as I can.

Make the day even more beautiful: the flowers from!

In stormy Hamburg: Tanja Cappell alias Frau Hölle

Back to sketchnotes or visual thinking: Why does it help us to visualize thoughts or concepts with sketches?

From birth, we always think in pictures. Regardless of whether it is about vacation or the question of what we cook in the evening: We always think in pictures. Doodling is also the first thing we learn before we learn to write. In this respect, it is very intuitive and native to work with images in professional life too. Due to social influences, many people may think: "Oh dear, what I draw is not beautiful." But beauty has nothing to do with it! It's about quick doodling, it doesn't have to look nice. It's about visualizing an idea with quick strokes. And that is usually, if not always, much more meaningful than a text and contributes much better to the collective understanding of an idea. In contrast to words, images can also be understood internationally.

How did you discover Sketchnotes for yourself?

That was in 2010 at the “Republica” conference in Berlin. At that time there was a woman standing next to the stage - it was Anna Lena Schiller - she also drew and visualized all the lectures. Those few doodles totally helped me understand the lectures. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was excited and started looking into it.

Who are your customers today?

That is different. On the one hand, I offer private sketchnotes workshops, in which the aim is to learn to capture your own ideas as visual notes. And on the other hand, I offer sketchnotes workshops for companies that focus on using the imagery for lectures and meetings.

Tanja has developed a “Brush Lettering Guide” which is available as a PDF on her website.

How did you turn your passion into a job? How did you manage to make money from it?

Step by step. I never would have thought before that I would one day work independently. But I only started doing my sketchnotes workshops as a part-time job, around five years ago. So I did it in the evening or on the weekend or took a day off when I had a great customer. Then I reduced my working hours in my permanent position and took time on Fridays for my Sketchnotes projects. I just did it, it grew - and then, around three years ago, I added lettering.

I didn't have a business plan and I didn't have a marketing strategy. The only thing that makes me successful is social media.

Today do you earn your money with a mixture of sketchnotes workshop, lettering and your blog?

Exactly, it is a potpourri of workshops, blog, commissioned work, tutorials, .... I would never have started my own business with just the Sketchnotes workshops. I don't want to just give workshops and travel all the time. What has revolutionized my life are the digital lettering guides. These are PDFs that can be downloaded from my online shop. They secure a basic income for me and give me the opportunity to actively carry out other projects.

femtastics is practicing brush lettering - gift tags and greeting cards will be painted by ourselves in the future.

How did you make the guide known?

I didn't have a business plan and I didn't have a marketing strategy. The only thing that makes me successful is social media. For me, this includes Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, but also Periscope, or now Instagram Stories. I've actually tried every social network that was out there. I always got involved and built my community through it. I have never spent any money on advertising in my entire life. I set up my newsletter and made everything known via social media. Yesterday I advertised a new lettering workshop on my Instagram story - and in the evening it was sold out.

Do you need a talent for that? So, for example, to be confident in live videos?

You have to get involved. As a self-employed person, you actually have to get involved in everything. If you're shy, you can still do it, then you just have to learn to do it. I used to hate giving presentations - even at university - but I've learned to do it over time. My passion for sketch notes and lettering alone made me stand on stage. And the more often you do something, the more confident and practiced you become.

Thank you for the interview, Tanja!


Here you can find Tanja:

Photos: femtastics

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