A Chat with Alaina Montuori of Extras by Alaina – Plus, a Giveaway!
I’ve been following the work of Alaina Montuori of Extras by Alaina for quite some time now (she was part of this awesome photoshoot with Dunlovely Events and photographer Annmarie Swift) and a few weeks back we finally had the opportunity to meet as she invited me to attend a calligraphy workshop at Neatly Nested. Alaina is just as sweet in person as I had imagined, and is truly talented.
Let me tell you, calligraphy is hard! Alaina led the group and we went from knowing nothing about pointed pen calligraphy to being able to write the alphabet and even write out some words (kind of)! The evening was so much fun, and I was inspired by Alaina’s ability to teach in such an understanding way. She made me feel like I was really capable and should be confident in my own abilities.
I wanted to sit down with Alaina so that you (and I!) could learn a bit more about the person behind Extras by Alaina. PS – we are hosting a giveaway with Alaina; more info at the bottom of this post!
Hi Alaina! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hey there! I’m the Alaina behind Extras by Alaina. I’m a Boston-based artist, calligrapher, and educator. I moved up to Boston to attend graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where I studied an art-cocktail of theory, video/performance, and community arts (far off from my early days as a painter!).
My favorite thing to do is stay at home and cozy up to our two feline babies (hence the Indoor Cat tees, haha!) while binge-watching teen television from the mid-late nineties (there’s never a shortage of great wisdom to be discovered in the DVD boxsets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek). Oh, and I love music and hip hop dancing, even though I sing way off key and groove like a granny.
What first inspired you to try calligraphy?
When my husband and I got engaged, the artists in us couldn’t help but decide to create the decor and extra cuteness for our wedding day. I was immediately attracted to how beautifully the handwritten word complemented our DIY aesthetic, so I tried my best to make calligraphed signage for each corner of our wedding. We had a very short engagement, though, so it wasn’t until after our wedding when Anthony gifted me a beginner’s calligraphy set that I truly began dedicating the hours necessary to learn lettering.
At what point – and how – did you decide to turn your hobby into a business?
As soon as my calligraphy practice began to take shape, I knew I wanted to share it. My background in facilitating community arts projects informed my desire to collaborate; to make things with and for others. I began making event extras for friends in 2014, started my Etsy shop in January 2015, and spent every day of last summer making beautiful details for Bostonian weddings.
Though the creativity flowed freely, the process of building a successful business over the past two years was (and is!) a challenge that requires a ton of research and tenacity. I’m so grateful for the support of Boston’s awesome creative community, and to my parents, friends, and coworkers who listen and advise always.
Tell us a little bit about your calligraphy style?
If you ask my drawing and painting teachers from high school and college, they’ll tell you I was never too keen on following the rules. I always preferred the cannonball method of art-making, a.k.a. hit the ground running, jump in fast, and then later realize you’ll be able to make a bigger splash with better technique. The same metaphor applies to my calligraphy.
My style began as a freehand exploration of cursive using a dip pen, but as this ceiling was quickly reached, I went back to basics and studied traditional copperplate calligraphy to give myself a historical foundation for the art. It was later on when these two approaches merged that I landed at my own modern version of a traditional hand. It’s important to me that my letters look like art and speak a different language than typography, yet at the same time I always keep in mind that calligraphy is also about communication and legibility is key.
Any pointers for someone that wants to try calligraphy for the first time, but doesn’t know where to start?
Even though I didn’t take my own advice, I highly recommend starting by taking a calligraphy class or workshop. Learning the basic tools and strategies alongside someone who can help to correct your form from the start will make getting over any inky missteps so much more satisfying. My advice is to make sure you find a calligrapher/teacher who inspires you, whose work you admire; someone who knows their craft and fully supports you in your calligra-journey.
You’re an amazing teacher! How did you come up with the idea to host workshops and what do you love most about teaching?
You’re making me blush like a little emoji! Thank you so much – that makes my heart smile. I’ve been a certified art educator for years and have been teaching professionally since 2011, but it wasn’t until Colleen of Dunlovely Events (an awesomely talented event designer and dear friend of mine) approached me about workshopping at the cutest shop in town (Neatly Nested) that the idea of local calligraphy workshops came together.
We wanted our classes to be fun, fancy, and yet very educational. Neatly Nested’s inherent cuteness coupled with Dunlovely’s theme-based details elevate the experience and provide excellent inspiration; the cocktails by WanderLush help to loosen up those hand muscles, while I bring on the knowledge!
For me, these events provide the perfect opportunity for me to bridge my educator and artist selves toward empowering others to discover and exercise their creative bones. Teaching is about providing a space for students to learn – to guide them and allow their own creativity emerge. Watching our participants’ pick up the art so quickly and seeing their personal style show through is by far my favorite aspect of our workshops.
I’m sure you’ve collaborated on some pretty awesome things. Any collaborations in particular that you’d like to tell us about?
I count my lucky stars for all of the cool projects and people that my business has brought into my life. Most recently, I had the honor of doing a live-calligraphy showcase for the Eliot School’s 340th Birthday Gala. My lettering was projected in action as a live-feed, and attendees could try their hand at pointed-pen within the event. Another project that I truly loved was the photo-backdrop I created with Dunlovely for the WanderLush Boston launch party – it was a huge mural of cocktail related words and illustrations that provided a handmade interactive element at the party.
I’m going to start playing my own Oscar get-off-the-stage music now because I could go on forever…it’s hard not to list all of the inspiring stylists, florists, and photographers I’ve had the pleasure of working beside the past two years. Most of my Instagram feed is filled with little squares of collaborative work – please scope it out and follow all these brilliant women!
Where can we find your work?
Outside of calligraphy, what do you like to do? If you had a free day in the city, where would we find you?
When I’m home (which is often), you can find me eating chips, drinking gin martinis, and blasting Saves the Day to my neighbors’ dismay. But when I do venture out of the house, it’s to Coolidge Corner. I’ve worked in Brookline for many years and it never fails to feel like home. You’ll typically find me grabbing a bite to eat at Zaftigs, seeing a movie at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, shopping for materials at Paper Source, and then getting lost in the book spines of Brookline Booksmith.
Image credit: Jennifer Anne Photography