The Passionate Pen

SSU sign

One of our biggest events every summer is the annual international calligraphy conference. Each year, a different guild chooses to host the conference and brings in teachers and students from around the world to participate in a week of intensive calligraphy study. This year’s conference, The Passionate Pen, is being held at Sonoma State University, July 25-August 1. Conference Directors Marcia Friedman and Melissa Titone took time out of their schedules to answer a few questions for us about planning the conference. We wanted you to be able to learn a bit about what goes into orchestrating a wonderful conference and about what you can expect from attending one.

Tell us a bit about your conference.

The Passionate Pen is a week-long, residential conference for all—amateurs to professionals—who have an interest in the lettering arts. All classes are hands-on. You can choose from 30 one-day classes on Sunday, July 26, and 23 four-day classes that run from Monday, July 27 to Friday, July 31.

The Passionate Pen is for anyone who wants to learn creative ways of expressing themselves through lettering and offers something for ALL ability levels. Beginners are always welcome and are encouraged to learn and explore with the best lettering artists and instructors in the world!

What has been your favorite part about planning the conference? What has been the most difficult part?
Our most favorite part was getting so many terrific class proposals from amazing artists. The most difficult part was choosing among them and then having to cancel some of those that didn’t get enough enrollments.

How many people are involved in conference planning?
We have a team of 17 committee chairs who have been working for the past two years putting this event together. By the time The Passionate Pen is over, we expect that close to 200 will have volunteered in some way to assist us.

How did you pick the location for your conference?
We chose Sonoma State because we held the 2000 conference Experiment there, and we had very favorable reviews. They have a wonderful art department that side_bar_photo-206x300allows us to offer classes that incorporate printmaking, ceramics, large-scale painting, and carving with calligraphy. And being in the heart of Sonoma wine country is a nice little bonus.



How did you select the teachers for your conference?
Our first consideration was given to experienced teachers who had taught at past conferences and had good reputations. Equally important were the course subjects. We looked for a balance of beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, as well as fresh and exciting ideas we thought would attract students. We wanted a variety of subjects from basic lettering, to design, experimentation with different media, and related arts (i.e., printmaking, book arts, typography, painting, and drawing). We also took chances on some new and lesser known teachers who presented exciting proposals.

What are the benefits of attending a calligraphy conference?
It’s about so much more than just the classes you choose. For a week you are surrounded by people who love lettering and its related arts. Faculty and students mingle, learn from and are inspired by each other and share the passion we feel for what we do. The exhibits and end of week Show ‘n Share are the greatest inspiration for future work.

How many conferences have you personally attended? What experiences stood out to you as you planned for your conference?
(Marcia) 21 (Melissa) 12
There were so many fun events from previous conferences that inspired us in the planning. We remembered some of evening programs (Randy Hasson’s talk in Colorado in 2013 about developing an African alphabet and Donald Jackson telling us about the beginnings of the Saint John’s Bible project in 1997), socials and, of course, some of the wonderful classes we’ve taken. Shopping at Scribe Stores over the years made us realize how important that opportunity is for sellers and buyers alike.

What does a typical day at a conference entail?
Schlepping, eating, writing, eating, shopping, writing, eating, laughing, drinking, writing, listening, and learning.

At the end of the conference, what is the best thing that participants could say about the experience?
If participants learned something valuable that inspired and challenged them and had fun, we’d feel it was a success.

Where can interested readers learn more about your conference, see updates during the conference, etc? is our website. On our Facebook page, we are posting every few days about our faculty, and we’ll be posting during the conference week. Registered participants receive our blog posts periodically about important conference news. We’re working on getting our Twitter and Instagram accounts up and running. (#thepassionatepen).


We appreciate the time Marcia and Melissa took to share with us about The Passionate Pen, and we hope their doing so has piqued your interest. There’s still time to register for classes! Visit their website to learn which courses are still available, see examples of the instructors’ work, and sign up to attend. We hope to see you there!


  1. How do I indicate on an order that I will pick up my order at The Passionate Pen (i.e., no shipping charge)?

    Sally Penley


    • Sally, if you indicate in your order comments that the order is for Passionate Pen, we will remove the shipping cost, add a small discount, and have your order ready when you arrive at the conference.

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