Close up: Betty Soldi
Award winning calligrapher
“I believe in hard work and luck, lots of magic, wishing hard and making wishes come true”
Images Inkspired by Betty Soldi is published by Kyle Books. Photography by Debi Treloar
An ability to bring a sense of magic to what she does, hard work, and a little bit of luck are Betty Soldi’s secret ingredients. A unique and spontaneous woman full of Italian charm, she has enjoyed an eclectic career combining calligraphy and graphic design to create memorable work for a host of international brands.
Counting Fortnum & Mason, Waitrose and Hermés among her clients, Betty has used the art of calligraphy to express her creativity and share her voice ever since finding her “inkspiration” during her gap year. Her story is one of passion, discovering the beauty in new places, having an unwavering dedication to her craft and having the faith to follow the uncertain path towards an artistic life, despite having done little in the way of drawing in her younger years. Having fallen into the world of penmanship by chance, Betty’s signature style mixes the sense of a by-gone era with striking colours and has won her a strong following.
Speaking with the designer recently, we discovered her love of all things handwriting and how she has used her keen eye for detail and artistic flair to bring her newest venture to life. Taking life by the horns and making a bold move back to her native Florence, Betty has set up shop with husband Matteo to bring inspiring homewares and furniture to the city with their store, &Co. Listening to her heart has lead Betty to where she is now, and with a naturally inquisitive mind and determination to turn weaknesses into strengths, she felt it quite natural to launch two boutique hotels alongside a career change and cross-continental move.
Quite the inspiration to anyone looking to make waves in a niche industry, Betty has plenty of lessons to teach worth hearing. From having the discipline to be continually brushing up on her skills, to not being afraid to be the one who doesn’t quite fit in, there’s an air of endless possibility to her outlook. Celebrating the beauty of mistakes, listening to herself and enjoying the journey, Betty Soldi is a believer in destiny, drive, and the ability to smile through it all.
WIT: Where did your love for letterforms come from?
Betty: I never did much art at school, but I loved scribbling and working with words. After following an academic path, I wanted to get in touch with my creative side. I returned to Florence for my gap year, found a design course and tried to compensate for my lack of drawing skills. When instructed to draw a flower using any medium, doubting my ability to draw, I instead inkily wrote ‘Fiore’ in the shape of a flower.
‘Bravissima!’ I was told – and my destiny was set.
A love of typography led me to a BA in Graphic Design and Communication at Ravensbourne, a London college based on the Bauhaus principles of simplicity and function. I was taught calligraphy methods ranging from traditional forms to pure experimentation. Although at odds with the Bauhaus principle of stripping away decoration to leave clean lines of function, my Renaissance soul loves both the old and the new.
In my work for the world’s leading retail brands and luxury labels, I merge handwriting with old or modern type, striking colours and unique antique touches to produce branding, packaging, bespoke objects and stationery.
WIT: How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Betty: Personal, emotional, spontaneous.
WIT: What part does calligraphy play in helping us to find our voice in a chaotic world?
Betty: As we grow up, we change hairstyles, clothes and friends, yet our handwriting does not evolve. And worse, we use it less and less. Where previous generations wrote journals and letters by hand, we now rely on text messages and emails, only picking up a pen to hastily scribble a shopping list. We often forget, writing is very personal and empowering when we take it into our own hands.
Words are loaded with meaning and emotion when spoken, becoming even more so when written down – visible, touchable, keepable.
Exploring ways of developing our handwriting helps us express our personality.
WIT: If someone wanted to get into this trade, what are the first steps?
Betty: Research, investigate, be curious. Look inside yourself before you externalise and offer this as a trade. For me, calligraphy is a talent I have nurtured; it takes lots of practice and awareness. Take online classes, go to calligraphy workshops, study what artists have done before you, and integrate your interests into what may well become your trade.
WIT: What has been the most challenging moment in your life and how did you overcome it?
Betty: It seems strange as I live in a very beautiful place, but relocating my life from London to Florence was a challenge – especially being a designer in a culture which doesn’t actually value artistic skill highly (perhaps because, historically, there is so much of it around). I overcame this by not trying to fit in, but by truthfully expressing my life experiences. My husband Matteo and I shaped our lives to reflect our passions – we opened my design studio, a shop and two boutique hotels. Creating our vision of the world within a traditional Florentine mentality, we certainly shook things up!
WIT: Are you one of those rare people that can say — ‘I love what I do’?
Betty: Completely. There has never been a distinction for me between life and work; everything weaves into each other, who I am and what I do.
WIT: What about spirituality, do you do anything to work on yourself?
Betty: I believe in wishing hard and working hard to make those wishes come true. My advice is to know who you are and celebrate your weaknesses as well as your strengths. I celebrate all my inky mistakes; they are uniquely mine and very hard to replicate! I’ve always been optimistic and that has always helped me – when I once won an important project the client told me, “You’re not the best designer we’ve found… but you are so cheerful we feel this journey will be more enjoyable if we work together.” I travel with a curious mind, finding that inkspiration can be found anywhere, even at home! I use yoga and breath in all my work.