Priyanka Chopra's wedding calligrapher on bringing words to life with her signature style

Sanjana Chatlani speaks to Brides Today about what makes people want to personalise their big day via words, showing her craft at the big Chopra-Jonas wedding, learning from the best in the world, and more.

Sanjana Chatlani has a way with words, quite literally. The calligrapher and lettering artist knew that calligraphy was her true calling while working at a corporate job and soon quit that to start The Bombay Lettering Company, a brand that’s seen her show her craft at the Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas wedding, as well as design for Deepika Padukone’s skincare brand. 

We caught up with Chatlani to find out how she turned her passion into a profession, what she loves about her workshops, what people need to know about calligraphers when they come to one, working for big celeb weddings, and what she wants to do on her big day. Read on. 

Brides Today: Who introduced you to calligraphy and what made you pursue it? 

Sanjana Chatlani: I’ve always been creative and enjoyed art as a kid. I did a bit of it when I was in high school, but I never did it with the intention of making a profession out of it. I didn’t think that I was good enough or that there was money. As kids, we were told that art is not a field that you want to get into. I did my undergrad and started working in a corporate job where I did brand management and marketing for a French wine and spirits company. It was during that stint that I saw a calligrapher come to our office to write out our cards and stationery. We’d always seen calligraphy growing up and taken a class in school, but here was the first time when I saw it being used commercially. I was 25 at that time, and it just stuck with me. That’s when I seriously dabbled into this world. 

My time at the company taught me a lot because I got a sense of the luxury space very well. And I learnt how to build one from scratch. I think a lot of those lessons were used when I built The Bombay Lettering Company. 

BT: Take us through the learning process, how did it all start?

SC: Like I said before, I don’t think I learnt calligraphy with the intention of doing it professionally or making any money out of it. It was pure passion and curiosity about what it is—that’s the most honest way to learn anything. A lot of people tell me that it’s fancy handwriting, but it’s a very technical art form—one that I’m learning constantly, because you have to keep upskilling. You work at specific angles and rules, there’s a lot of muscle memory and hand-eye coordination involved. 

At the start, I learnt online. There weren’t enough resources in India. There aren’t many even today, but there was nothing years ago. I looked for teachers and workshops outside India, because not many calligraphers here had a website. That’s where it all started.

BT: Wedding calligraphy is a big market. Could you tell us a little about it?

SC: When I started off in 2017, I went to California to learn from a few calligraphers. That’s where I realised that there are artists who only focus on weddings and were thus called wedding calligraphers. I met the chief calligrapher for the White House and realised how much scope there is within the industry. In the beginning, I felt that wedding calligraphy in India wasn’t big as people weren’t valuing it as an art form to pay that additional amount. You sometimes think of it as a luxury and not a necessity. What’s happened in the last couple of years is that it’s really picked up as a trend. Like the West, people have realised its importance. If you have to look at the touch-points where you see calligraphy at a wedding, it is where you see the communication and stationery. It could start from the wedding invitation, welcome letters, personalised messages in their room, or anything that has words. The best part for us is that you move from just ink on paper to see where all you can take your lettering once it goes digital. Once you’ve got better at it, you can print it, cut it, have it blown up, or laser cut it. A calligrapher’s role today also involves them creating the monogram or the wedding logo that’s taken and put on so many things. They can decide how involved they want to be in the wedding. At the start, I just took on the parts that required ink on paper. As we grew, we took more control of the project to include the entire design and stationery. 

BT: Weddings today are all about that personal and intimate touch. And calligraphy weaves that in perfectly. 

SC: The thing about calligraphy is that it shows warmth, effort, and the personal touch that can’t be replaced. In fact, during COVID, when weddings became more intimate, I got more orders as people realised that it’s not 500, but 50 people, so how do we make the experience for each one of them more personal. 

BT: What are the client expectations and requirements in wedding calligraphy like?

SC: I feel that the first and foremost thing is that people aren’t aware or educated enough about calligraphy. A lot of times, people come to you with a blank slate. What’s nice is that we then suggest and ideate with them and let them know how we can add our expertise. Sometimes, people know what they want. What I see is that clients think calligraphy is very easy, quick and wonder why we’re charging what we do, so I wish one knew more about what we do. 

To start with, at Bombay Lettering, we take on a lot more than just the calligraphy requirement. We cater to design illustrations as well as calligraphy. Where we stand out is that we don’t use fonts for the cursive and scripts, it’s all done by hand—and this differentiates us as it’s not chosen from a computer. It boils down to two things—budget and time. Sometimes, they do have the money but come very late. If they want to get the entire wedding invitation and calligraphy done, we ask for three months. It totally depends on the quantity as well. So, I have a client who has done the wedding invite and is sending a bottle of champagne. We are personalising the bottle. It’s 200 bottles and we’ve got 10 days. I have a tool where we can engrave the names on the glass. 

BT: In the world of wedding calligraphy, how does one make themselves different from the others?

SC: It’s the aesthetic. You can identify an artist by their consistent style. The type of calligraphy that I use becomes unique and becomes your signature style. That happens a lot over the years. I’ve seen a lot of people tag us and tell me when they see our work at a wedding. 

Being a design studio, weddings are one of the many things that we do. We work with corporate companies, luxury brands, and in the education space as well. It’s a fine balance where we are able to put our style in the way we work and handle things.  

BT: Coming to a very high-profile wedding that you were a part of, the one of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. Could you tell us about what you did and how the entire experience was?

SC: So, things were very different. What happened was that the team at that time who were handling the stationery and communication got in touch with me. They needed a calligrapher on board. Since it was an Indo-American wedding, there were a lot of sit-down dinners and functions. Calligraphy was needed to be done for different items—menus, place cards, and seating charts across all days. There was a lot of handwork. They reached out to me on Instagram 10-15 days before the wedding. I didn’t even know who it was for at the start. I came to know when I got the list and they told me. It was 10 hours of writing during that week. I was needed at the venue due to how high profile the wedding was and people may come or not come, plans might change, so I had to be on standby. Priyanka came up to me and thanked me. It was a very cool experience. It was the first time that an Indian celebrity had a wedding calligrapher onsite. 

BT: What about Deepika Padukone, who you made customised stationery for?

SC: That’s still going on. We’ve done the calligrapher for her skincare brand. She reached out to me and called me to her house for a meeting. She’s very particular, minimal, and pays great attention to detail. 

BT: You also organise a lot of workshops for those wanting to learn calligraphy. Could you throw some light on how the art can be therapeutic? 

SC: I think it’s very therapeutic and calming. I used to think so, but I only realised its effect and how good it actually is once I started. One of my mentors, an Italian master penman, taught me the importance of breathing during calligraphy. The upstroke is like an inhale and the downstroke is an exhale. It’s very calming. Calligraphy is my meditation. I have a lot of students who come and want to do it professionally, but there are so many who come here as they think it’s a form of therapy. 

There are other reasons as well. I had a lady who was in a long-distance marriage and she wanted to write letters to her husband with calligraphy involved. Another was a pastry chef who wanted to learn and use it as the icing on her cakes. It’s so interesting to see why so many people want to pick it up. 

BT: Who are the artists that you admire?

SC: In the world of calligraphy, there is something known as a master penman. And there are eight of them at the moment. My teacher, Barbara Calzolari, an Italian calligrapher is my mentor. She’s a phenomenal artist who’s been working for 30 years. Her work is at the Vatican, she works for the Pope, and prime ministers, she was on site for the G8 summit. Their work goes down history. In India, my mentor and teacher is Achyut Palav who’s been an excellent artist for 40 years. In the beginning, I made sure that I invest enough time in learning from the best in the world. Another mentor of mine is Ewan Clayton from the UK. I did a three-month course with him last year and will be doing another one this year. It’s important to constantly learn and not be sucked into the commercial side of it.  

BT: Any advice for young artists?

SC: A lot of times, people ask me how to build a career out of calligraphy. I tell them to be realistic about it, because at the end of the day, you want to give it time. With an art form, there are no shortcuts. Do it for a year or two and see if you enjoy doing it day in and day out. You have to be able to compartmentalise and have that mental shift from it being a hobby to being a business. Also, don’t just leave your full-time job. I had a job when I started doing calligraphy on the side and phased out one for another when I saw an opportunity and knew that I was making enough money doing calligraphy. Lastly, wanting to constantly learn from the best. 

BT: What’s next in the world of calligraphy?

SC: I feel what’s happening now is that the space has become more dynamic and evolved. Calligraphers and lettering artists are playing such an integral part in the entire design process. Even if it’s font design, it’s a big thing. There are so many doors that are opening up due to the collaborations taking place. You’re working with interior designers, fashion designers, companies, etc. Even other industries are finding interesting and creative ways to collaborate with calligraphers. I’m excited to see where it goes and like that people are giving value to hand-scripted work.

BT: What about the calligraphy for your wedding? What do you have in mind?

SC: I joke about this with my team that the work starts a year before my wedding. It obviously has to have a lot of personalisation and calligraphy in it. My team is very excited and are just waiting for it to happen as they have so many ideas. I told a friend who’s into wedding decor that your wedding is a platform to showcase your work the most. When I get married, I want that to be the case, as your friends and family are your biggest cheerleaders.