Community News

Channeling her emotions, care and love for one through ink & paper – Eterate Co.

The GATHER community is at the heart of what we do and in this new feature, we delve a little deeper to get to know the amazing people that makes up our community.

Marilyn Chew of Eterate Co is no stranger to GATHER, she hosts regular calligraphy workshops here and you might have also seen her around the lounge occasionally. Marilyn shares a little about herself and some insights as a young solopreneur.

Why the name Eterate and how did you get into calligraphy?

Eterate is an amalgamation of “eternal” and “iteration”. It serves as a reminder to never stop learning and improving! Ever since I was a kid, I love penmanship. Tracing (xí zì) was one of my favorite assignments.

Fast forward to 2015, I went to New York City for an internship at a tech start-up, While I was there, I attended various creative workshops during my free time. After attending a workshop at Maman, a cafe in Soho Manhattan, the owner, Elisa Marshall, requested for me to design and handwrite all the menu signboards.

When I returned to Singapore, I started receiving requests to hold a calligraphy workshop. I was hesitant initially due to a lack of confidence. With encouragement from my friends and family, I took the first step. My passion project turned into a side business when Skin Inc, a Singapore beauty company saw my work through one of my student’s social media account and reached out to me. Through my first ‘live calligraphy’ event, word spread online and I got to work with many amazing clients. 

Upon graduation in 2017, I got a marketing day job in New York City and moved to the United States. On evenings and weekends, I took on freelance projects and for the most part, focus on learning and practicing. One of my reasons for moving is to gain access to all the veterans in the calligraphy industry. I get to learn from Master Penmen, attended calligraphy conference, penmanship certification course, and various masterclasses. I am so thankful for the people who’ve supported me in their own ways to make this journey possible.

What is it about calligraphy you love?

So many, but I will name a few! Firstly, I love the fact that calligraphy involves both art and science. There’s a lot of thought and technicalities that go into the art of penmanship. There are rules that govern the writing of a particular script. These rules are tried and proven through the test of time is what makes a script the way it is. The art aspect comes in when you try to bend these rules according to your own creativity. It’s just like photography. You first learn how a camera works and ways to take a proper photograph such as the 1/3 rule. Then you’d bend the rules to create your own personal style.

Secondly, calligraphy requires a lot of concentration which takes my mind away from other stresses and worries. To me, the process of writing is very therapeutic and I feel a strong sense of achievement whenever I see my finished piece of artwork. If it is a gift or commissioned piece. it also excites me as I think about how the recipient will feel.

Lastly, calligraphy has provided me with an opportunity to meet many like-minded people. It allowed me to experience many things that I otherwise would not have. I’ve traveled to foreign cities to attend conferences, masterclasses and even conducted my own writing workshops in cities such as Buenos Aires! I like that I can share my passion with people and this gives me the motivation to continue this penmanship journey.

Do you need to go to art school to become a calligrapher?

To break the myth, no you do not need to go to an Arts school to become a calligrapher. I did not attend an Arts school at any point in time during my formal education. In university, I was from the School of Design and Environment. Although there’s the word “design” in the school’s name, I majored in project management in the construction of architectural buildings. I believe as long as you have the passion for the craft, there are many resources out there that can allow you to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to be a capable calligrapher.

For me, I signed up for masterclasses conducted by veterans in the industry and attended the private lessons with a Master Penman during my time in United States. In August 2018, I participated in a course conducted by Master Penman Michael Sull which I received a certification to teach American Cursive Handwriting to both kids and adults. 

For people who prefer formal education, there are definitely options around although I’m not particularly familiar with. In 1888 – 1895, there used to be the Zanerian College of Penmanship founded by Master Penman Charles Paxton Zaner, however, it is not around anymore. 

What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own brand?

It is such an honor that you think of Eterate as a brand and not just a business/ service. Thank you! I think the most rewarding thing is – relationships. When teaching or creating an artwork, it provides me with the chance to wholeheartedly focus on the person I am teaching or writing for. I am able to channel my emotions, care and love into their hands via ink and paper.

I cherish the relationships with the people I’ve crossed path with because of Eterate – students, clients, vendors and more. You’d be surprised that once your social circle expands, you tend to grow as an individual simply because you learn from the interaction and their personal experiences vicariously. There are so many wonderful memories I hold close to my heart.

What were some challenges you faced in starting your own brand?

Having to learn on the job constantly and knowing that there’s always more to learn. That’s the excitement and also the challenge. 

By starting this alone, I don’t have any co-founders whom I can bounce ideas off, so I have to rely on my family, friends and some clients to provide me with advice and feedback. I’ve also learned that there’s no one correct way to go about solving a particular problem. The best way for me to learn is from past mistakes. For example, now I include more details in a contract to promote my time and artwork such as revision terms, turnaround time and payment terms.

There are also a lot of things that I did not expect before I jumped into this. As a calligrapher, I envisioned spending most of my time creating artwork, practicing my craft and boy was I wrong. A significant amount of my time was spent on settling admin issues. From setting up websites to setting up ACRA, these were things I never expected I would have to do. 

Any advice to an entrepreneur or new business owners?

Firstly, I’d like to applaud anyone who has the courage to start something, put themselves out there and share a little part of themselves with the world. It is a very tough decision to make and many alternative routes one could have taken. Even if you’re only thinking about starting something, I’d say just do it. Start small, have fun and learn something. With current technologies and how close the world has gotten, I believe everyone can be an entrepreneur.

Always keep in mind and be clear why you’re doing it. This will help in times when you need to make critical decisions. It will give you meaning to keep going when the going gets tough because it definitely will. All the best!

What do you do in your spare time?

I tend to have a lot of ideas in my head all the time! In my free time, I work on making these ideas a reality. I enjoy pottery, bouldering, floral designing and the latest addition – wax sachet making. Now that my hobby is a business, it is important to have hobbies that I do for leisure.

Like many others, I also enjoy exploring and traveling to interesting countries. These trips are never done during “spare” time as I have to make a decision to turn down projects and disconnect from my emails.  On my most recent trip, my partner and I traveled to China and North Korea for a month. The trip expanded my perspectives and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

I’m also designing a board game with my partner. As an avid board game enthusiast, I’ve always wanted to create my own board game. It’s still in its early stages but I’m very excited about the prototype! 

How do you relax after a hard day’s work?

At the end of the day, I love to take long showers. Standing under the waters, I’m able to free my mind of all the stresses of the day. After that, I’ll follow up with my usual skin-care routine. This routine sends signals to my mind that I’m done for the day. I will head to bed after, watch shows or catch up with my friends and family over the phone.