Meet the Vashon Island Artist Keeping Lettering Alive

Suzanne Moore is among nearly 30 artists participating in the Seattletters International Calligraphy Conference in Bellingham this month
Suzanne Moore at work in her studio on Vashon Island

This article appears in print in the July 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

We live in a world of mass-produced, instant gratification, one in which tapping and typing is more common than writing anything by hand. However, Suzanne Moore proves that the classic way still has its place. The Vashon Island–based lettering artist, printmaker and painter is among nearly 30 artists participating in an upcoming conference in Bellingham, the Seattletters International Calligraphy Conference (July 14 - 21), which is expected to draw hundreds of attendees and an international faculty.

Brilliance is part of Moore’s pedigree. She comes from a family of gifted engineers (the Moore Mount, used in some NASA-developed telescopes to improve viewing, was an invention of her brother Donald) and likewise displayed strong aptitude in math and science, often finding herself the only woman in high-level STEM classes.

But she was always drawn to the calligraphy she saw on fancy envelopes and Christmas presents, and she began to pursue it in earnest after convincing a Benedictine nun to give her private lettering lessons. It was that nascent passion for the artistic arrangement of letters that fueled a career that has spanned decades, with thousands of completed pages in more than 60 handmade books—many of which took years to complete. “I wanted to really concentrate on bookmaking. Lettering comes from that tradition; the very first way that things were communicated—business things, spiritual things, things about the natural world. I realized pretty early on that instead of focusing on making the perfect letter forms, what really interested me was how you use them.”

Moore works from her home studio on Vashon Island, where she lives with her husband, Don, a bookbinder, and their dog, Rothko (named after the abstract expressionist). Her one-of-a-kind creations, on multiple subjects, can be found in private and rare book collections, but she is perhaps most widely known for being chosen to work on The Saint John’s Bible, completed in 2011. It’s one of the few completely handwritten and illuminated Bibles since the invention of the printing press. “I felt really lucky to be part of that project…it felt like coming home,” she says of the experience.
Even in the modern age of technology—in which fewer and fewer people seem to put pen to paper—she’s not worried that her art form will become obsolete. Quite the contrary: As we become more digital, she notices a renewed interest in and appreciation for things on paper. “People are moved by things that are made by hand, [and they] rarely turn their back on something that captures them.” Looks like lettering is here to stay.

Vital Stats

The Beauty of Opposites
Moore often plays with juxtaposition in her work, a practice that she also incorporates into her teaching. Her upcoming five-day course Studies in Contrast: Exploring Juxtaposition in Lettering Design at the Seattletters conference, intended for intermediate and advanced students, will challenge enrollees to think outside the box while using a variety of styles, materials and colors.

Cognitive Benefits
Moore points to scientific studies that prove how handwriting—specifically cursive—helps us learn, process and retain information.

Lettering as Resistance
Last year when Moore heard about the current administration banning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using certain terms (“fetus,” “transgender”), she and other artists got together in an act of protest, each creating an individual lettering project using the seven forbidden words.

WEB EXTRA: See more photos from our shoot at Suzanne Moore's studio below.

Related Content

A note from the editor

A note from the editor

The West Seattle Bridge may not be open until 2021; the Farmers Markets are starting to come back, and the Tulip festival would like you to stay home, please. All the news you missed in between reading about coronavirus.

"There’s no pride in doing the bare minimum, and there’s no pride in standing in the center when there are two clear sides: life or death.”

Leah Griffin helps guide the creation of laws that intimately impact rape survivors in Washington state