Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: The Letter J Supply)
Interview with Joanne
I first chanced upon one of Joanne Lim’s postcards in The Little Dröm Store, when they were nestled in the heart of Ann Siang Hill. Surrounded by quirky trinkets and lomography cameras was a wooden box filled with thoughtfully-designed cards. The postcard was a typographic design of James 1:2-4 and within seconds I purchased the entire set. Month after month, I would go back to the store to buy more of the same as finding beautiful Christian merchandise was hard to come by.
I still own this very postcard today, and like quotes or verses that have been grafted upon our hearts, The Letter J Supply is in the business of continually pointing us to God. We speak to Joanne, the founder, on the heart behind her calligraphy work and her journey in reflecting our Creator.
When was the first time you discovered calligraphy?
When a friend gave me a pen nib 3-4 years ago — I was fascinated with it but didn’t know how to use it. A year after, I went to New York City for a holiday and attended a talk on calligraphy. It was a room full of calligraphy teachers, so I approached them to ask if any of them could give me classes.
One of them agreed and I spent the rest of my holiday taking classes from her at her house. I was so thankful for the opportunity because I couldn’t find any classes in Singapore back then.
How did you find your own calligraphic style?
My style is still evolving so I wouldn’t say that I’ve found it, but it does evolve according to the seasons of my life.
Calligraphy has recently taken Singapore by storm. How do you think this came about?
Social media has a big role to play — it has made the sharing of techniques so accessible. Technology has actually helped to make craft more accessible.
Seeing beautiful creations from around the world has inspired many to try their hand at calligraphy. Writing is also something that is not foreign, everyone has picked up a pen and learnt how to write when we were younger so it’s less daunting a hobby to embark on.
What was the tipping point that caused you to start The Letter J Supply?
More than five years ago, I made a series of typographic postcards. I worked on this side project alongside my full-time job as a graphic designer. These postcards were eventually sold via consignment at a few shops.
I had always wanted to explore and expand on this side project. I felt that it would continue to remain as a distant dream for as long as I didn’t prioritise it and put it into action. I was about to take on a full-time position but later changed my decision to embark on The Letter J Supply — the desire was growing too loudly for me to ignore it. An opportunity to share a shop space with two other friends arose, so I took a step of faith to give it a shot.
What is the inspiration behind the name?
A friend came up with it. I think she just thought of it on a whim but it really stuck with me. ‘J’ being “Jesus” and “Joanne” and “Letter” because it’s all about words.
You are quite open in sharing about your faith through The Letter J Supply’s social media platforms. Were there initial reservations?
Before I started the brand, I decided to be unabashed about my faith because it is the reason why I’m embarking on this business. I also thought deeply about how I was going to share it; I see it as a form of evangelism. Different people evangelise in different ways and in different degrees. I wanted to be true to myself — to allow the message to be expressed in a way I felt was the most genuine to me.
How is God involved in your creative process?
Everything we express on paper is a release of what is inside our heart. It’s hard to hide, as the nuances continually tell of our emotional and spiritual states. I’ve become more aware of the differences (in my output) between my “work mode” and when I’m “presence-focused.”
It can be quite glaring when I’m churning out work out of my own strength; I would stop and just not do anything for a while. Listening to worship music and sermons tune my heart back to Him. When my heart is the right place and I’m aware of His presence, there is “flow” in my work.
What have been your biggest struggles in running an art business?
In the beginning there was a lot of uncertainty, in how I could sustain this business. There were both successful and not-so-successful events that I had organised in the shop space. There were days where not a single customer came in, yet I had to be there to keep the shop open.
It was not only physically tiring but also emotionally discouraging and draining. I had to cut back on expenditure, learning to live with less; I had to take risks in doing things I was unfamiliar with, especially in putting myself out there and not being shy about what I do because I had to make a living.
It’s very different when it is a hobby and when it is your livelihood. There is a tension between wanting to “flow” (create and paint all day long) and the need to make business decisions, in having to keep up with administrative issues. It is challenging to switch back and forth.
I’m still trying to improve. There many days where I’ve spent more time on the administrative side than the creative aspects. It is ironic but needful. For me, knowing that things are in place gives me a sense of freedom to create.
How have you grown since embarking on The Letter J Supply?
Due to the initial uncertainty, I told God, “Hey God, I’m doing something for you, so you should bless the business right?” But along the way, I learnt that I wasn’t doing Him a favour; instead He was using this journey to bless and mould me.
Since then, I’ve realised that He is really after our hearts, and not what we can do for Him. I’ve learnt to hold the business lightly in my hand. This enables me to see that all provision comes from His hand, in ways that I could not humanly plan. I know this business is a part of the journey I am with Him, so if it evolves into something else or if I have to give it up one day, I would be fine with it.
What has been your favourite moment since starting The Letter J Supply?
It is made up of many small moments! As a whole, I am thankful that I look forward to “work,” where I don’t dread the Mondays. I cherish the time I have on this earth in being able to do something that I love.
You recently co-organised Creating with the Creator, an event that champions different creative expressions of worship. Could you share with us more about it?
It was birthed from the idea of bringing together Christian creatives and entrepreneurs who use their craft or products as an avenue to express their heart of worship. There is a growing trend in which Christian artists want to express their worship through creative arts.
I worked with Samantha from Godly Womanhood for this event. It took place in end-January at The Letter J Supply’s Triple One Somerset pop-up space. We had 10 different vendors coming in to set up their booths, from ceramics to poetry writing to jewellery. All of them were at different points in their personal walk with God.
The highlight of the event was a prophetic art ministry led by Jacke Tan. Many believers and pre-believers were ministered to. DJ BAY+B also took the decks; her heart is about using music to change atmospheres.
On that weekend, we saw different giftings all coming together in one space. The sound of typewriters, music, and chatter filled the air. Divine connections were made, restoration and healing took place, and destinies were changed — all through creative expressions. We all came from different churches and have had different journeys but it felt like we were one.
What is your advice for fellow creatives?
What you love to do is what you were made to do. Your gift is for you to make an impact; it’s powerful, so don’t take it lightly.
Find out more about The Letter J Supply at: theletterjsupply.com.