By Jonathan Mcfadden
The Charlotte Observer.
Lori Sparacio’s handiwork is etched on a 25-foot chalkboard at The MAYOBIRD, a Charlotte, N.C.-based chicken salad eatery.
Her “swoops and swirls” have been inked on the bottoms of a bride’s high-heels, between the threading of 100 baseballs used as wedding favors, and on a bundle of volleyballs given to players as keepsakes.
But her biggest claim to fame came last fall when a message she wrote in Hebrew sat on an office desk on Showtime’s TV series “Homeland.”
“Stop the action and get close to the TV if you want to see it,” said Sparacio, who since 2010 has run her business, The Write Occasion Calligraphy, from her home. “It was there.”
It stayed there for an entire 12-episode season. Sparacio, 52, charged $350 for the piece.
Getting her work on “Homeland,” a political thriller starring Claire Danes as bipolar CIA Agent Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s mentor, Saul Berenson, didn’t result in a ton of new business. But Sparacio said the experience reminded her why marketing is critical.
A picture of the “Homeland” piece is No. 29 in a gallery of 48 pictures on Sparacio’s website, thewriteoccasioncalligraphy.com.
“I really didn’t advertise that as much as I should,” she said. “It’s on the website. … I don’t think I ever put it on Facebook. So, did it affect (business)? Probably not.”
Now, Sparacio is working to bolster her social media and marketing presence by getting the word out about her TV experience.
WHEN ‘HOMELAND’ CAME CALLING
Sparacio’s moment in the spotlight came last spring.
Summer Eubanks, Homeland’s set decorator, scoured the Internet to find someone who could pen a fancy, italic Hebrew text that would sit on Saul’s desk. Patinkin came up with the idea.
“He felt like it was good insight into Saul’s character,” she said. “I think it was just part of his inner preparation for Saul.”
To fulfill the actor’s request, Eubanks searched for local calligraphers who were flexible and unflappable in the face of the show’s tight deadlines. She found The Write Occasion Calligraphy website. She liked what she saw and contacted Sparacio.
There was no way Sparacio, who says she never loses her cool even when clients panic, was going to turn down this offer. But all the New York native knew about Hebrew was that it’s written right to left, instead of left to right.
She had a week to finish the job.
“So, I was going to learn the whole darn language if it killed me,” Sparacio said.
Afraid she would sever words or phrases if they weren’t written correctly, Sparacio sought help from the Jewish Community Center of Charlotte. A rabbi there helped her interpret the phrase and write it on paper properly.
Sparacio submitted at least four different designs to the show. Eubanks chose a version of the message scrawled in a border drawn to look like a scroll.
The text was never central to the storyline of the show, Eubanks said. “The camera never panned across it so the audience could read it,” she said. “I did see it in some shots.”
HOBBY TURNED BUSINESS
From a bedroom-turned-office, Sparacio places envelopes, notes and letters on a lightbox, inserting inside of it a transparency sheet that helps keep her writing aligned. She uses a line projector for opaque materials. She writes it all by hand. It takes her about two minutes to finish one page.
“I always say, ‘there’s no backspace on calligraphy,'” she said.
Most of her customers are brides, some of whom pay between $200 to $275 for 100 wedding invitations, and $150 to $175 for place-cards. Sparacio averages between 50 to 60 weddings a year. Her custom jobs include requests for fancily written poems, Bible verses, certificates and Christmas ornaments.
She teaches introduction to calligraphy classes at Paper Source, a stationery store franchise. She also offers full-day boot camps at a neighborhood clubhouse.
Calligraphy was an acquired skill for Sparacio, who 25 years ago wanted calligraphic writing on her wedding invitations. She took a 10-week class to learn the basics, which enabled her to write the script on her invitations. Some time later, her job at the time at the Culinary Institute of New York asked her to pen their certificates.
“This was the day of the dinosaur and there was no computer fonts that you could choose from,” she said.
She took more classes and kept practicing when she realized a friend of hers, also a calligrapher, was making money.
After she and her husband, a tax accountant, moved to Charlotte, Sparacio started her business in 2010 by building and maintaining her website and tracking down stationers and wedding planners who would contract her services.
WEARING MANY HATS
It’s possible Sparacio would have attracted more clients had she added, “Calligraphy, as you will see on ‘Homeland'” to her business cards and fliers, said Dr. Steve Cox, a Queens University of Charlotte marketing professor.
Association with the show automatically adds interest, Cox said, noting that the Charlotte home used on “Homeland” sold for substantially more than it was worth.
But he also said it’s not easy for small-business owners to focus their efforts on promoting themselves.
“They wear so many hats, it’s hard to have enough time to focus on any one thing,” he said. “Sometimes, they don’t think about it.”
For Sparacio, the “Homeland” experience was more about fun than exposure.
“I do thousands of envelopes and place cards a year,” she said. “Something like (the show), it’s kind of a fun diversion.”