Words of love
Eleanor Shipton discovers how inspirational calligrapher Kirsten Burke has found a creative new way to support those diagnosed with cancer.
After finishing her final round of chemotherapy a year ago, Kirsten Burke’s first instinct was to put the whole experience behind her.
But positivity can be found in almost any situation, and having survived the disease three times she realised she could use her experience to help others.
As co-founder of the leading, contemporary, calligraphy company in the UK, Kirsten was in an excellent position to fill a gap in the market.
“Going through treatment, I found friends and family struggled with knowing how to show their support,” the Birdham resident explains.
“They would try and give empathy and reassurance, but would often end up saying entirely the wrong thing.
“Some would share miracle survivor stories they had found online and tell me I must add myself to a waiting list for a certain treatment.
“Others told me about relatives who hadn’t survived cancer. I know they were trying to be understanding but this was the last thing I wanted to hear.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t care, they just didn’t know what to say.”
So Kirsten designed and created a range of empathy cards.
With messages such as ‘Let me help, don’t go through this without me’ and ‘Call Me! I’m there when you need to rant, cry or hoover,’ they put into words exactly what friends and relatives are struggling to say.
The use of calligraphy truly turns each card into a work of art so it is of no surprise these beautiful messages can also be bought in print form.
“It is lovely to have them around the house,” Kirsten says. “They are a constant reminder that the person is loved and supported.
“I found mornings the hardest,” she goes on. “But a card on the bedside table or a print on the wall can really give you that extra motivation needed to face another day.”
It really is an inspirational concept. But how did the business first begin?
Kirsten explains her fascinating journey went from working in a bar to a role as partner in the calligraphy company.
She was a waitress at All Bar One in London, run by her soon-to-be business partner, Jill.
The branch was failing and needed publicity so Jill, seizing a PR opportunity, decided to put on an exhibition of Kirsten’s work in the bar itself.
It was a huge success.
Gaining a great deal of media coverage, the chain agreed to sponsor a tour of the exhibition around 13 of their other branches.
“The venture was a big gamble,” says Kirsten. “But luckily it paid off when we reached our final destination – Richmond.”
Here a company doing work for the Globe Theatre visited the bar and saw Kirsten’s artwork.
They were so impressed they commissioned her to create a 30-metre timeline for the theatre, depicting Shakespeare’s life and plays.
It was also turned into a poster and, as Kirsten enthuses: “It is still one of the best selling pieces of artwork at their gift shop today.”
This was the beginning of the business and of Kirsten and Jill’s partnership.
And with the launch of the empathy idea this year, it is clear the future holds great things for Kirsten Burke Design.
They have recently moved into their new studio – a substation, beautifully converted by Jill.
“At the moment cards and artwork can only be purchased on our website,” explains Kirsten. “But we plan on selling to shops and are even currently waiting to hear back from WHSmith.
“We would also like to take the empathy idea forward and branch into other areas.”
It is clear that it has fantastic potential.
Inspired by her own personal experiences and the beautiful setting of her home in the village of Birdham, she explains that it has given her a real gratitude for life.
“I have a wonderful lifestyle here,” she smiles. “I feel incredibly fortunate.”
If you would like to commission Kirsten, or attend one of her pop-up calligraphy classes locally, please contact her via her website www.kirstenburke.co.uk or on 01243 512 845.
Pictures: James Stewart Grant
December 11, 2015 Business and Investments