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Thursday, May 23, 2024

All It’s Chalked Up to Be

Caitlin Sausville's lettering is currently on display at Haymaker Bun Company.
Caitlin Sausville's lettering is currently on display at Haymaker Bun Company.

Some come to Haymaker Bun Company for the coffee, some for the buns… and some for the handwriting.

Caitlin Sausville, better known to some as Lady Jane, is Middlebury’s premier chalkboard artist. Since moving to Vermont in late 2022, the smooth loops and bold swoops of Sausville’s  hand lettering have graced the signage of local businesses from Shiretown Marketplace to Elli Parr. 

Sausville’s love affair with letters started early. 

“I was in a second-grade class with a teacher who used those kind of felt tip faux calligraphy pens whenever she graded our papers and had the most beautiful handwriting,” she recalled. “I really wanted to replicate what she did because it was just so cool, so my mom actually talked with her and got me and another girl this time with her as a little introductory lesson.” 

Little did the teacher know that she was kick-starting a life-long passion for Sausville. 

Sausville took the leap from amateur to professional letterer while working at the restaurant Rye & Thyme in Leominster, Mass. “I just kept looking at [the board] and thinking, ‘I feel like I see the vision for this,’” Sausville said. “I [was] spending a lot of time standing up in the front and [I thought] ‘I could do something cool with this.’”

The success of this first chalkboard snowballed. In addition to restaurants and businesses, Sausville quickly became involved in the wedding industry, creating hand-lettered invitations, menus and place settings with a personal touch.

Originally trained as a musical theatre artist, Sausville has a penchant for change. Just in the past  two years, she has become a mom, chopped off shoulder-length curls in favor of a close crop and moved to a new state. 

Upon arriving in Middlebury, Sausville became a regular customer at Haymaker Bun Company. Looking at their existing signage, she thought, “There’s a lot of potential that was just sort of untapped there.” She offered her skills to owner Caroline Corrente and completed the first A-frame board to great acclaim. Sausville now regularly updates Haymaker’s seasonal menu. 

Before long, other local businesses noticed her work.

All It's Chalked Up to be Image #2.jpeg
Sausville works with different materials to create indoor and outdoor signage.

The process varies from project to project. “As far as the design goes, some people do not have a vision, and some people do,” Sausville said. Certain clients offer her total artistic liberty, while others specify a color scheme and where they would like the logo and information to be located. For some jobs, Sausville is able to remove the signs and complete them at home, while others need to be decorated in situ. Her choice of writing implement depends on the backing material and whether the sign will be indoors or outdoors, requiring a rotation of waterproof chalk markers, oil- and water-based paint pens, and traditional chalk.

“Each event has a very different feel. And sometimes that’s the hardest part — the job is trying to capture that,” Sausville explained.“It’s very much this modern calligraphy where I really found kind of my sweet spot.”

Looking forward, Sausville has dreams of expanding her business. 

“Right now it’s really a passion project,” she said. “I would love for it to be my career at some point, but I am a full-time mother of [two-year-old] twins.”

One idea for a possible outshoot came to her on a cold winter evening. She had just moved to Middlebury for her husband’s new job and was wandering the snowy streets downtown, window shopping, when the thought came to her. 

“Some of the people whose work I admire the most actually are based out of [Ottawa] and they do these gorgeous painted windows. Main Street is just itching for something like that,” she said. 

Beyond storefronts, Sausville said she  hopes to build relationships with local wedding planners. “Obviously, there’s a huge wedding industry in Vermont, in the fall especially,” she said. “I have yet to make that connection, but that would be the next frontier for me.” 

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Sausville also mentioned her disappointment at the fading tradition of teaching cursive in elementary schools. The loss of this art form in schools means that there is a potential educational market for handwriting workshops, she said. 

“What I have noticed is that a lot of people who do turn [hand lettering] into their full-time career rely on classes that they teach,” Sausville added. In the future, she would love to offer sessions for teens and adults. 

One perk of these sessions for those with basic knowledge of traditional cursive is that skills can be acquired rapidly. “You could actually walk out of a faux calligraphy class and design a Christmas card,” she said.

This December, we would all do well to sharpen our pencils and unbox our crayons, but when it comes to professional lettering, it’s caps off to Lady Jane.

Acadia Klepeis

Acadia Klepeis ’24 (she/her) is an Arts & Culture Editor. 

She is an English major and a French and Francophone Studies minor. Last year, Cadi studied literature in Paris and in Oxford through Middlebury’s school abroad programs. She spent this past summer working as a communications intern for the Vermont Arts Council. Previously, she completed internships with Tuttle Publishing, Theatre in Paris, and Town Hall Theater. Cadi is also on the board for Middlebury College Musical Theatre.