Stories of Hope: A Conversation with Holly Anna Calligraphy


How one woman uses her way of caring for her soul to speak life to others

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


“How can I speak life to the people that follow me?” Holly Stavness, owner of Holly Anna Calligraphy reflected in her Facebook feed.

I no longer remember how I first heard of Holly Anna Calligraphy. In July of 2017, with some bonus income, I signed up for a beginner calligraphy class, wearied from the grief of losing our daughter in March. I felt anxious and frazzled that day, not quite accustomed to going out without my kids, of doing something with them at home, indulgent and just for myself.

Marie from Tailor Made Events first encouraged Holly to rent a space for her workshops. “I wanted it to be safe and beautiful. I was blown away at how beautiful it was,” Holly said of the first time she saw the studio that would be hers through a friend at her church.

Stepping down the brick path, with draping bougainvillea blooms, I stepped into another world. Opening the white antique door, one walks not only into an attractive studio, but a space that Holly created, filled with peace.


Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor
By Holly Anna Calligraphy


She shared the story of how calligraphy became her calling. With each workshop, Holly wants to give to her guests a taste of what she refers to internally as “that dining room experience” when she fell in love with it.

Holly was never the artist during childhood in Hughson, California. One of four siblings, given the choice for one activity, she chose soccer. After an injury and surgeries prior to college, plans changed. After she attended college at CSU Stanislaus, Holly transferred down south and met her husband, supporting him through a Masters degree in physical therapy by working as an administrative assistant. “It was hard coming out of college and thinking I’m going to get this great job,” she recalled, “As a college student wanting to conquer the world that wasn’t my first choice—to pour myself out.”

To pour oneself out is the theme that runs through Holly’s life. Raised in a family that taught her the value of helping others, Holly’s value of the other she encounters fills her workshops and projects with something that becomes life-giving to others.

That gift of self led her and her husband to foster care. She described it “a season of heartbreak. The Lord was calling us to break our hearts. That changed some theology in my mind that you’re never going to go through trials, that God will never ask you to broken-heartedness. It’s a different concept that he wants us to pour ourselves out for others.”

In the midst of seeking to serve her family, care for her daughters, provide a secure environment for her foster son, as she encountered the consequences of generational neglect, drugs and alcohol for the first time, Holly found herself drying out. She needed a way to fill her cup.

“I found myself really dry, especially with children, not really loving my life. I wanted to love my life, I wanted children and wanted a husband and a husband who loved his job. With foster care, we wanted to do this. I just wanted to be present in the moment, to just love it, to find the joy in the moment, even in the mundane.”

Calligraphy was new on the social media scene. Holly purchased lettering samples by Molly Jakes on Skillshare and materials online. “As I was struggling with this in my heart, calligraphy was my outlet for emotions I don’t know that I’d ever experienced before… calligraphy was there for me to write things out. I’d put the kids down, my husband goes to bed early, and I would just write, and those were the most beautiful moments when God met me at my kitchen table with calligraphy… It was slow and therapeutic and just enough to keep my mind there and in the emotion— to not put the emotion aside but work through it.”


Image may contain: indoor
By Holly Anna Calligraphy


At the request of friends, Holly hosted her first workshop teaching others. With each workshop, she adds hospitable touches to her studio though name cards and refreshments. “All of a sudden, halfway through, it will start to get really quiet and I know that is where the magic has happened. They are actually breathing life into their souls.”

Holly acknowledges, “you know, I have no idea what they’re coming in, what burdens…” but she knows that each person walks in with his or her own story.

That was my experience. Holly’s workshops became a part of my story of healing through grief.

“This is just, like, my happy place where I can help people. They are the ones doing it. I just give them the tools.”


To learn more about Holly’s work, visit


Discloser of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Watercolor Floral Workshop with Holly Anna Calligraphy

Saturday, October 14th, I attended a Watercolor Floral Workshop with Holly Anna Calligraphy taught by Kylee Blackburn. A painting of Kylee’s hangs on my living room wall.

Sitting in the PICU in the spring of 2016, I began to feel the ache to create. At home my hobbies were big: upholstery, painting walls, painting signs and sewing curtains, pillows and bunting. What could I do in the restraints of that room? During one walk I encountered Arch Supplies. The saleswoman directed me to a travel set of watercolors.


I knew watercolor from Mr. Dennis’ high school art class, but nothing more.

I started sketching.


The details were not much to look at, so I decided to try simplified flower shapes.

I purchased the set and went on my way. The price of thank you cards inspired me to give away the little paintings I created.

The book, 20 Ways to Draw a Tulip, helped immensely. I drew with pencil and painting over, then outlined with ink in some cases.

Like macramé, once Peter was discharged from the hospital, there was little to pull me back to the activity.

Then I encountered the Four Friends Market, Holly Anna Calligraphy and Kylee Blackburn’s work.

And, oh, what Kylee can do…


I signed up. Because of other expenses, I contemplated canceling. I recalled the calligraphy workshop and the space, both the physical space filled with natural light and bougainvillea and the mental space of time away from everything. Like a walk away from the hospital. I knew I needed it.

When I walked down the alley, I breathed in the beauty. Opening the door, I knew my way. I felt outgoing and at ease. Thumbing through the book I read about color theory and delighted in the blue watercolor words used for headers in each section.

Kylee explained her method and her rules. The water makes the watercolor work. My mind created Venn diagrams of her technique and Ron Stocke’s from M. Graham, who I watched demonstrate watercolor techniques at Arch Supplies. He is trying to change the field, to show you can intentionally use the paint from the tube with incredible results. His paintings are a testament to that.

But what do I want to paint? I want paintings that are attainable to me. I want paintings that help me breathe a little better when I paint them. Those are the paintings by Kylee.

I could not be more pleased with what I took away from this workshop. I learned how to form flowers, how to work with the brush, which brush to use, how to create definition in the painting, and how to paint flowers. Kylee walked from table to table so we could see her make the strokes made up close. I asked her to paint roses again. Our goal was to paint a floral wreath.



I liked two of my practice flowers and used them for the wreath. I wish I had not been too afraid to start fresh. I thought I could not reproduce them.


With any new art, a big factor in success is to not be afraid, to put faith in the words of a good instructor who tells you to go for it, dip in the water and push hard on the brush. There is still practice and experimentation to be done.

Sometimes with these workshops, all I can think is, “my goodness that’s a lot of money for two hours.” Then I remind myself…

it is double in San Francisco.

It is not just that. The ease of having the recommended materials provided saves a lot of trial and error. Art supply stores overwhelm me with their options. Watching is key to learning, as is practicing. Small, personal workshops provide both opportunities. Youtube videos are helpful, but when I have a question regarding what I am doing right or wrong, they fall short.

Then there is the escape from life and responsibilities to soak up something new.

Returning to life, now when I paint with me daughter, I have a better idea of what I am doing, which inspires her to always keep learning.

Just for fun, here is my masterpiece from last year:

Sketch of Peter which created much laughter.

I receive no compensation for this review. 

New Adventures: Beginner Modern Calligraphy

A little adventure this time: a Beginner Modern Calligraphy workshop with Holly Anna Calligraphy.

Handwriting has been my nemesis. It is too slow for the speed of my thoughts. So I typed. I have relied on typing since 5th grade.

My hand-writing languished. Penmanship was taught but not enforced. Second grade, we competed to see who could write the smallest. Cursive was punishment. In the end, only I could read my scribbles. Now, some days, if I am actually writing my thoughts, it seems I cannot do that.


My thinking penmanship
Day to day penmanship
When things are looking good


A couple weeks ago, in a memorable bout of good mothering, my daughter and I transcribed a poem onto a piece of paper and painted the rest of the paper with images we imagined from the poem. I wished for some way to elevate my penmanship. Fortunately, this workshop was just around the corner. The kindness of the teacher, Holly, made me feel comfortable to such a commitment. It seems I often have to cancel last minute because of some Peter-related issue.

Workshop day arrived! I left the kiddos with my parents and drove off apprehensively to Modesto. Would I feel comfortable? Would it be too difficult to be away from Peter? I already spent the morning away from him. My thoughts swirled with worries about Peter, the heat, and my parents’ energy levels. I thought of Celeste how long it was since I visited the cemetery.

I found the location easily, next door to Vito’s, once Oceania, where Kyle and I spend a couple dates gazing lovingly into each other eyes. Down a narrow, paved walkway with branches of bright pink bougainvillea dropping dried petals like a flower girl there stood the chalk board sign which read, “Calligraphy Workshop.” I seemed to arrive with the early crowd.

Opening the antique glass-paned door, a burst of cold air welcomed me inside from the 104-degree outside, afternoon temperature. A handful of women sat around plastic folding tables ornamented with white paper bags, cream colored tags tied with ivory ribbon. Each tag was decorated with a name, our names in gold ink calligraphy. I thought of my wedding place cards and how we printed them on the computer using Apple Chancery. I thought how pretty they would have been like this. I thought of how long that would take. I thought, better not to regret, and instead, I observed the room.

To one side were products, beautifully created prints with watercolor flowers and words of wisdom scrolled across their centers. A gray couch, a punch of distinctive lighting overhead, and the easy manner of Holly meeting and greeting participants as they entered made everyone new to her feel as though this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“We’ll start on time!” she said, to honor those who came early. Everyone was there by the starting gun and off we went, peacefully thumbing through the workbook she created. I laughed out loud at the collective gasp of joy when Holly announced the paper in the Rhodes book provided was see through. We could trace the workbook letters, no need to soil it with our attempts to learn.

We started by learning about our tools and drawing lines, then strokes.


Every letter is a combination of strokes. It becomes manageable when you see it that way, even the “m’s.”

After tracing and repeating, building our muscle memory, I began to experiment with names.


I wrote Celeste’s name over and over again. I made me feel close to her as if I were creating something for her. Like a junior high girl doodling her name with her crush’s last name. I tried to flourish a heart around Miriam’s name and draw a train around James’ name. I think of the term “fail forward.”

Never did I think my handwriting could be beautiful. Never did I think I could write that lovely handwritten note Mrs. Post is always talking about. But I did. And I can.

This is the benefit of learning from another person, and along side people. While I could have looked online and studied some strokes, signing up for a workshop means someone who has tried the field of materials gives me her most-recommended pieces. I need not hunt around for the best price. She refilled my ink pot before I left. I asked for help on the flourishes. She gave me her perspective. She gave her alphabet.

In modern calligraphy, there are no strict rules. You are presented with the information and you make it your own. It is a project that looks much better to every other eye than yours. It is forgiving. I need that in life. This is something I can do.

I already have my first card reading to put in the mail.

(This is not a sponsored post).