An Interview with Chris Yoke
Chris has an amazing philosophy on business that just draws people to him. He's incredibly helpful and ready to answer even the most simple of questions! He even let's me text him whenever I want to, he may end up regretting that decision. His passion for his craft and the calligraphy community is not only contagious but encourages us all to give a greater purpose to our passion. His holders are top of the line! You could spend hours ogling the gallery on his website. I'm currently dreaming up all kinds of ideas for the custom Yoke Pen I want to get and the possibilities are limitless! I've never been on this end of that process and it's a lot harder than I thought! But there's a sense of assurance when trusting him with a pen because of his masterful skill level that leaves you knowing whatever he makes will be brilliant!
In true Chris fashion he gave much more than he needed to and has given us a truly insightful interview! You'll get glimpses into his life, process and who he really is, so thank you Chris for letting us into your creative space!
Location: In the middle of a cornfield just south of Indianapolis, Indiana. :)
Best advice you've ever received? My grandfather taught me that there is nothing better than the feeling of making or repairing something yourself. He also always told me that "Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing right the first time."
I wish I knew how to...: Write like D.L. Musselman, Flourish like H.P. Behrensmeyer and Engross like P.W. Costello
Favorite calligraphy tools of the trade:
- A Zanerian Fine Art Pen Holder Replica
- Musselman Perfection or Gillott 604EF Nibs
- McCaffery's Ink
- Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder
- Fons & Porter Mechanical Fabric Pencil
- My Yoke Pen Co. Nib & Pen Wipes
What's been the hardest thing about owning your own business & how are you working to overcome it?
Having free time! This started as a very simple hobby for myself. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, lol. Having a balance of personal time and getting all my orders done is challenging to say the least. I'm constantly working at coming up with new ways to improve the production process to make it more time effective. I want this to remain a one man operation, so I look for ways to shave even seconds off of the time involved in each step of pen making and also improving the quality at the same time.
How did you get started making holders?
When I found my great-great grandfathers penmanship supplies stashed away in my family home, I decided I wanted to learn how to write like he did. I found a local class teaching Engrosser's Script and was told I needed an oblique pen. I went online to find one and realized I only had about 5 choices in a pen. I had always had an interest in woodworking and had a lathe. I decided I could make my own using a beautiful exotic wood. I took the few holders I made for myself to a local guild meeting at Jane Farr's (@carmelscribe) in 2012 and she immediately offered to buy one. She convinced me there would be a desire for this and convinced me to try and make them available for sale to the public. I tried it first on eBay and the pen holders usually only lasted a few hours before they were purchased. In May of 2013 I launched my wesbite, www.yokepencomany.com.
How long does it take you to make a pen?
This vary's so much because I do so many different price ranges and amount of detail. Something simple like my Naked Cherry line of holders, which are unfinished cherry and made for painting by the customer, take about 30 minutes to make. Something like a replica Kelchner can take as long as nine hours total, over a period of two weeks.
What's your favorite type of holder to make?
I love making replicas of antique holders. I love the history of penmanship so very much and it was the history that got me started in penmanship. There's something very nostalgic about holding a pen holder design which hasn't been made in over 100 years. To me it's like traveling back in time to the golden era of penmanship and imagining what it was like to hold one of the antique pen holders when they were new.
What's the hardest part about making pens?
When I began making pens for the public, I didn't want to make "my" pen holders. I wanted to make "your" pen holder. What I mean by that is I never wanted to replicate a design that was my own over and over. I wanted each pen holder to be special and look completely different and be something that came from the customers mind and not necessarily mine. Putting my personal tastes aside is extremely hard sometimes. I love every pen I make, but some I finish I look at and just think that is horrible looking. Not that there is anything wrong with the pen holder, just I personally will find the color combo or layout not to my taste at all. Trying to realize that opinions and tastes vary so much, I just have to separate my personal opinions and taste. This can be very challenging sometimes.
What’s your favorite thing about Yoke Pen Co. and how do you go above and beyond to deliver a unique customer experience for those buying your pens?
My favorite thing about Yoke Pen Co. is the customers and the challenges they give me. My customers often come up with the greatest ideas for a theme or design aspect and they constantly are pushing me to come up with new ways to accomplish their thoughts into a design. In regards to going above and beyond, it would be the thought I put into a design and the entire custom order experience. Many times a custom order will be 50-100 email replies long in order to complete the design discussion. This is especially true when I create what I call a "Life Pen". These are pens I design based upon the customers life experiences. They tell me their story and I try to bring those details into a pen holder which represents them as an individual. Every single detail can be scrutinized and patience is the key by both the customer and myself. I could easily just make whatever pens I feel at the time and stop taking custom orders, but in order to make each pen personal to the individual and bringing what they see in their mind to life, it takes time and patience. The end result of seeing the customers brought into reality and their reactions make all the time invested so very worth it.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
Oh my! There are so many penman & calligraphers I love, but my favorite are those who selflessly share their knowledge to improve the penmanship community. Those such as Joe Vitolo: @drjmvitolo, My bunso Gail M: @the_md_writes are the two that stick out the most in my mind.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My pen workday doesn't start until the evening. Six years ago I sold my guitar store in order to become a stay at home father, when my wife, Vicky and I found out we were having our son. So my days are filled with spending time with my two young children, Alex who is six and Gabby who is two. My pen work starts after they go to bed. I typically go down to the shop at around 9:00 pm and work until 1:00 am or so every day. Luckily I am one of those people who don't require much sleep, lol. I recently started having our cousin come over one day per week to babysit, which gives me a few extra hours per week to get some pen holders completed. I also put in a few hours on the weekends when my wife is home.
Time saving tip for other calligraphers to try out:
Organize! I may be personally on the verge of needing committed due to my Obsessive-Compulsive traits, but nothing saves time in this world more than having things organized. The more time you spend looking for something needed for a project, the less time you actually have to do it. Even steps which save a few seconds, all add up quickly to give you extra time to actually accomplish things. You don't need to be at the crazy level I am at, lol, but every little bit helps!
What’s next? What career goals are you working towards?
Right now I just purchased a fiber laser for engraving and looking at all the ways I can implement it into my designs. I have just scratched the surface of the possibilities. On a larger scale, I also am in the process of writing a book on pen holder history and the construction process. This will be an electronically distributed eBook that will be available for free download. When I began making pen holders there was no resource for information on how to make them. I spent countless hours testing, designing and prototyping all of the details needed to make a functional and beautiful tool. My hope with this eBook is that it will not only document the history of pen holders, but also help many more get started in creating them for themselves or be able to make their own work available to the penmanship community. My goal is to have it completed this year, I had hoped to have it done already but I way underestimated the time needed to prepare something like this. It's been a great challenge for myself.
What do you want your legacy for Yoke Pen Co. to be?
I hope that not only the Yoke Pen Co. name represents beautiful and functional tools that last for generations, but also that the name becomes synonymous with sharing time, knowledge and giving back to the community. The true legacy I want to leave is as many resources I can for future generations of "Pensmiths" and also to continue the giving back to the community in any way each person can. My all time favorite quote is from Pablo Picasso “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”