An hour and a half has passed since the doors of Beech were locked. The floors have been swept, the dishes washed and the manager is meticulously counting large wads of cash for the final count of the night. For Dayana Wilkins, however, there is still work to be done.
College of Charleston senior Dayana “Day” Wilkins is a calligrapher and owner of her own business, A Pen Full of Ink. With Gucci Mane’s “Out Do Ya” blasting in her earbuds and chalk dust lingering in the air, Wilkins is on the latter end of her three-hour masterpiece — a six by nine foot chalkboard menu. Pedestrians peer through the large window, watching in awe as Wilkins lays on the floor to script the final items.
For Wilkins, odd hours are typical. Due to heavy traffic during business hours, her work in restaurants is confined to early mornings and late nights — working during hours of operation is not an option. “If I don’t finish, no one can order their lunch. So, I have to work super early or super late,” said Wilkins. “I always make sure that I am considerate of the employees’ time…on the other hand, I am a bit of a perfectionist and I have to make sure that I am giving the restaurant exactly what they are paying for.”
In addition to Beech, Wilkins’ work also adorns the chalkboards of Circe’s Grotto. Wilkins became a regular of the restaurant during her commute to class. Enjoying their delicious avocado toast and charming atmosphere, she met Circe’s owner Nick Stella who suggested Wilkins put her skills to the test.
“When we first opened, Wilkins would come in to get breakfast and lunch…When she told me about her business, I told her ‘let it rip, show me what you got.’ The rest was history,” said Stella. How does he feel the boards make his restaurant look? “F***ing awesome,” he said. “Class, sharpness, professionalism — everyone that comes in always asks ‘Who did your boards? I want them to do some for me.’”
For Stella, there is a clear difference between standard printed boards and the handwritten work that Wilkins has done. “There is a unique touch and a local feeling that [print boards] don’t have,” he said.
Wilkins, who has been practicing calligraphy since the age of 14, says it was never her intention to start a calligraphy business. “I’ve always had good handwriting,” she said. “It wasn’t until a friend suggested that I get paid to do what I love that I started my business two years ago.” In addition to her restaurant pieces, Wilkins has done chalkboards for weddings, birthdays and baby showers.
Wilkins was once surprised by a friend who decided to get a quote that she wrote tattooed on her shoulder. “The quote read: ‘Aspire to Inspire.’… I was definitely shocked to see my handwriting permanently placed on someone’s skin.” Another moment that sticks out for Wilkins: a piece dedicated to a customer’s late father-in-law. “I was approached by a guy to do a birthday gift for his wife. On the back of a photo of his wife and her father, I wrote the lyrics to a song that the two of them danced to at her wedding,” said Wilkins. “It was extremely touching.”
Wilkins recognizes that while it may be just words, handwritten material has an endearing and lasting effect. “Whether a personal note or a menu, there is something about handwritten signs that print script is missing…It’s personal, it’s special.”