Marika Wendelken remembers her first encounter with lettering. Sitting in her first-grade classroom with a sheet of dotted lined paper in front of her, Marika took her time during the cursive lesson. “I don’t know why, but I was doing all these curly qs on the letters, and the teacher was like, ‘You have to finish that up. We’re out of time,’” she recalls. “I think that was my first fascination.”
You can’t really blame her for the flourishes – ink runs in her blood. Her parents met in art school and her dad was a graphic designer who was behind a redesign of the classic Uno card game. “Growing up, we always had pens and pencils and all the paper we could want,” she says. She gravitated toward art supplies during her childhood that began in Columbus, Ohio, and took her through five other states. Soon Marika put chisel-tip pen to paper in her first and only calligraphy class.
But it was ballet that became her main artistic outlet as she trained classically for years. During college at the University of Georgia, her parents moved to Durham and later she followed suit, securing a gig at Foster’s Market. “I appointed myself to be the sign maker because we had different items every day, and we had to make a little descriptive sign [for each one],” Marika says. “I would get really into it, and then Sara hired me to do the chalkboard menus.” Her childhood fascination paid off as people saw the menus and asked her to do small jobs in the area. But soon, another passion took hold as she pursued massage therapy. “Having been a dancer, I was already interested in how the body worked. Massage therapy seemed to fit perfectly,” she says. “I love working with my hands and being active and physical.”
Marika spent nearly two decades at day spas and in private practice until someone who remembered her chalkboard signs asked if she could do one for a wedding shoot at The Cookery in Durham. “It was one of those perfect storms of opportunity and people and everything crossing paths at the same time,” she says. The signs got her noticed and Marika, who’s now based in Mebane, realized she was ready for more. She started getting regular jobs – like the Buns and Joe Van Gogh menu boards – through word of mouth.
Chances are, if you’ve been to a wedding or event at local venues like The Rickhouse or The Stockroom at 230, you’ve seen her work. You may have received a wedding invite in an envelope addressed by Marika, but more likely, you’ve seen one of her welcome signs or seating charts in handwriting that many wish they had. What you’re not seeing is all the planning and hard work behind each custom creation. It starts with a consultation. “Some people have a clear idea of what they want, but other people are like, ‘I love your work. This is sort of our look. Go for it.’ It just depends on the couple,” Marika says. From there, she’s off to sketching and communicating back and forth with her clients, tweaking the design. On the day of, she’ll arrive early with the trusty chalk box she’s had since college and start by laying out the lettering and sketching lightly in chalk. “With big pieces, I have to keep stepping back to make sure [my design is straight],” she says. “It’s hard to tell exactly how long things will take, but [some] can take six to eight hours.” Sometimes she’s on site finishing right up until the first guest arrives.
At the end of a long day, Marika is thrilled to have created something meaningful for a couple’s celebration. “It’s really personal and sweet,” she says. “It’s a nice contribution to make.” Couples love the detail she puts in every design, and some have even wanted a chalkboard keepsake, something Marika is now offering. As her schedule picks up with more work, her ultimate goal is to make calligraphy and lettering her full-time job. “I’m building toward that, and it seems to be happening, which is great,” Marika says. “Being a one-person show, there’s only so much that I can do.”