Chinese calligraphy, Japanese attention to detail, and a penchant for the British country lifestyle are not things that ordinarily go hand in hand. However, in the studio of Felix Fu, master artist behind the Felix Doolittle stationery company, one does not exist without the other.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, he chose the English name ‘Felix’ when he was thirteen. In Latin, Felix means happiness or good luck. He later chose Doolittle because of its cheerful ring. More importantly, this new pen name looked beautiful when written.
Felix began his professional life as a restaurant consultant where he did everything but cook the meal. From designing the ambiance of the restaurant to creating the menu and coaching the waitstaff, there was always much to do. In glimpses of free time, Felix, who trained in the art of Chinese brush calligraphy intensively when he was young, would sit down and draw or teach himself Western calligraphy. Not for any particular purpose but that he enjoyed it.
The practice would serve him well. Later he was able to incorporate both his love for illustration and calligraphy into his growing custom stationery business, and in 2003, Felix Doolittle debuted at the National Stationery Show. Shortly thereafter, Martha Stewart saw his work and invited him to be a guest on The Martha Stewart Show. Felix received international acclaim for the quality and sensitivity of his work.
Twelve years after its first stationery show, the Felix Doolittle product line-up has grown. The little studio now creates everything from canning labels to fine art prints to stationery. Particular typefaces and lettering styles are all carefully selected in order to create an elegant aesthetic.
“The most fascinating thing is to be able to see or feel the emotion of an artist in the sketch,” Felix says. Finding inspiration in nature, structures, gardens, books, stories, and family, he creates delicate pencil sketches which are then painted with vibrant watercolors. The influence of Chinese calligraphy is apparent in the emotion, control, and detail that exists in these tiny illustrations. “All of the emotion is in the original script, which is very, very important.” He says of handwriting and calligraphy.
People value things differently today. There are still a lot of people writing, but less than there used to be. There is an enormous difference between a handwritten note and an email print-out. Even if the sentiment is the same, the delivery and its power are incomparable. You see the emotion in the writing, the choice of paper and ink, and the time it took to craft. You can keep it and cherish it. A handwritten letter will always be a most special gift to give someone you care about.
“That’s why people treasure letters. They see the handwriting, and immediately they have a deep sense and feeling of the person who wrote it.”
Loren Sklar, his wife and partner in business, agrees. She says many people create rough drafts before writing on their products although she points out that while re-writing might make for a neat and clean letter or note, there’s also an energy in the writing when you write it directly. “When you re-write it, you’re more careful and controlled. It is like a sketch versus a finished painting. Sometimes you love the sketch because it has all that freedom and immediate energy.” Loren explains, “Whether people choose to write a rough draft – or two – and then write their letter, or they embrace the errors that come along the way of writing extemporaneously, both are equally valid and wonderful. Just send that letter into the mail where it will be received as a gift! It will probably make someone’s day!”
One of the most important things about a handwritten piece is the “fingerprint of the writer,” or “soul print,” as Loren puts it. The energy of the writing, the person’s unique style of handwriting, their thoughts, their choice of paper and stamp, along with the additional time it takes to create, make a letter a cherished thing. “That’s why people treasure letters. They see the handwriting, and immediately they have a deep sense and feeling of the person who wrote it,” Loren says. “Don’t worry about mistakes, the cross-outs, the small arrows, adding words or letters, it all adds to the character of the written piece, to that soul print!”
As a boy, Felix grew up in one of the most-densely populated cities in the world, but this did nothing to abate a love of horses. “The horse is a beautiful, powerful, and majestic animal,” he says. “Each one has its own soul, spirit, and personality. They have a deep connection with humans, most especially with the people whose company they share, but unlike other animals, the horse’s friendship and recognition has to be earned. There is a commitment and relationship between the horse and the person that is very special.” His appreciation of horses and hunting was first inspired by art. “Classic paintings of British fox hunting scenes, the men and women in perfectly brilliant attire, and the party afterwards!” He says with a smile.
Felix has plans to further develop his equestrian line. “I just don’t think that there is enough equestrian art of this type in the marketplace.” Hunting scenes come most easily to Felix as he is equally enamored with landscapes. He plans to study the other disciplines of equestrianism closely so he can recreate them. Once he sees and understands the beauty of a thing, the drawing comes easily.
In true artist fashion, Felix sometimes finds himself working at all hours. Creation may happen in the dark of the night or in the natural light of day. And inspiration hits at the strangest times. “It is sometimes as simple as what someone mentions to me one day.” Says Felix. “What we talk about. Everyone gives me ideas and every day we have conversations. Somehow, out of those conversations, I begin thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I can draw this.’”
From the drawing to the painting, even the printing and cutting of the paper, everything happens in the studio of Felix Doolittle. To Loren and Felix, the feeling of hand-cut paper versus machine cut is unmatched. “Even though some people don’t know that the paper is hand-cut, they can feel the difference. It, too, has a different soul to it…a different spirit,” Loren explains.
Once the product is made, then comes the Japanese sense of care in creating a gift that has mystery, levels of unveiling, and ultimately a sweet surprise. Their presentation of their return address labels particularly has that feeling, and are their customers’ most beloved product for themselves and gifts.
The Felix Doolittle stationery company has grown over the twelve years since its first booth at The National Stationery Show. The likes of Martha Stewart, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Oprah Winfrey, and Marie Claire have named Felix Doolittle as one of the best stationery companies they know. One hundred and thirty different retailers stock their products and their online shop is full of surprises.
Felix and Loren have future hopes of opening their own store in Boston to showcase their products and vision. But if it happens, it won’t be all about them. “We would love to feature different artists if we had a storefront,” says Felix. His own favorite artists include John Singer Sargent – for his gorgeous watercolors, Norman Rockwell – for his craftsmanship, and Hayao Miyazaki – for his master storytelling.
Sometimes, Felix still needs a reminder for why he does this work. Work he spends hours creating with gorgeous calligraphy, vibrant watercolors, and carefully drawn pencil sketches to be printed on writing papers, bookplates, and more. “I go to museums, I search for old captains’ logs or diaries with pen and ink. The handwriting is beautiful. Every time I see something like that, I say, ‘This is why I write. This is why I do this.’”
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