As we walked the aisles of the National Stationery Show, Julie and I had the great fortune of stopping to chat with a seriously lovely couple – an exuberant and animated gal named Juliana and the oh-so-sweet and engaging Ryan. We talked snail mail, humor, young love and commitment to charitable giving. Julie and I walked away in love with their card line Good Juju Ink, and with the couple. These two dynamos are two thirds of a stationery company that is all about humor, positivity and spreading good juju (of course). Marina is the third member of this awesomely creative and exceptionally savvy team (and boy does she have amazing credentials – she is a force to be reckoned with!)
Juliana is the artist and illustrator for the stationery line. Her drawings are oft paired with funny sentiments sure to make you giggle. Nature and animals figure heavily into the designs, in part due to Ryan’s passion for wildlife. Inspiring words grace cards and prints. Designs are lovingly letterpressed on a Heidelberg Windmill press. Good Juju Ink cards are created with the hopes of spreading joy, and adding a little magic to someone’s day. I had the chance to interview Juliana and Ryan to learn more about their passion for stationery, art, and building connections through paper.
I love the notion that Good Juju Ink is about getting modern people to slow down and to write a letter. What is it about jotting a note and sending mail that you think is important in today’s fast-paced society?
Where do I even BEGIN!? First and foremost, when something isn’t convenient, when it literally takes you out of your daily routine and requires you to get stamps and a verified address, the act becomes innately special. It becomes a gift – a gift that doesn’t need you to spend a huge amount of money but that requires you to know what’s going on in the life of another person, to know a little bit about what matters to them. Writing a letter is actively giving a piece of yourself, your heart, your time to another human being. The physical gesture of writing a note doesn’t allow you to speed through your thoughts. Unlike an email sent in haste, a note really requires you to think about what you’re going to say. Even if that note brings up a topic that is rather difficult to broach with someone you know, the act begs you to be considerate, no “angry” word vomiting allowed. Writing a note is a physical art form. It lives. The note itself is a real thing and is physical proof of someone’s mind-to-hand soul.
What made you, Ryan and Marina decide to create Good Juju Ink? What lessons did you take from your previous careers that you’ve been able to apply to the world of stationery?
This is seriously, like, a seven-hour long conversation that involves a myriad of magical stories and circumstances. Ideally, I would open a giant bottle of Pinot Noir and put together a splendiferous cheese and charcuterie plate as we unfolded the various chapters of our responses to this question. HA! But to make an exceptionally long story short (and if you would like to read the long version, read this blog post), I came from the entertainment industry where I felt myself slipping into a world of slimy superficiality, frivolity, and narcissism. I was saddened by what I saw and experienced as an artist in that microcosm, and I wanted nothing more than to make people laugh and feel loved again. Ryan had decided to go to Stanford Business school in 2012, and in 2013 (after I found out my television series was not picked up by the network), I joined him in Northern California and become reconnected with nature, quiet, and with a different part of my creative self that I’d ignored for some time: my love of drawing.
Ryan met Marina in his second year at business school and she quickly became a very close friend to both of us. I was so impressed with all that Marina had accomplished in her young life as a businesswoman; she absolutely inspired me to start looking at my own life differently. By the end of the Ryan’s second year of school, I decided to launch an Etsy shop selling my cards–mind you, I only had three cards to sell at that point. Six months later, we formally asked Marina to join our team. Marina is a savvy businesswoman who also happens to be obsessed with paper goods and stationery. I mean, what are the chances? The three of us have such different backgrounds. Ryan was a consultant for Bain and Company before business school, and his ability to analyze and assess markets he otherwise had never ventured into before is incredible. He’s a brilliant numbers person. I am not a brilliant number person. In fact, numbers give me hives. Just ask my dad.
Coming from an artistic background made the transition into stationery not all that difficult (though certainly different). I’m used to creating my own schedule and being in charge of my own inspiration and incentivizing. I’ve never had the cushion of a stable income or an annual salary. I’m used to eating noodles. I’m very grateful that I’ve seen, for many years now, what kind of risks it takes to make art your life. It’s not easy. It really, really isn’t. But I couldn’t do anything else.
Juliana and Ryan, we simply adored you when we met you at NSS. Did you both have an affinity for stationery previously? (Please tell us that you two lovebirds have a history of sending each other cards!).
Ryan and I were TOTALLY those people that spent hours in card stores searching for just the right card for one another (and for all humans in our lives, really). We often bought multiple cards for one occasion, because OBVI there needed to be the funny one and the sentimental one. Especially with our relationship, we like a little bit of salty to go with the sweet. And actually, now that I think about it, Ryan’s mom and my mom also buy multiple cards for one occasion. I mean, one is just never enough, right?!?! I’ve been saving cards since I was eight years old. There are baskets of them in an attic somewhere in Pacific Palisades.
What does your creative process look like? How do you go from idea to illustration to finished card?
I used to tell Ryan, even before Good Juju Ink was a glimmer of a thought, that on any given day I had about 7,000 creative concepts swimming in my head that were all fighting for first place in the ideation line. The second I sit down at my dining room table (I swear, no matter how many offices and studios I’ve had, it ALWAYS starts with the dining room table) my hand begins to guide my mind. Specifically, with designing cards, I love to get inspired by wildlife and the natural world. Ryan is an avid outdoorsman and animal aficionado. He opened my eyes to animals in a way I had never experienced before. From the moment we started dating (almost a decade ago, good lord), I have been inspired to bring more animals to more humans, to show the connectedness of all things. Often times, now, I look at National Geographic photos of different species before I start working on a card—I zero in on what makes that creature relatable to the human experience and try to capture that essence in a design.
What advice would you give others on how to pursue their passions?
My advice with regard to pursuing passion is very simple. Passion means different things to different people. For some, it’s building a card company from scratch and drawing elephants into the wee hours of the night. For others, it’s maintaining a really balanced and strictly delineated personal and professional life. For others, it’s being a nomad, always being in a new place. For others, it’s nurturing and raising a healthy, loving family. Don’t ever let the world tell you what passion is or what it’s supposed to look like. Pursuing a personal passion innately means doing YOU the best you can, whatever that looks like. That being said, here are two important things I’ve learned about pursuing a creative business:
1. No one can do anything alone. Don’t try to be a hero/martyr/mad scientist/artist/accountant/brand expert/marketing guru party of one. I know. It’s so, so, SOOOOO scary and embarrassing and awkward to ask for help, especially when you don’t always have something to compensate for other peoples’ time besides a super awesome hug and maybe a cup of tea. But help is how we build. Help is how we see beyond ourselves and our limitations. EVERYONE has limitations. Even Steve Jobs (just ask anyone who ever worked with him). I never thought Marina or Ryan would be interested in joining Good Juju Ink. They went to one of THE top business schools in the world, they had enormously successful careers in tech and consulting before they went to Stanford, why would they want to help out a teeny tiny, artsy fartsy, burp of an operation like mine? Well guess what: YOU LITERALLY DON’T KNOW UNLESS YOU ASK.
2. Never, ever think there is one “official” and “right” way to go about a business or that you need a strict list of credentials to participate in any given industry. For the first year of Good Juju Ink, I had to teach myself graphic design, digital software, printing techniques, marketing, social media networking (which is HUGE for the stationery community), brand development, general business practices and terminology (there are a lot of acronyms in business), shipping/packaging operational procedures, all on top of trying to actually DESIGN for my company. The demon in my head kept saying, “You don’t belong here! You never went to school for this! Who are you to think you can be a business owner in a field you have zero experience in? And you’re probably not even funny. You just think you’re funny. And so does your husband which obviously doesn’t mean anything because he’s legally obligated to laugh at your jokes.” …Well. Guess what? Tell that demon to shut the eff up and suck on a popsicle. In two years, we are carried in stores all over the country, including 113 Paper Source locations. Hear that demon? Shush yo’self.
3. If the joy outweighs the schlep, you’re in the right place :).
Your company logo features an elephant as do many of your designs. What does the elephant mean to you?
Elephants were the first animals I started drawing when I moved from LA to SF. It’s like they just started coming to me as a symbol of joy and wisdom, as a creature that is as hilarious as it is deeply regal and majestic. Elephants are otherworldly to me. They encapsulate the great and the small, the sense of power and powerlessness we have in life. They are also a token of good luck in many cultures around the world. And after having come face to face with them on our honeymoon in Africa, I certainly understand why that is. It’s like they know something we don’t…you can see it in their eyes. I love to think that elephants teach us to be strong and silly as we move about our clumsy existence on this planet.
We love your humor! We were tickled by your Hanukkah and Christmakkuh cards and love Francois le Frog. What inspires you to share your sense of humor?
As I think is the case with many Jewish families, I grew up in a household where having a sense of humor wasn’t a bonus—it was an absolute necessity. No really, I’m totally serious! Once at a parent-teacher conference, my dad told my elementary school teacher that with regard to his hopes for my academic achievement, as long as I was funny—I had succeeded in life. I doubt she had many parents who gave her that kind of feedback. And actually, on my first date with Ryan, it was his sense of humor that “had me at hello”, so to speak. I surround myself with people who see the humor in the life, and that is the lens through which I am constantly seeing the world and relationships. Animals are also downright HILARIOUS. They are a wonderful metaphor through which to examine our own faults, nuances, quirks, and lovable oddities. Animals are also completely unapologetic for being themselves. I love featuring animals in my designs for just that reason. I also just feel like it’s my duty in life to make people laugh. I was a comedian and actress for the majority of my life—and that hasn’t gone away. Bringing people an explosion of laughter has such a powerful healing property, one we can’t have too much of in my opinion.
What is the most memorable piece of mail you’ve received?
I’ve received numerous letters over the course of my 31 years that have had a significant imprint on my being. I was a sleep-away camp girl who wrote letters to her fellow camp mates during the course of the school year. My father often wrote me letters when I was growing up as a way of encouraging me through challenging times. There is a recent one in particular, though, that stands out. Just over two years ago, while I was in the depths of my depression over feeling so disgruntled with the entertainment industry—-I received a card from one of the students in Ryan’s business school class who I had met only a handful of times. She was not, nor had she ever been an actress, and she was not familiar with being a professional creative person. But she was literally the only person who wrote to me when my show was cancelled and told me that this would not be the end of my creative road. This was not the end to what I had to give to the world. Art takes many forms, and she was there to offer me support through this difficult time in any way that she could. I was stunned. I still have that card. I cherished every word and kept it by my bed for months before I decided to move to San Francisco to start a new life with Ryan permanently. Fede, I love you! (For the record, many of the women in Ryan’s business school class encouraged me to be a business owner when I never thought it was something I was capable of doing.)
Good Juju is about spreading good energy and love through sending cards, and charitable giving. Please tell me more about your commitment to charitable giving.
From the moon, to underwater creatures, to our beloved elephants, nature has been a major inspiration for Good Juju Ink’s designs. On top of that, everyone at Good Juju Ink has a major appreciation for nature…sure, I (this is Ryan speaking) might be the most obsessed (I even have my own nature and underwater photography website), but it’s something we all care about here at Good Juju Ink headquarters. So, whenever you buy a Good Juju Ink product, a portion of the proceeds goes to The Nature Conservancy, an organization that is doing amazing work to ensure humans and nature live in harmony for many generations to come. To us, there’s nothing more meaningful than giving back. That’s what spreading good juju is all about. However, we recognize that giving back can mean different things to different people – it can be volunteering at a local charity, helping out at your kid’s school, raising awareness about a cause that matters to you, or donating to one of your favorite non-profits. Regardless of what “giving back” means to you, we hope that when you buy a Good Juju Ink art print or receive a Good Juju Ink card in the mail, it does 2 things: 1) Makes you smile; 2) Reminds you to give back in whatever way you can, even if you think it’s small. Through Good Juju Ink, we want to show that if we all give back just a little bit, together we can have a huge impact!