Category Archives: Featured Artists
Amy Heitman is a purveyor of beautifully-designed stationery. She pairs her illustrations, oft inspired by florals and nature, with classic type. Amy’s designs are seriously pretty, with a charming style that evokes days gone by. She took part in the National Stationery show for the first time this year, and her booth was simply gorgeous, wallpapered with her sweet gift wrap. Amy is just as lovely as her designs – read on!
You studied art education at college and subsequently became an elementary school art teacher. What did you learn about yourself from this job?
I loved teaching. I taught first through fifth graders and was constantly inspired by my students’ unadulterated creativity and their ability to look at things from so many different angles. It was so inspiring to see their different solutions and unique outcomes to the same assignment and I learned how much I really appreciated art and creativity in its simplest form. I also learned how much I loved being a part of a creative environment, and how much I loved just making and creating things. I would find myself up late many nights a week after school working on my own personal paintings and projects after finishing all of my planning and grading.
What did your artistic journey look like? How did you know it was time to pursue illustration and design full time?
I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. I have always known that I wanted a career doing something creative but never really set out to pursue illustration and design full time. I really loved my job as an art teacher but left teaching to stay home after my first baby was born. I had done mural painting throughout the school district I worked for, as well as a few smaller jobs in our community, and thought that pursuing more mural work might serve as both a good creative outlet and a way to supplement our family income. So I created a simple portfolio website and included some illustration and design work I had done for some friends and family. I didn’t receive any requests for mural work, but quickly began to receive a bunch of requests for custom wedding stationery.
One of my husband’s co-workers at the time ran an Etsy shop and she suggested I put some of my designs there, so I did (despite not being too familiar with it at the time). At the time, I was pregnant with my second baby and just a few weeks later I was placed on bed rest and told I was going to lose the baby. I spent the next five months that way and my Etsy shop was such a huge blessing to me during that time as I began receiving so many requests for custom work. It not only gave me something to focus on and fill my days while I rested, but it was also during that time that I really fell in love with stationery design and began to focus on developing my own aesthetic and creative voice. (That baby is now healthy, happy and about to turn FOUR!)
What made you decide that you wanted to transition from custom work to starting your own stationery line?
I spent several years doing primarily custom work, and while I loved it, I was receiving many more requests than I could take on. Upon learning I was pregnant with my 3rd baby I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep on the same custom work load on my own and began to think about growing my business in a different direction. My sister had been begging me for years to create a greeting card line, so it was something that had been on the back of my mind for a while. I spent most of the 9 months of my pregnancy learning as much as I could about the stationery industry and creating my initial product line, and launched the line when he was a few months old.
What do you love about greeting cards and snail mail?
I LOVE how a simple card or note has the power to brighten and transform someone’s day. Everything in our culture is so instant because of technology –we have the ability to send an email or text to anyone at anytime and they can receive it instantly. I feel that makes the act of taking the time to hand write a note and send it in the mail that much more special and meaningful. When I was on bed rest with my son, I received so many cards from friends and family and people in our community who I didn’t even know saying how they were thinking and praying for me, and it was so meaningful to me to be able to read those cards over and over again. I have a huge box of cards with sweet messages I’ve saved from friends, family members, coworkers, students, and mentors over the years that I love to look back on occasionally.
Being a mom of three must keep you on your toes. What is your secret for maintaining balance?
I don’t have a ‘secret’ for maintaining balance, but I strive to keep my priorities in line. My faith is most important to me and I try to make sure seeking God first is my number one priority every day, followed by my marriage and kids. I feel that loving and serving my family is my most important job right now, and I am incredibly thankful for grace because I definitely don’t always get it right.
We package and ship everything from our home studio downstairs, and, though it can be hectic at times, I am so grateful to be able to work at something I love while being surrounded by the people that I love most. I have two amazing studio assistants that work for me keeping things organized around the studio, managing wholesale accounts, and packaging and filling orders. Then I do a lot of work during nap times and do all of my design work at night after my kids are in bed. Sometimes I actually set an alarm at night to remind myself to stop working and go to bed. My husband is amazingly supportive — he works full time at another job but is really involved with the business and kids when he is home. And my kids always love to help out in the studio and be involved with everything that is going on!
Flora, fauna and animals are often featured in your designs – where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love finding patterns in nature, and am always inspired by being outdoors. I also love looking at vintage children book illustrations, and vintage textiles and wallcoverings. I love old things that are filled with nostalgia yet still have a quality that feels current and fresh to them.
A portion of the sales from each of your cards is donated to support the INK Foundation. Please tell me why this is important to you.
When I launched my card line I wanted it to have an impact beyond just the reach of one card from one person to another, and as a woman and as a mom of a young girl the issue of human trafficking is something that has always been heavy on my heart, and I believe everyone deserves the chance to live in freedom and justice.
Aparna Varma is the sweet as sugar designer behind Green Bean Studio, a Toronto-based stationery line and design studio. Aparna’s personality comes through in her cards, which are sure to make you smile with punny sentiments and hand drawn characters inspired by her background in animation. One of my favorite parts of the Green Bean line is a series of 3D cards, that come with glasses! These cards are super fun and innovative, a guaranteed hit with recipients of all ages.
You studied to be an animator, and in 2013, decided to start Green Bean Studio. What made you decide to turn your drawing talents to greeting cards?
Designing characters and story lines for TV shows/movies was a lot of fun and I considered it to be my dream profession. During my post-grad I attended a class on illustrating children’s books (which I want to do sometime in my life) and it made me realize that I missed the feeling of having a tangible finished product in my hand. Something I could feel, send and share with other people – like the cards I had been making for friends and family for their birthdays for as long as I can remember. I never knew it was an avenue I could really pursue until I moved to Canada a few years ago and attended a few craft shows, which opened my eyes to this wonderful world of possibilities…
Tell me where you draw inspiration for your cute characters from.
From childhood toys (I had so many!) to books I read as a child – mostly fairy tales, all which had this magical yet innocent feel. I try to incorporate all that into my cards. I guess I try keeping even my ‘adult’ cards pretty much cute and audience friendlyGiven your animation background, do you begin to imagine story lines for the characters in your cards?
Most definitely! There is usually a whole family of characters for one card –all with unique stories and names.
You have a seriously cool series of 3D cards! Where did this idea come from?
Most of my friends are working on TV shows/movies all with super cool effects/CG/3D – I wanted to incorporate that new age ‘cool’ factor with an old school kick to the cards – and so 3D cards with glasses came to life!
It made a simple card more interactive, not only for the person receiving it, but also for everyone watching the receiver try on the glasses and look amazed – everyone wants in on the fun experience!
Please tell me about your creative process. Do all of your pieces start as drawings and evolve to paintings?
Ideas come to me at the most random time – I always keep sketchpad to write or sketch them. Every 2 weeks or so these ideas make it into my IDEA BOOK – from where I choose one to work on. Then there is more doodling, sketching, assembling references for color, composition and then I lay it down using acrylics/gouache after which it is scanned and digitally corrected for print bringing my characters to life. I usually have more of a creative week or two where I finish 5-6 designs.
Your cards incorporate your hand lettering – how have you developed your lettering style?
My own handwriting had to adapt to different geographical preferences: as a kid growing up in India there was a lot of emphasis on practicing cursive handwriting in school and during summer holidays. I then moved to Botswana with my parents for a few years where the emphasis was on printing. I had to adapt to these varying styles resulting in a very flexible style, which I can switch easily as per need.
Any new projects in the works?
This summer I am working on range of 3D cards –which I promise will be so much fun! Keep and eye out for tote bags and lapel pins too!
POSTED IN: Aparna Varma, Canadian stationery designers, Green Bean Studio, hand lettering
Paula & Waffle is a super sweet line of whimsical stationery designed by Paula with inspiration from her sidekick Waffle, a four-year-old Havanese pup. Based in New York City, Paula draws on the city and walks with Waffle for creative fodder. Her cards range from witty and adorable to pretty patterns and florals, with designs for all occasions. I adore Paula’s patterns (many of which can be found on her fab gift wrap!) and her script lettering.
You started Paula & Waffle in 2014 – what made you decide to make the jump from your career in online marketing to building your own stationery line?
I was always into the arts in high school. I spent my summers at art camps & classical music festivals and honestly thought that I was going to pursue a career in teaching & performing classical music. Long story short, I went to college in NYC and ended up going into ad tech right after graduation. I loved the fast pace of the industry, worked on amazing ideas and loved working with insanely smart people, but part of me always missed using the creative side of my brain. One day I woke up, thought about where I wanted to be in 10 years, and just couldn’t see myself going down the career path that I was on. I decided to take two graphic design classes at Parsons and absolutely loved them! I left ad tech a few months after that and started Paula & Waffle.
Where are some of your places to sketch and draw inspiration from?
In the summer, Waffle and I often go to Central Park, where he squirrel-watches and I sketch. I also often sketch from various cafes in NYC and outdoor museum spaces. We’re lucky to live in such a vibrant city! There is inspiration everywhere – from the conversations we have to the dramatic architecture, to the diverse art and food; there is so much that we draw from and are inspired by in our work.
Tell me a bit of your design process. How do you go from idea to finished product?
I always have a sketchbook or notebook nearby so that whenever inspiration hits, I jot down a quick note or a doodle. About once or twice a month (depending on how busy we are!), I compile all of the ideas and start putting together an informal mood board with colors, musical inspiration (a lot of the colors and themes we choose are drawn from the music that I’m listening to at the time!) and sit down and begin seriously drawing and designing. I go through periods of intense focus, so each series of 8 – 12 cards is usually created in 3-4 days. Once the drawing phase is done, I then scan all of the work and digitally color and edit the designs for production. In-between designing cards, I also do a bit of custom branding and wedding work, which is a lot of fun for me!
You’ve released a series of new designs for spring 2016, which debuted at the National Stationery Show. What is the experience of exhibiting at NSS like?
NSS is an amazing and intense experience. It’s amazing because you have so much talent and creativity in one place. I’m always so awed by the smart ideas and gorgeous collections that I see from other designers. It’s also super intense because there is so much paper and so much variety that the first time you walk the show, it can be a bit overwhelming both visually and mentally (but only because it’s so awesome!).
We usually kick off our day around 8 a.m. Waffle and I walk about a mile every morning through Riverside Park, then head to our studio in Long Island City where we might fill orders, design, or any combination of the two. We go home around 8 p.m. most days and watch some bad (sometimes good) TV 😉
Please finish this sentence: Snail mail is…
Snail mail is our favorite form of communication!
Any dream collaborations or projects in your near future?
We’re currently working on our first wedding collection, which I am sooo excited about! We’re aiming to launch it a bit later this year – stay tuned for more details!
Letterpress always looks so good, text and ink engrained into luscious-feeling paper. There is something really appealing about the process – setting type, inking it and printing. It’s no wonder that I adore Grey Moggie Press. Melanie, the designer behind the line, has a great sense of humor, which comes through in her cards (see her ‘best friend’ and ‘truth’ lines). And, the series of cards devoted to snail mail won my heart immediately. In addition to being a funny, talented creative, Melanie is a mom who left her career in law to make Grey Moggie a full time gig. In short, she’s all kinds of cool.
You were studying to be a lawyer when you took a letterpress class at a local art center as a creative outlet. What was it about letterpress that drew you in?
I’ve always been a letter writer and a big fan of snail mail. During law school, I reconnected with playing with paper the way I had when I was younger. I was trying to make cards I’d want to send and I felt that I could do that with letterpress. At first it was just a way to be creative, get my hands dirty, and make a few things to send to friends and family.
At what point did you decide to purchase your first press?
When I was pregnant with my daughter (now 4.5 years), I realized with a baby at home, it wouldn’t be as easy to get out of the house to print at the art center where I’d been working. I got a small tabletop Kelsey press. In the end, it was a misguided purchase because it’s hard to find time to print with a baby, even at home. Later I purchased a C&P 10×15 platen press that is now the workhorse in my studio. I found it on eBay and had to hire a rigging company to get it from Massachusetts into my studio at the time, a carriage house on Capitol Hill in DC.
In addition to taking on a full time job in the field of law, you taught classes at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. What did you enjoy about teaching and the studio environment there?
My favorite thing about Pyramid Atlantic was that beginner artists and hobbyists could work alongside people who had made art a career. I loved overhearing all the big, creative ideas people were sharing while I printed. It was so different from the environment I was in all day as a law student and later when I worked in a law school.
Please tell me a bit about the name Grey Moggie.
We want people to be excited about paper, about writing letters instead of email, about sending physical and not electronic invitations. I love the idea of sitting down at my desk on a rainy afternoon with my favorite pen, a cup of tea, and my grey cat (moggie is British slang for cat). That would be a perfect afternoon and we want everyone to feel that way about writing letters and sending mail.
In 2012, you decided to pursue Grey Moggie full time – what led you to this decision?
I was craving flexibility in my work life when my daughter was very young. I didn’t want to be at a 9:00-5:00 job while she was just a baby so I quit and started selling cards at a weekend market here in DC. It was a great set up. I could be at home with my daughter most of the week, take an evening or two to print new work, and sell on the weekends a couple times a month. From there, the wholesale side of my business grew, and now we do more wholesale business than in-person sales events. We seem to have come full circle and I’ve adopted something closer to a 9:00-5:00 schedule recently, because it works for my family and my business right now.
While I adore all of your cards, some of my faves are the snail mail themed ones, like ‘I Keep the Postman Busy’. Are you a letter writer? What do you enjoy about snail mail?
I love all of it! The feel of different kinds of paper, seeing a good friend or family member’s handwriting, checking the mailbox every day. I also love that getting a letter means the sender took the time to choose a card for you, sat down to write a letter, got a stamp, and walked to the mailbox or post office. It’s a level of effort that isn’t there with email or social media and it conveys love, and friendship, and caring.
What are you working on currently?
We’re focused on a new website and branching out into non-card categories. We’ll release a new catalog in early May, and we’re really excited about a new greeting card collaboration with a local illustrator who shares our sense of humor. Look out for the new cards this spring!
POSTED IN: Grey Moggie, Grey Moggie Press, Letterpress, letterpress love, stationery, writing letters is my superpower
Designed by two lovely, funny and creative women, RED Paper Boutique is a line of greeting cards that ranges from sweet florals, and unique pocket designs to real talk. The dynamic duo behind these cards is Gabriela and Maryrose, Alberta, Canada-based nurses, turned entrepreneurs. These mombosses have five children between them, continue to work as nurses and add new designs to their card line.
How did you meet?
We went to the same high school and were a year apart. We didn’t know each other at school and it wasn’t until we were both working on a mental health unit as nurses that we crossed paths. It was then that we realized that we’d always been around each other unknowingly! From that point on, we realized our lives would always be intertwined whether through our nursing careers, developing our company RED Paper Boutique or growing our families together.
You share a love for design and paper, and for connecting people. How did RED Paper Boutique evolve?
RED started as Real Engaging Designs- a place where we could help couples create their dream wedding invitations. Through marriage to our own amazing hubbies and with the addition of little ones, time became something that was super precious (and limited). RED became RED Paper Boutique where we began designing and creating greeting cards. This slight change in direction offered us the ability to balance being mothers and continuing to pursue our stationery dreams.
What does your creative process look like? How do you collaborate on the design of your cards?
We consider ourselves really blessed to have such an amazing partnership and friendship. We both bring very unique and personal qualities to RED Paper Boutique, while still maintaining the same thoughts and ideas in terms of direction for our brand. We laugh at how often we both say, “get out of my head” when it comes to sharing new ideas! A lot of our more recent collections including our Being Parents Greeting Cards happened organically through our journey as mothers. We’ve spent endless hours laughing over the phone saying, “There’s our next design”. It’s important to us to create something that people can relate to and stems from our own hearts.
You’ve come up with a fantastically unique design – the Pocket Greeting Cards. What made you add this sweet little feature to your cards?
We really wanted to create something that was different – a little surprise when you opened our cards. The idea for our Pocket Design Greeting Cards came from our background designing wedding invitations. Our most popular invitations had a pocket in the enclosure to hold extra information. We’ve loved hearing how creative people get when sending our cards, using the pocket to add gift certificates, pictures and even little bags of tea as a special gift!
Your Being Parents series speaks right to parents; no sugar coating…no doubt parenthood was the inspiration for these cards.
Maryrose kept mentioning how there was a lack of cards that specifically spoke to new parents. She would design an individual card to give her husband to validate their journey together as parents. Once the first design was created, the others just came flooding out. We realized how many other parents could relate and they became an instant hit! Confession: one of our cards may in fact have been designed while on the toilet with little people storming in like there was some kind of magic pony inside.
Have you transitioned from working as nurses to focusing on RED Paper Boutique full time? If so, what has that transition been like?
We both continue to nurse and work on RED Paper Boutique full time. We could definitely both use a few more hours in every day! Hence came the inspiration for our first gold-foiled art print (Momboss). Our passion has always been to help people first and we really get a unique type of perspective working with people with mental health issues. Working on RED allows us a creative outlet- a type of creative therapy that helps us realize we are all connected in some way.
In addition to your various card lines, you do custom work including bridal invitations. What do you enjoy about working with couples on their big day?
We LOVE working with clients on customizing their perfect wedding invitations! The best part has to be figuring out how to take everything they have told us; dreamt about since child; been influenced by in their lives; and, definitely pinned to Pinterest- and combine all of that into something tangible that represents them as a couple! We also love the moment they see their design for the very first time! Still makes us get all mushy and teary!
Please complete this sentence: Snail mail is…
Definitely still the number one way to make someone else feel appreciated! Our belief is that technology has actually made snail mail that much more significant. There is literally nothing more validating then opening the mail and seeing a letter or card inside. It still evokes that childhood feeling when your pen pal would write or grandma would send birthday money!
Shop RED Paper Boutique on Etsy.
All photos by Sue Moodie Photography.
POSTED IN: Canadian stationery designers, greeting cards, pocket cards, pocket design cards, RED Paper Boutique, send more mail, stationery love
Heartell Press is a beautifully designed line of greeting cards, lovingly created and handmade by artist and designer Rachel Kroh. Created using woodblock prints, Rachel’s cards are heartfelt and thoughtful with carefully crafted messages and images, intended to let recipients know that they are cared for. If you’re looking for the perfect card to send encouragement or gratitude, these are the cards for you – full of warmth and love.
Please tell me about the beginnings of Heartell Press. What made you decide to design a line of stationery? What is the origin of the name Heartell?
In 2014, I had been working as an artist in New York for five years, supplementing my income with day jobs, and I came to a point where I knew I wanted to be spending more time in the studio than I had been able to. At the same time, my mom was being treated for ovarian cancer, and I was having trouble finding cards to send her between visits. I started having ideas for warm, sincere sympathy cards using woodblock prints and began researching the stationery industry. I made a change in my day job situation that freed up some of my time, spent six months designing the first collection, and launched the website in October of 2014.
The name Heartell (pronounced here-tell) is a play on the phrase “heard tell” as in “I heard tell Betsy Jones got married last Saturday.” I like the folksyness of it, and also the fact that when you put hear and tell together you can read the word “heart” as well. I wanted the name to convey the idea that telling one another what we feel in our hearts can be a regular, everyday thing. I like that greeting cards are things that live in our homes, like quilts or ceramic dishes, and become part of our lives and relationships with one another, and I wanted a name that emphasized that way of thinking about stationery.
Each of your cards start with a woodblock that you design, carve and print. How do you move from idea to printed card?
Ideas for the words on my cards come to me from anywhere I observe people caring for one another, whether it be in my own relationships and conversations with friends and family or in novels and poems I read. I collect lists of phrases. The images are often inspired by time I spend outside with my husband. We love hiking in the Hudson Valley or on trips, and visiting parks and gardens around New York and when we travel. I also love visiting museums and galleries and looking at the work of other artists in books. I’m always trying to take in as much as I can. Sometimes it’s just a pattern in a tile floor or a wrought iron fence that catches my eye. Ideas can come from anywhere, so I try to be vigilant about recording them in my sketchbook or by taking photos with my phone.
Once I pair an idea for a phrase with an image, I draw with pencil on legal size bond paper. I tried all kinds of fancy paper but for the first stage good old copy paper and a mechanical pencil is my favorite. I refine the drawing in layers using vellum, charcoal and markers until I have a strong black and white image. Then I scan the drawing and add the text, working on the drawing some more in Photoshop or Illustrator if there are straight lines or geometric shapes.
Then I print the design out on laser paper and use a blender pen to transfer it to the woodblock to use as a guide for carving. The carving is the best part. It’s very relaxing and meditative. I use Japanese carving tools and Shina plywood because of its fine grain and strength. Then I print it using my Chandler & Price Pilot letterpress. I usually have an idea of what color I’m going to print it in, but sometimes I change my mind and experiment as I go. If the card has two colors that means there are two carved blocks, so I repeat the process for the second block, first printing the initial color (called the “key” block) onto the second woodblock using acetate so that the images will line up exactly.
What appeals to you about the process of printmaking?
In woodblock printing, the carving and the printing influence how the image comes out, and I like sharing the design process with the materials that way. Because there are no gradations of value–the ink is either present or not, unlike the variations of gray in a pencil drawing or watercolor wash–it requires me to refine the image to its most elemental parts. I like the challenge of making simple images that are compelling and strong.
I love that paper is an ephemeral, everyday material, so prints live more in the realm of regular life than in the cloistered world of museums and galleries. Printmaking also appeals to me because both images and text are native to the medium, and I get a lot of my inspiration from writing and reading.
The sentiments on your cards are so very warm, heartfelt and thoughtful. What made you design the encouragement series?
When my mom first got sick, people sent all kinds of well-meaning cards and she was glad to have them. But so much of what’s available in this category falls short of acknowledging either the extremity of the pain people who are ill or grieving experience or the magnitude of the love friends and family are capable of expressing during those times. My mom was overwhelmed by how quickly and fully people showed up for her. I’ve heard from other people that one of the things that makes it possible to get through cancer treatment is the outpouring of love that communities provide. But she also felt alienated when people tried to smooth over what she was going through or minimize it by telling her “everything will be ok!” or, God forbid, “everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes we experience pain and sadness for which there is no explanation, and we just don’t know if everything will be ok. Sometimes thinking positive isn’t enough to heal what’s wrong, and sometimes we just aren’t going to “get well soon.”
I wanted to create cards that would let people’s love shine through without trying to fix, explain or ignore the truth of the suffering that we all at some point in our lives experience. Pain is part of life, whether it’s caused by illness or loss, or challenges like divorce, depression or addiction. As much as we try to push it away, the only way through it is to feel it. Feelings are just feelings, they don’t last forever, but if you bury them they’ll eat at you. People need to feel seen, they need to have their experience acknowledged, and just being present with someone and being able to say, “I’m here, I’m with you” can make them feel loved and cared for in a more profound way than trying to change or solve or reframe the situation in some way. I hope my cards can make it easier for people to be fully present to each other, no matter what life brings.
You have a beautiful series of cards expressing gratitude. What are you grateful for?
Thank you for your kind words! I am grateful for so much: the health of the people I love, for having so many wonderful things to eat and a home to live in, for being able to live in New York and experience diversity and creativity and industry on such a grand scale. We run in Prospect Park in the mornings and I feel gratitude for the trees and plants, the birds and dogs (we go during off-leash hours to get a fix since we aren’t allowed to have a dog in our current apartment). Flowers inspire a lot of gratitude in me–they seem to appear out of nowhere, in so many colors and shapes!
Lately I’m especially grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been offered in my life and the chance to pursue my creative work as a way to make a living. There are so many creative people in the world who aren’t able to let the impulse to make things flourish in their daily lives, and I know I’m so lucky to have this time and the support of my family to follow my dream.
What is your favorite kind of pie?
Oh man, I love them all too much! If I have to choose, salted caramel apple from Four and Twenty Blackbirds is my favorite cold weather pie, and key lime pie from Steve’s in Red Hook is my favorite pie for summer.
You received your MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and are an exhibiting artist. Do the themes you explore in your paintings impact your card designs (or vice versa)? How do the two relate for you? Both are very much art-based, but the mediums you use are different…
Both my paintings and my woodblock prints spring from my curiosity about how people relate to one another, how they connect. Ultimately we’re all alone inside our heads and yet we need each other to survive and are connected in so many different ways. My paintings are about how our identities are forged through our relationships with one another. I studied art and religion, and the dynamics of how a person becomes part of a group while remaining an individual has always interested me. The prints and cards are more about being in individual relationships and the mechanics of that, while the paintings are a way to explore the stories we tell and the communities we’re part of.
In terms of my process, paintings are much more challenging than prints. I’ve worked hard on my technical skills–drawing the figure and landscape from observation, working with values and composition and color. All that work has helped me to be a better designer and printmaker, and I think making prints has taught me patience which has helped with painting. I only started painting toward the very end of grad school, and I think it will take me another 30 years or so to be good at it. Printmaking is something that comes more naturally to me.
What is one of the most memorable pieces of snail mail you’ve received?
When I was little, my Grammie used to send me a lot of mail (she lived in Massachusetts and we lived in Chicago). She loved being outside and knew all the names of the trees and flowers and birds. I remember she once sent me a piece of birch bark she’d found in the woods. She wrote a note on it and I thought it was the most incredible thing, especially since I was a city kid and the woods seemed full of magic and mystery.
Why do you think handwritten correspondence is important?
You can read an email or text on your phone on the train, when you’re half asleep or while you’re doing three other things. When you get a card in the mail, it draws your attention in a different way. You’re holding it in your hands and the paper and the color and the handwriting engage all your senses in a different way. I make stationery to help people to be present to one another, and there’s nothing like finding something special from someone you care about in a pile of junk mail and bills. Sitting down at the table and opening it up pulls you into the present, into a moment of connection with another person, even someone who can be physically many miles away. It’s a small thing but it can be so powerful, and if we string enough of those kinds of moments together I think it can change the way we experience our lives and our relationships with one another.
POSTED IN: encouragement cards, gratitude, Heartell Press, Letterpress, National Stationery Show, printmaking, Rachel Kroh, stationery, stationery love, woodblock printing
Scotch & Cream is a mid-century modern inspired Los Angeles-based stationery and home brand created by a husband and wife duo. Robin Soltis is the designer behind the always stylish and sleek line. Evocative of an era gone by, Scotch & Cream’s stationery and prints are sophisticated and cool featuring Robin’s hand lettering and illustrations. In addition to gorgeous paper products, the line features wooden ornaments that are seriously classy.
Your name, Scotch & Cream, refers to you and your husband, as collaborators on the brand – tell me about how you decided upon this name. For me it conjures images of Mad Men-era gents in suits and dessert (the baker in me is always thinking about sweets).
We ran through a handful of mediocre ideas until we landed on something that seemed so obvious to us in hindsight. We knew that we wanted our name to reflect our personalities and identify our tastes. One of our favorite leisurely indulgences is enjoying cocktails, and scotch is my partner and husband’s favorite spirit. We chose the word cream, representing my love for baking and enjoying dessert. As leisure is a very big part of what our brand is all about, we knew it made sense to put them together as Scotch & Cream.
You studied art and graphic design and went on to work in the field before starting Scotch & Cream. What led you to create your own line of stationery and gift items?
Before I had even considered making my big career transition, there were two things I always loved doing since I was a young girl. I’ve always been an artistic person who would make all sorts of creative goodies. The second thing I always loved doing was giving away or sharing the things I made (ask my friends, family, and coworkers about all the homemade desserts they’ve consumed). After I enjoyed a fair amount of success and achieved my youthful dream of working in the entertainment industry, I wondered about the next big step in my career and my husband started to convince me to pursue a new path. He encouraged and supported me to dream big and I finally felt confident that I could make a career out of marrying the two things I’ve always loved. The most rewarding part about what I do now is that there is so much more of an emotional connection involved with how people use our products, whether it be a hand written card, or if a photography lover were gifted a set of our vintage camera ornaments.
Many of your designs are very much mid-century modern influenced. What inspires you about this period in design?
There are two main traits that inspire me about this time period. The timeless and simplistic beauty of design that came about during the mid-century modern era was distinctly clean, classy, and still relevantly interesting today. My fascination with mid-century design spans as far back to art deco style, where details were a little more ornate and distinct.
Another aspect of this time period that I really admire is the mindset and demeanor that I feel has become less prioritized in modern communication and culture. There was a certain level of class, etiquette, and polite intention that was exercised. I still value the act of being polite and want to preserve that practice in juxtaposition to how casual things have become. They were also very meticulous in the fashion and style choices that were made during that era and both my husband and I draw inspiration from that period for our own style choices.
Who are some of your inspirations?
We have so many, but these are the main ones:
Visually – Alexander Girard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Orla Kiely
Style – Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, Dita Von Teese, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Draper, Betty Draper
Music– Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Julie London
I feel quite curious and have to ask – does your home/studio space reflect your love affair with the mid-century modern aesthetic?
We converted a substantial part of our home as dedicated work/studio area for our business. The interior has lots of subtly ornate details and was a beautifully designed backdrop to start with. We are always conscious of the new items we bring into our home and have slowly improved our space over several years. One thing we always have is a beautiful mirror and brass bar cart that we constantly keep well-stocked, and a growing collection of vintage barware that we’re quite proud of.
Your stationery incorporates your hand-lettering (including a recently created font). How did you develop your own unique style of script?
Even though it’s been more than a year of obsessive practice, I feel I’m still developing my style. It has helped that I had a very strong desire to learn brush lettering. I would replace my idling in front of the television or other similar activities by repetitively sketching words I’d heard spoken on TV, randomly thought of, or just single letters until I began to understand how I preferred certain lines in my letters to be drawn, and redraw them the way I liked them. As I found those preferences, I would repeat the way I’d write those letters again and again until I almost gained a sort of muscle memory to the shape of that letter. In some cases I had to “unlearn” the way I had previously drawn certain letters to correct my style to the updated. Add to that, I experimented with different pens, mediums, and papers and developed a preference over what I enjoyed using, which further contributed to my style.
Any tips for people who are trying to develop their own hand-lettering style?
My number #1 general piece of advice is that practice is essential, but even more helpful is to understand where you need improvement. A little story about my experience– I signed up for an online calligraphy class back before I had any understanding or skill of lettering and about two weeks into practicing, I felt I was still failing to achieve the quality of calligraphy I envisioned myself to have and just gave up. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessarily that I was bad at calligraphy (though, I was). I understood how to use the tools for the most part, but even worse, my penmanship itself wasn’t good at all and the pretty handwriting I may have had as a kid had deteriorated from years of exclusive keyboard use. I reverted back to using just an ordinary pencil to practice my basic penmanship and once I started feeling better about it, I began experimenting with some more unique tools.
As far as tactical suggestions, do practice often, learn the basic structures of each letter and how they’re anatomically constructed. Repeat drawing a single letter and/or words many times, and alter the forms of them in different experimental ways. Be present in your practice and go slow on the details. And always be patient– after almost two years and I feel as though I’m still trying to refine my style. Use the tools that you enjoy, it makes practicing a much more enjoyable experience. And most importantly, don’t give up!
In addition to designing a sleek, gorgeous line of stationery, you also create stylish wooden ornaments featuring cocktails, sweets, cameras and vintage style ornaments – what led you to create these? Please tell me a bit about the process of designing these.
In college, I learned silk-screening and letterpress printing, and both printing processes have rigid limitations on how to create and prepare artwork. They’re limited to solid shapes, lines, and fewer colors, as they are somewhat comparable to the way a rubber stamp works. In laser cutting and engraving, which is how we create our ornaments, we also have to design our artwork with rigid limitations in a similar way. We have to think in solid shapes, lines, without the freedom to control color. It sounds tougher working within these guidelines, but I really love the challenge.
Why a stationery line in our ever more fast-paced world? What appeals to you about the idea of the handwritten note?
I’ll admit that I didn’t start out with a specific interest in the idea of the handwritten note. I had pen-pals growing up, but the onset of internet technology replaced a lot of that sort of “outdated” communication. However, my interest in the handwritten note (and snail-mail) became renewed thanks to a few of my beloved hand-writing stationery friends. For instance, I received a card in the mail from someone I only knew from working over the phone. During a small-talk moment, I had mentioned that my anniversary was approaching so briefly in passing that I had literally forgotten I told him, and I had never even actually met this person in real life. Ahead of the actual date of my anniversary, this person took the time to acquire our address, find a card, write a kind message, purchase a stamp, put it in an envelope, etc. His gesture of sending a card was so much more striking and sincere because I would have still been surprised to receive a message from this person online. I will never forget how awestruck I was as I found and opened the card from him.
Any dream projects or collaborations?
Since we’re still working on growing ourselves as a company, we’d happily hear out any opportunities. However, we would be foolish to turn down collaborations with companies we admire like Anthropologie, Target, and so many other brands we would not be able to finish listing.
We would also be falling over ourselves to work with other types of artists who evoke a similar nostalgia like Lana Del Rey or Dita Von Teese.
Other ideas we have dreamed up on the fly include a coffee table book, home décor products, textile/fashion designs, kitchen and/or barware.
Congrats on being named one of 10 designers to watch this year by Stationery Trends magazine – that’s fantastic and well-deserved! What does Scotch & Cream have in store for us this year?
Thank you! We’re so grateful to have been given that honor, and we certainly feel a bit of pressure to uphold that.
We have lots of exciting new products coming, including some beautiful metallic coasters that we’ve finally been able to get right. We have a lot of other really great and new types products we’ll be introducing by the time NSS comes around.
POSTED IN: mid century mod design, mid century modern stationery, midcentury modern, National Stationary Show, National Stationery Show, Robin Soltis, Scotch & Cream, stationery, wood ornaments
Shifting Status Kuo is a playful, super sweet line of stationery and lifestyle goods designed by artist Tiffany Kuo. Trained as a printmaker, Tiffany uses this art form to make greeting cards, prints and textiles – all of which are lovingly hand-crafted in her studio. Her innovative designs include a line of tea-themed cards that incorporate individually wrapped teabags. And, Tiffany’s pillowcases are the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day (and weddings, and just because).
You studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and fell in love with printmaking. What about that particular medium resonated with you?
During my time at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), I really got to experiment with woodblock printing, etching, and of course screen printing. I fell in love with how versatile screen printing can be. It gives me the freedom to print on fabric, paper, cork, wood etc. Regardless of the printmaking technique, I was always drawn to the hands on process of mixing ink, pulling a series of prints, and embracing the perfect imperfections. Printmaking lends itself to creating multiples or an edition of something, and it just made sense for me to incorporate printmaking with how I create my greeting cards.
Please tell me a bit about what your creative process is like. How does a design move from an idea to a finished piece?
- Most of my designs start out as a short phrase that gets added to a bullet point list on my phone. It can be a pun I want to play with or a concept I want to incorporate.
- Then I go through the list and pick a few to sketch out with pencil. These rough sketches often include notes to myself in the margin and arrows pointing here and there to assign ink colors for printing.
- I use a light table and my favorite black pens to ink my sketches and manually do color separation of screen printing layers. My process is quite low tech in comparison to other designers’ but I really enjoy the process drawing directly on paper.
- During my design process I have to be mindful of how the ink and paper color will inform the final piece. Sometimes I’ll mix a small batch of ink and test the color out on swatches of paper before finalizing my design.
- Lastly, the designs are exposed onto a silk screen and each layer of ink is pushed through the stencil to create a print!
Your Cup Of… cards are so very sweet. I love the idea of reading a handwritten note while pouring yourself a cup of tea. What was the inspiration for these cards?
Yes, that would definitely enhance the experience of receiving and reading a handwritten note! I wanted to create a card that was also like a tiny gift in itself. When I think about thanking someone, I thought it’d be a sweet gesture if the card had a little something extra. Once I had “Cup of Thank You” designed and the tea bag assembly figured out, the rest of the series followed.
What appeals to you about snail mail?
I’m a very sentimental person and have kept almost every card or letter written to me in a giant tin box. I love that snail mail is a tactile keepsake of a handwritten note from someone. When I get a particularly funny or sweet card, I tape it up around my desk area so I’m reminded of the sentiment. Email is fast and convenient but let me ask you… regardless of how meaningful the message, how often do you display a printed email? Probably less often than a thoughtfully written card or letter, right? Snail mail takes more thought and there’s always that moment of delight when you get it in your mailbox!
Your pillowcases are simply genius! Any new projects on the go, or dream projects that you’d like to create?
Thank you! The “Next to You” pillowcases have a special place in my heart because they are directly inspired by my long distance relationship. Sometimes love is about appreciating the comfort of each other’s company and it’s such an honor when sweet couples young and old choose my pillowcases to share the love.
Aside from dreaming up more card and pillowcase designs, I’d like to add more gift items to my line. My dream project would be to publish an illustrated children’s book! I have a couple of books that I worked on several ago but put on hold while I focused on my card and gift designs. I grew up loving all of Dr. Seuss’ and Shel Silverstein’s books and it would be amazing if I could create a book that little kids love. I welcome all and any advice to make this happen!
Valentine’s Day is around the corner – how do you feel knowing people are spreading love by sending your cards?
Let me start by saying that I’m a hopeless romantic and love all kinds of romantic gestures (even the cheesy ones). Knowing that other people chose MY cards to spread love all across the world gets me all sappy! Just think…. my cards could be in someone’s snail mail keepsake box!
What was the most memorable Valentine card you’ve received?
As with most long distance couples, my boyfriend and I often send each other snail mail and care packages. My favorite ones are always with his funny doodles and captions. We have an inside joke involving a mischievous koala character and my favorite Valentine includes his drawings of the koala saying some pretty funny things!
Because we love you 8balloons readers, and Tiffany is awesome, she is offering 20% off of her website shop with the code 8BALLOONS20. It expires 2/14/16 and is not valid for the Shifting Status Kuo Etsy shop.
POSTED IN: Valentine's Day; Valentine's Day cards; stationery; snail mail; printmaking; Shifting Status Kuo; Tiffany Kuo
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I found myself thinking about spreading love and kindness (through stationery, of course). Atiliay is a gorgeously hand-crafted stationery line that incorporates hand-lettering, stamping and stitching. These cards are created to bring happiness to their recipients and beyond. Atiliay is committed to supporting charitable causes through the sale of each card. Olivia Lin, the designer behind this line of paper goods that give, understands and embodies the spirit of giving.
I always say that everything sounds better in French. Tell me about the origin of Atiliay’s name.
Atiliay’s name is based on the French word “atelier” which means a workshop or studio, especially for an artist or designer. I have always loved the sound of the word and spelled it the way I pronounce it. The meaning was perfect, too, as Atiliay is my space for making and creating.
I think it actually started back when I was a little — I remember being 5 or 6 and seeing those commercials that were asking people to donate to help feed hungry children. I might not have fully understood it back then, but I feel like those images stuck with me. As I got older, I started to learn more about world hunger, human trafficking, women’s rights, and animal rights. The more I learned about the horrible things that were happening, the more I felt a sense of urgency and need to do something about it. I also realized that I didn’t need a lot of money, power, or fame to help — I could use what money I had, what time I had, my voice, or change my own lifestyle to contribute.
In 2007, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa with TOMS shoes on a shoe drop. We met a non-profit called Food4Africa (F4A) who acted as our guides. We went to the same towns and schools they provided meals for to give out shoes. F4A is a small organization but they help so many children and are incredibly passionate about it. It was really touching to see what they were doing as well as meeting the little ones they were providing meals for. I left knowing I wanted to support their efforts and somehow incorporate that with my creative work. Even though we are miles apart, I am really happy to say that we have kept in touch and I continue to support their work through Atiliay to this day.
Food4Africa is not only a huge source of inspiration for me, but they are also the reason why Atiliay exists! Four Valentine’s Days ago I decided that for a donation of $5, I would make a hand stamped card and send it to your loved one for you with the proceeds going towards providing meals for a preschool I started sponsoring through F4A. I was able to secure over a year’s worth of meals, which was so awesome! The fundraiser made me realize that my first love has always been art and crafting and that making cards for a cause was a way I could fulfill my own passion while enabling others to join me in making a positive impact.
How do you select the organizations that you donate to?
I want to make sure that each customer’s purchase is going towards a good cause and making as much of an impact as possible. I try to select organizations that I have personally volunteered with or know someone who has. I have also researched and found great non-profits to support on my own. I look for organizations that are 4-star rated on Charity Navigator and I also try to choose non-profits where the funds go directly to the programs. As cards aren’t very expensive items, my goal is to pair each one with programs where a small amount can make a large difference — for example with Food4Africa, one meal costs only 5 cents, so donating a portion of a $5 card can make a substantial impact. It’s also very important to me to donate towards programs that are vegan-friendly — when I am making Kiva loans I make sure to choose ones that do not bring harm to animals.
Your stationery items are hand-crafted with great care and some incorporate multiple art forms. Please tell me a bit about your creative process.
Each card starts with an idea — sometimes it’s a sentiment or phrase I like, a picture I have in my head, or imagining up something I wish existed. I try to write down/make rough drawings of everything, otherwise I forget! I take whichever idea is really resonating with me and sit down to figure out how I can incorporate stamps and stitching, or whether it should be hand-lettered and all text. Sometimes I know immediately what I want to do and sometimes there’s a lot of playing around with different ideas and tweaking. For example, with the long-distance love card, I had everything finalized except I wasn’t sure what to connect the states and heart with — stamps were too hard as each path would be different and I didn’t think drawing matched the look of the stamps. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some embroidery thread on my desk and that is where the stitching on cards began! It can sometimes take a bit of experimenting, sketching, and trying out concepts to see what will work. Once the sketch is finalized, I move on to creating the stamps or lettering. I make a sample card, make any last adjustments, and the card is complete!
How have you developed your hand-lettering? Any sources of inspiration? Any advice for someone starting out?
I’ve made a conscious effort to invest time into practicing lettering — I will write letters and words over and over again until I like how it looks and experiment with different looks. Sometimes my hand is so used to writing a word a certain way but I’ll do something different and go super loopy or really long and narrow etc. to experiment. Practicing and trying new things has really helped me improve and develop my style.
I was really inspired by Sharisse of @PiecesCalligraphy to really focus and to begin exploring lettering. I came across her feed because she was donating to a fundraising IG auction I had heard about. Her feed is beautiful and she gives a lot of useful tips and advice. She is one of the founders of @HandletteredABCs which is a wonderful community of folks who letter! They provide different prompts and challenges (the first one was writing a letter of the alphabet each day, hence the name) and everyone is so encouraging and inspiring — I have made some awesome friends there and am currently participating in this year’s round of ABCs. I also find a lot of inspiration from Nina at @anintran (the other founder of HandletteredABCs), Lindsay of @thepostmansknock, and Amanda at @AmandaArneill. They all have different lettering styles and I love seeing what they are creating!
For someone starting out, I’d say to dive right in! Start small with the different strokes then start putting them together to create letters (a lot of the IG accounts I mentioned post lettering lessons and tips which are so helpful). I’d also recommend looking at examples of work that you like and try to imitate the lines and shapes to get started. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged — there are some days when I don’t like anything I have written! But if you keep writing and working at it, you will get to a place where you see yourself improve and are happy with your work.
You use lino cuts, hand lettering and embroidery in your work – are there any other art/craft mediums that you’d like to experiment with?
I LOVE the look of letterpress and would love to dabble in that! I have also always wanted to take pottery classes and work with a wheel — it’s a goal of mine to someday live in a house where I make all the dishes, plates, and mugs (it might be sometime in the very, very distant future!). Another thing I’d really like to try my hand at is macrame — I feel like there are so many possibilities with this craft, from the designs to the type of fiber you use.
POSTED IN: Atiliay, calligraphy, Etsy, handlettering, Paper, snail mail, Snailmail, stationery, Valentine', Valentine's cards, Valentine's Day
I love the versatility of stamps – they are great for card-making, creating pretty envelopes and for loads of DIY projects (think holiday wrap and table settings!). Lauren Quinn Ward is the talented designer behind Felicette. She designs super cute stamps for all occasions and has recently launched her holiday collection. Lauren designs custom stamps perfect for handmade stationery, weddings and other occasions. Also, everyone needs one of Felicette’s adorable cat stamps, just because.
You were in school doing your BFA when you took up stamp carving as a side project. How did Felicette evolve from that time?
I taught myself how to carve linoleum stamps while in a book binding class at school. Our professor had a signature stamp of an old fan that he puts in very book he makes. I wanted something for myself, and then the rest of my friends in class jumped on that idea and had me make one for them. I can’t remember if I was able to make one for myself, or if it was everyone else who got one.
I stayed part time stamp maker on Etsy for the next six years, through graduating, a part time job, and then graduate school; when I was almost done with graduate school I took an internship and then a job with the Smithsonian, which was my lifetime dream. Since I was actually working I had to scale my stamps way back, and I missed them terribly. I missed talking to customers about designs for their wedding, or another Etsy business looking to stamp their logo on everything. I missed creating. That was my aha moment, that I knew what I wanted to do and started on a plan to get there. I still wanted the stamps to be handmade, but wanted them to me more durable and a higher quality, so I switched to laser engraving them. Felicette came about because I needed a brand and name that I could grow with and worked with the company Aeolidia. From the start my business has grown organically, but it is always changing and evolving. Being a stamp maker is fun and keeps me on my toes!
Please share more about your creative process with us. What does the process entail?
When I start on a new stamp it’s usually out of need. Like the holidays are coming up or I could use a new design for a personal library stamp. Sometimes inspiration strikes and the next thing I know I have a taco address stamp. But no matter how the idea comes to me all the stamps start the same, with my sketchbook and a pencil. I don’t normally scan them in until I am pretty set on the design. Then I turn the sketches into vectors and prep the files for lasering. Once the stamp has been lasered I cut a maple block to size, engrave the top of the wood with the stamp design and assemble the whole stamp with a piece of thick foam in the middle for more even impressions.
Why is it important to you to be part of the creative process from start to finish?
Aside from being a control freak, it’s important for me to be involved every step from a quality and cost stand point. Since I go to the lumberyard down the street and pick out every maple plank myself I know that I won’t have a wonky one I can’t use. By engraving the stamps myself I am able to quickly test out new ideas or make a stamp in one day for someone in a hurry. I have a flexibility that a lot of other companies are lacking.
What are some of your favorite ways to use stamps?
I love using stamps on fabric! One of my favorite craft projects was a paper airplane tote bag. I take that thing everywhere with me. Stamps are an easy and inexpensive way to personalize everything, from clothes, to birthday presents, to tea towels. I want to try them on walls!
My biggest stamping tip is don’t press down too hard on the stamp; I have watched people put the stamp down on paper and then lean on it with both hands using their entire body weight. While the stamp can take it, your impression is going to be a smashed mess. When you apply the stamp to paper (or other surface) you want to be firm but even, keeping the stamp in your hand. You might be able to rock it a bit if it’s a larger stamp, but don’t lean on it! The foam between the rubber and the wood will do a lot of the work for evening out the pressure but if you press down too hard on one side it will still be an uneven impression.
Having an inkpad with lots of ink is also helpful; if it’s too dry you won’t get an even coating on the rubber. On the flip side if there is too much ink on your stamp it could come out looking like a bit of a mess.
Always practice on a scratch sheet before you move on to your actual project. That way you will know how much ink to put and how much pressure to apply for a consistent clean impression.
I am very excited about crafts for the holidays! So far I am planning a stamped apron, and possibly ornaments. Everyone in the family is also receiving their presents in stamped gift-wrap.