Back in December of 2009, Kirk and I were in San Francisco for a couple of shows, and we decided to pay a visit to our newest retailer at the time, General Store. They had just barely opened their doors, and I don’t think they’d even had an official opening or launch yet. As we talked to the owners — Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Peter — they explained how they hadn’t really been planning on opening a shop, but the perfect space in their neighborhood opened up and they decided to give it a shot.
Kirk and I had never seen a space quite like it. We weren’t sure what to call the style, but we loved it right away. And we were so flattered they’d decided to include our cards among their tightly curated selection of goods.
Fast forward to 2014, and General Store has grown leaps and bounds. They have a second shop in Venice Beach with partners Hannah Henderson and John Moore. I see them all over the internet. And their signature style has become a full fledged movement. – Eva
Click the link below for 5 more images of California Modern shops…
There seems to be a trend lately where people are saying that work/life balance is a myth. That it doesn’t exist… that you shouldn’t even try to achieve it.
It’s true that no one can achieve a perfect work/life balance, because no one is perfect. And I don’t think we should beat ourselves up over our imperfections. But I think if we closely evaluate what our priorities and circumstances are, and act upon them, most of us would be able to come up with a balance that works for us.
I’m not holding myself up as the perfect example here. I’ve made plenty of mistakes — that’s for sure. But as a mother of two small children/wife/artist/business owner, etc… this is an area I’ve thought about and worked on quite a bit over the years. For what it’s worth, I’d like to share the little trick that works for me.
You often hear business gurus talking about the importance of building a strong brand. They give examples of companies who are doing a great job of it. And many of those brands probably did a great job from day 1. But there are many others who struggled, lost their footing, had a sophomore slump… but were able to sort it out and become even stronger than before. To me, the stories of those who have come back are more inspiring because they are more relatable.
And so, I thought I’d share my journey — the Sycamore Street Press journey — to building a stronger brand. Maybe some of you who are just starting your own creative businesses will find something you can glean from our story. But keep in mind that we’re still working on it. I think we always will be… and I think remembering and taking the time to do so is the key to staying relevant.
Keep reading to see some of my mistakes and how I’ve learned from them…
National Stationery Show FAQ, Part 2 (Find part 1 here.)
Here in the Sycamore Street Press studio, we are right in thick of preparing for our annual trade show in New York City — the National Stationery Show. Finishing up last minute designs, rolling art prints through the letterpress, planning our upcoming photo shoot, etc… A couple of first time exhibitors recently reached out with travel-related questions for the show, and I thought I’d post my answers here for all of you!
Note: Even if you never intend on going to the NSS, the info on NYC lodging might be helpful if you’re planning a trip to the city. Happy travels! – Eva
Keep reading for insider info on the National Stationery Show and in depth info on where to stay in New York City. Read More…
Trade shows can be overwhelming. The first time Kirk and I took Sycamore Street Press to the National Stationery Show, I’d only been out of school for a year and a half, and Kirk was actually still in school! We had little retail experience, little wholesale experience, and very little business experience period. And somehow we survived. Not only that, but we did well enough to consider it worth our while to return the following year.
Now we’re old pros (ha ha) and we’re coming up on our fifth time exhibiting at the NSS. A few of my paper peeps have been asking me for advice about the show, so I thought I’d post them here for everyone’s benefit. If any of you have something to add, please chime in down below! These are just my opinions — I’m sure there are many ways of doing things. If there’s something you’re curious about that I haven’t covered, let me know. I’ll be doing a part 2 soon! – Eva
Q: How much is it going to cost me to do the show?
A: This number can vary wildly! You will need to do a lot of research to see how much you can afford and how you will budget everything. But a good rule of thumb for a small company exhibiting in a single 10 x 10 foot booth is to plan on spending around $10,000. This includes the booth, electrical, displays, catalogs, travel, etc… everything related to doing the show. It does NOT include the product itself. Like I said, though, this can vary quite a bit. Our first year, we were able to drive to the show, and take all of our products and display in our car (instead of having to ship it with a freight company). We also stayed with friends instead of getting a hotel room… so we probably did it for about $5000 that year.
6 more Q&A’s to help you figure out the National Stationery Show after the jump! Read More…
I love this time of year. I love that it reminds us to think about what’s important, to spend time with loved ones, to reach out to those in need… This season, Elle from Solly Baby invited us to be a part of their Deck the Halls with Diapers campaign, along with Little Hip Squeaks, Paloma’s Nest, Munkstown, Ashmae, LWPH Sews, Small Fry, Meg in Progress, Collected, and A Little Bit of Lacquer. From December 9 – 12, we at Sycamore Street Press donated a pack of diapers for every order over $50. Some of the other shops involved did similar matching donations, and some gave a flat amount. All together, 4000 diapers were donated to SAY San Diego, who had just run out of diapers and were floored by the donation. (Read all the details here on the Solly Baby blog.) We are grateful for the small part we could play in this because of our amazing customers, to all the other companies involved, and to Solly Baby for making it happen!
6 more hand lettered quotes after the jump… Read More…
New Year’s isn’t the only time for goals and dreams, right?
I loved this recent post by Seth Godin. He asserts that making your goals and dreams public makes them more likely to happen. It also makes it more likely for you to be disappointed, but isn’t the risk worth it?! I think so.
How do I protect my company name? What kind of business structure should I have? Do I really need contracts? So many questions like that have run through my head since I started Sycamore Street Press. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and just ignore them. But we all know that’s not a good idea, so enter Ben Pollock of the Juniper Law Firm. Yes, he is my younger brother… which means that I am very lucky. Because he is also a whip smart attorney who understands the ins and outs of small creative businesses. He generously agreed to write this post for our blog. He also contributes to the Design*Sponge Biz Ladies series and writes his own blog, if you’d like to read more. – Eva
If you’re like a lot of small businesses, hiring a business attorney is not very high on your priority list. In fact, it may not even be on your list at all for any one of a number of reasons. So let’s take a look at the top 5 legal concerns for small creative businesses, and then we’ll decide whether it might be a good idea to make a new lawyer friend.
1) Business Formation – From corporations to limited liability limited partnerships, there are probably more available types of business entities than most people are aware of. When starting your business, it is important to get the entity selection right. And for more than just tax reasons. The entity you choose can effect your available management structures, who can have ownership, your exposure to legal liability, what formal meetings and notices your are required to have regularly, how much it costs to set up, and what records you are required to keep, among other things. Your best bet is to narrow it down to two or three options that fit your needs based on the above non-tax factors, among others. Then, once you’ve narrowed it down, you can pick between those based on tax benefits.
2) Trademarks – Most small businesses, especially creative businesses, understand the importance of having strong branding – from logos to distinctive packaging and everything in-between. It is trademark law that will allow you to protect your branding and prevent others from using branding that is confusingly similar. In addition to your logo, trademark law may protect your packaging and many other aspects of your overall image, including use of colors, as long as they are unique enough to set you apart from your competitors. Protecting your branding will allow you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, thus allowing customers to easily identify you and your products. There are several advantages to registering your trademark, including increased protection of your mark, deterring others from using a mark that is confusingly similar to yours, and the availability of greater remedies if your mark is infringed.
3) Copyrights – Copyright law is what will protect the creative, as opposed to the functional, aspects of your products. Creative businesses succeed by producing unique products that customers cannot find elsewhere. And if this “advantage” were to be taken away, many businesses would likely fail.
In the online context, there are remedies offered through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that will allow you to request that internet providers and others take down infringing material, even if you haven’t registered your copyright. But it is often difficult to prove your ownership of the material you want taken off the web without having registered your copyright beforehand. And if the copyright infringement does not happen on the internet, or if the internet service provider and others refuse to take action because they are unconvinced of your ownership, your only option is a traditional lawsuit. And you cannot sue without first registering your copyright. The advantages of registering your copyright before it is infringed are increased remedies, including the ability to recover all your court costs and attorney fees. This makes it much easier, and affordable, to protect your copyright than if you were to register it only after it is infringed.
4) Social Media Policies – More and more, social media is becoming an essential part of a small business’s marketing plans. And more and more, employees are not only participating in social media, but are often speaking about their employers or their employer’s customers on social media. A social media policy will allow you to have greater control over how your business is represented, or not represented, by your employees. There are, of course, strict limits on how much you can control your employees’ use of social media, but a little guidance can go a long way in making sure your business is portrayed well online.
5) Contracts – “Oh, we’ve been friends forever.” “This isn’t the first time we’ve done business together.” “We trust each other.” These are all common excuses for small business owners not to have a contract in the context of a business relationship. But what they don’t understand is that having a contract is NOT the equivalent of saying, “I know we’re friends, but I don’t trust you.” What it is actually saying is, “We are friends, and I want to protect our friendship from any unforeseen circumstance in the future.” When two people or businesses sit down and come to an agreement in the very beginning about how to handle a difficult situation in the future, it ensures that everyone feels they are treated fairly if such a situation arises. If an agreement is not put in writing beforehand, and a difficult situation arises, emotions will run high, people won’t be able to come to an agreement about how to handle it, and no one will feel like they’ve been treated fairly when it is all over.
I hope this small outline of common legal concerns for small creative businesses has shown you the importance of these few legal issues. I suggest you find a friendly attorney who has experience in these areas and form a close relationship so that you have somewhere to turn for guidance. And if you are not sure how to find an attorney, check out this post on my blog for some tips. – Ben
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as, and should not be understood to be legal advice. The topics above were covered in a general and informative fashion, but they are not tailored to your, or anyone else’s particular circumstances. If you would like to discuss these topics as they apply to your business, please feel free to contact me via my website, or any other attorney who practices in these areas.
Behind The Press is a blog series by Sycamore Street Press’s owners: Eva and Kirk Jorgensen. In it, we share our experience with letterpress, paper goods, running a small business, and work/life balance in the form of tips, how to’s, and more. We hope you enjoy! – K&E
Admittedly, we are not always the most organized people. We try to be. We LOVE having everything in its place. Sometimes it seems like there’s just not enough time in the day, though. And then we think about how much time we’d be saving in the long run if we could just put things in order. It’s a catch-22.
Well, this past year we decided that was it. Time to make some real progress. And it’s incredible how making a few small changes has really helped things run more smoothly! We still have a lot of plans to implement. But we’re happy with how far we’ve come, and are committed to keeping up and getting better.
If you’re a small business owner like we were — never feeling like we had the time to get organized — we hope this post can help you out. (And no, we are not getting paid for this post. We just use these organizing tools every day and love them!)
1) Google Drive – We used to trade long emails back and forth with the rest of the Sycamore team. Photo shoot plans, design brainstorming, production schedules, etc… Inevitably, we’d have to search through mountains of emails to try and find the one with the correct attachment for a certain project. Now, at the suggestion of a couple of our team members, we just create the document in Google Drive, share it with each other, and file the documents into folders. So simple. It’s great to be able to find all of that information in one place, that we can access it all from any computer or device, and that they won’t be lost if a computer crashes.
2) Google Calendar – Even if the only thing we had to do all year was to plan for and exhibit at our annual trade show — The National Stationery Show — this app would be worth it. We’re big fans of paper (obviously) and both love our little Moleskine planners. But they just weren’t cutting it anymore for the business. We needed a calendar that could be updated frequently (without an eraser or White Out) and that everyone on the Sycamore team could access. We got a lot of suggestions from colleagues, but when it came down to it, Google Calendar is free, simple to use, and it gets the job done. We plan months in advance and have a color coded system set up. (Production tasks in cobalt, events in yellow, PR in coral, etc…)
3) Dropbox – When our daughter Ingrid was 6 months old, our computer crashed. Inconvenient, but not a big deal, we thought at first. We had Time Machine set to automatically back up everything on our computer to an external hard drive. Well, it turns out that there was a disconnect between iPhoto and Time Machine. So we lost pretty much all of our photos. From the first 6 months of our daughter Ingrid’s life, and from the 6 years prior to that — ever since we got our first digital camera. We were devastated. (There may have been a crying fit ending with someone flinging themselves across the bed with a loud, slobbery moan. Not saying who.) Luckily, we was able to retrieve a few off of an old laptop and discs. But literally, it was just a handful compared to the thousands that we lost.
Obviously, this couldn’t happen again. Enter Dropbox. We signed up, downloaded the software, and began backing up all our photos. We love that we can access it easily on our computer’s hard drive itself, or from the “cloud” on the dropbox website from any computer or device. We’ve since started using it to back up all of our product photos, design files, etc… It’s also great for sharing files — high res photos with members of the press, Illustrator files with manufacturers, scans of drawings with other members of the Sycamore team, and more.
4) Quickbooks – We can’t tell you how many creative small business owners we’ve talked to who confess that the bookkeeping for their business is pretty much non-existent. And yes, we made the same mistake. Every year, we’d sit down with print-outs of our bank statements, categorize everything with highlighters, and then send it all in one big Excel spreadsheet to our accountant. He’d get it sorted out and make sure we were legit with our taxes, but that was it. No profit and loss statements, no monthly reports, nothing. Organizing our business finances was always a big dark cloud looming over our heads. Something we knew we needed to do to really grow our business, but dreaded with our very souls.
As of a couple of months ago, though, we are leaving that big dark cloud behind! And it feels sooooooo good. To get started, we sat down a couple of different times with our accountant to ask his advice. Then we bought Quickbooks, set it up on our computer, and hired someone to do bookkeeping part-time, along with other office duties. Let’s face it, the two of us were never going to be organized enough to do it ourselves. We figured that in the long run, it was worth the expense of hiring someone. By being able to see regular reports, we can start to see so much more clearly where the money is coming from and where it is going. It’ll make a big difference in our business planning, and will be a key to helping us grow.
If you don’t want to hire someone in-house to do this, you could have your accountant do it for you, or hire an independent bookkeeper. Or, you could show us up and do it yourself.
5) FreshBooks – It took a few tries to find an invoicing system that clicked. We signed up for Freshbooks over a year ago and have loved it for many reasons. It’s all cloud based, which makes it easy to manage orders while traveling with our laptop/iphone as well as accessing our account from multiple computers in our shop. It is simple and convenient. We have linked up our merchant account so that when a wholesale client receives the email from Freshbooks, they can view/download their invoice as well as pay their invoice by credit card. The other feature we really like is the report generator. We can easily generate reports showing total revenue by client or item number in any given parameter of time.
Obviously, there are many different tools and programs out there that can help small business owners get organized. But these are our favorites — the ones that have really helped us.We hope that one or all may be of some help to you, too! And if you have some tips or tools of your own to share, we’d love to hear in the comments below! Also check out my Stationery Business classes on atly.com. – Kirk & Eva
The three images in this post are sneak peeks of Sycamore Street Press’s new gift wrap and fox card collections debuting this spring! See all of our other paper goods in our shop.
We’re growing and we need some help keeping up! Please pass this info along to anyone you think would be qualified and interested. Thanks! – Eva & Kirk
Graphic Designer, Part-Time
Sycamore Street Press is a busy, nationally recognized and respected letterpress and paper goods company; located in Heber City, UT. SSP is a small business quickly expanding and we are looking for a graphic designer to help us meet our demands.
Candidate should be organized, reliable, friendly, with high attention to detail. Candidate may be a recent graduate or college senior. Looking for a candidate who can work on site 1-2 days a week (M-F), and roughly 8-16 hours a week. Paid hourly BOE. Start Date: January 7, 2013.
Include but are not limited to:
+ Preparing design files to go to press
+ Ordering printing plates
+ Onsite press checks (in SLC or Provo)
+ Organizing design files (old and new)
+ Using existing branding to design collateral such as catalogs, line sheets, flyers, graphics for the web, website updates, etc.
+ Blog post layout and design
+ Eventually: Custom Order Project Manager which would include: laying out type for wedding invitations and other custom orders, communicating with customers, getting files press ready, ordering plates, etc.
+ Proficient knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite; especially: Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.
+ Very strong design skills
+ Interest in paper goods, including letterpress
+ Interest in creative online businesses and blogs
+ Ability to meet deadlines
+ Ability to take the initiative
+ Ability to work well with a team
+ Strong customer service skills
+ Ability to work at our studio in Heber City, UT
+ Ability to drive to press checks in Provo and Salt Lake City
+ Commit, after a trial period, to at least one year*
To be considered please email: firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘GRAPHIC DESIGNER’ in subject line. Please attach your resume and portfolio.
*Note: There will be a 30 day period in which SSP or new graphic designer will have the right to terminate the contract at anytime and for any reason, including if employee or employer determines the fit to be incorrect.
Behind The Press is a new blog series by SSP’s owners: Eva and Kirk Jorgensen. In it, we’ll be sharing our knowledge of letterpress, paper goods, and running a small business in the form of tips, how to’s, and more… This is no. 2 in the series. (Find no. 1 here.) We’re really excited about this new series and hope you enjoy! – K&E
You love letterpress, right? You love how it looks — the texture, the vintage appeal. And maybe your wedding is coming up (or you’re having a baby, or starting a new business), and you’ve decided you want to design your own invitations and get them letterpressed. You might know your way around Adobe Illustrator, and have an idea of the look you are going for, but you have no idea what you should keep in mind while designing for this particular printing process. In fact, maybe you don’t even realize you should be keeping anything in mind. Well, now you do.
Many people have approached us over the years who are in exactly this position. Actually, they mostly contact us after the design is already “done” and are upset to learn that they’ll have to start from scratch if they really do want it printed on a letterpress. (Understandably so.)
Like many beautiful things, letterpress is fickle and demanding. You need to design things a certain way in order to get the distinctive inking and impression that it’s known for. With that in mind, we decided to devote this Behind the Press to the basics of letterpress design. Please note that this isn’t meant to be all-inclusive. (This only covers printing from polymer printing plates, for example, not hand set type.) But if you are a beginner to the process, we hope this will help you wrap your head around the idea and get off to a good start.
8 Tips for Letterpress Design
1) See everything in black and white. (No grey.) Yes, you will be able to print it in color, but the artwork that you will be making into a printing plate must be in black and white. You can create the artwork the old fashioned way with black paint or ink on a piece of white paper or you can create it all in Photoshop or Illustrator. Either way, you can’t have any blended gradations. If you want to include shading, think of how artists would create light and dark through cross hatched lines in old engravings (like on a dollar bill) or with dots (like the halftone dots in old newspaper photos).
2) Think in layers. Letterpress (and other traditional printing techniques) aren’t capable of printing all the colors at once. They’re not digital printers. Each color you want to use will have to have its own black and white layer which will be turned into a printing plate. Then, the paper will need to be run through the press separately for each color (layer) you are printing. This is why crop marks are really helpful. It’s also why going from one color to two colors in letterpress almost doubles the amount of printing labor, which means that printing many colors/layers gets expensive FAST. Letterpress designers have to be clever at using very few colors to great effect. For example, you could overlap two transparent colors to create a third color.
3) Dark on light. Letterpress ink, as a rule, is pretty transparent. If you try to print a pale color on top of a darker color, it probably won’t show up. (One exception: silver ink on dark paper can work pretty well.)
4) Size is limited. Most letterpress printers these days use platen presses (the kind that open and shut like a clamshell) and can’t print an area larger than about 5 x 7″. Some have standard flatbed presses (in which the paper rolls across the printing plate) and can print up to about 12×18″. That’s usually about as large as you can go. There are a handful of print shops in the country (Hatch Show Print, for example) who still have some larger scale letterpresses and can go quite a bit larger, but they are few and far between.
5) Not too thick. If you want to print large solid areas of color, letterpress is probably not the way to go. (I’d go with screen printing.) It’s extremely difficult to get even pressure and ink over a large surface with letterpress, and if you try, the end result will most often look splotchy. Sometimes this can be the “vintage” and “handmade” look you are going for, though. Just be aware.
6) Not too thin. On the other hand, if the lines or type you are using are too thin, the line can easily get lost and disappear in the platemaking process. Even if it doesn’t, it is extremely difficult to print extra thin lines with the pressure and impression you are probably looking for while maintaining a neat, precise line. Because there is so little surface to cling to, the ink often gets pushed out, creating a messy halo effect.
7) Be consistent. For crisp and even printing, it’s best if all the lines & shapes on a particular color/layer/plate are approximately the same size/thickness. If, for example, you were to have some big blocky type next to some really thin type, either the fat type will look uneven and under inked, or the small type will look messy and over inked. You can try and split the difference, just know that neither extreme will look great this way.
8) Try combining methods. In spite of all its beauty, letterpress does have its limitations. Why not combine it with another method to get the best of both worlds? For example, metallic inks don’t look very shiny in letterpress. (They just have very faint shimmer.) For maximum impact, we’ve been combining letterpress with foil stamping here at Sycamore Street Press and are loving the effect! (In foil stamping, an actual piece of metal foil is stamped right into the paper in the shape of your design.)
Best of luck with all your design and letterpress endeavors! For further tips and nitty gritty details like file types and sizes, Boxcar Press is a great resource. (They’ve made our plates since we started SSP in 2007.) I’d also recommend having an in-depth conversation with the letterpress printer you plan on using before you start the design process. – Kirk & Eva
So you’ve taken amassed a large collection of cards, taken some classes, tried out a few different models, and talked to your friend of a friend who works at a printshop. After all that, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re ready to purchase a one ton piece of machinery that can turn out the prettiest paper goods you’ve ever seen: aka, a letterpress.
Keep in mind that letterpresses haven’t been manufactured since the 60’s. And since then, many have been turned into scrap or sold to print shops outside of the US. However, in recent years, with the resurgence in popularity of this heirloom craft, the demand for these printing presses has been growing more and more. If you want to find one, you’ve got to be patient, do your research, and when the opportunity arrises, act quickly.
Kirk and I have bought 3 different presses over the years — each from a different source. Many people wanting to start their own print shop have written and asked us for advice on how to find a letterpress, so we thought we’d share our top sources with you.
7 BEST SOURCES FOR FINDING A LETTERPRESS
1) Briar Press – This is the go-to online place for anything and everything letterpress. Get tips and techniques in the forum, go to the classifieds to find classes, jobs, and presses all over the country.
2) Don Black Linecasting – This Toronto-based family operation has been in the business for decades. The presses they sell are clean and in top-top condition. If you order a press from them, you know it will be in perfect working condition the day it arrives. They also can arrange for crating, shipping and customs. You’ll pay top dollar, but you won’t have to deal with any headaches. We bought our Vandercook flatbed letterpress from them in 2007.
3) Your Local Classifieds – I know several people who have found a letterpress simply by combing their local classifieds… over and over and over again. In Utah (where we live) KSL is the place to look.
4) NA Graphics – The owner, Fritz Klinke, has over 50 years of letterpress experience. He sells a variety of letterpress parts and pieces, and occasionally has a press to sell as well. When we were thinking about adding another press, I called to see if he had any available. Even though he didn’t have one for sale at the time, we ended up being on the phone for a half an hour, while he patiently listened to our circumstances and then gave his advice as to what kind of press we should get.
5) Hot Metal Services – Dave and Beth travel the country, servicing and repairing letterpresses (including ours) along the way. In fact, Dave is one of the only letterpress repairmen left in the entire country. Because of this, they have a wide network, and are often the first to hear when a “new” press goes on the market.
6) Sterling Type Foundry – Dave Churchman has been stockpiling letterpress parts and pieces for a quarter century. I visited his warehouse in Indianapolis when I was just starting Sycamore Street Press in 2007, and got a number of bits and bobs that we still use today. If you’re lucky, he might have an entire press for sale, too.
7) Letterpress Friends & Associates – You have them, right? Not only is it fun to get to know other people who share your interest in letterpress, it can come in very handy, too. We’ve found that in general, the letterpress community is very friendly and willing to share information. So get to know other printers — locally, out of state, and abroad. Go to shows, take classes, attend creative meet-ups, etc… We found our last letterpress through someone who was taking one of the letterpress workshops we teach periodically.
We hope this helps you to find the letterpress of your dreams! – Kirk & Eva
As I was sharing my notes from the Altitude Design Summit with Kirk, I realized that there was one big idea being discussed again and again in different ways and by a variety of speakers: BE YOU.
I want to talk about 3 different ways the speakers approached that idea:
1) Find your niche
2) Do what you love. Delegate the rest.
3) Design your life.
In order to stand out in today’s blogging world (or paper goods or graphic design or whatever it is that you do) you need to specialize. You need to find out what you are good at, what you are passionate about, what is truly “you” and go for it. This doesn’t mean that you have to narrow your focus so tightly that you are decide you can only blog about “vintage owl salt and pepper shakers”, for example. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But everything you do must be a part of your distinct vision.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project and a keynote speaker at Alt, told a great anecdote about this. Her whole life, she kept trying to listen to music. She tried classical, she tried jazz, she tried pop… but none of it seemed to be doing anything for her. Finally, she came to the realization that she just doesn’t like music! Once she figured that out, she was able to let it go and focus on things she really does enjoy. (She’s a big children’s literature fan, for one.)
Realizations like this are sometimes a little sad, but they’re empowering at the same time, don’t you think? Rubin told us it doesn’t matter what we wish is true about ourselves. It matters what is true and who we really are. For example, if you’re a jewelry designer, but the current trend of incorporating triangles into your work isn’t you, don’t do it!
Jasmine Star, who was on the Building a Personal Brand panel, had a great little exercise to help you figure out and focus on who you really are. She said you just need to list 3 words. But there are a couple of rules to listing those words:
1) The words must focus on you, not your business.
2) The words must be who you are, not who you aspire to be.
What would your 3 words be?
I think that if we all spent enough time honing the skills and qualities that make each of us uniquely us, we would be surprised at how our creative projects, businesses, etc… would grow. There would be less copy-catting and more exciting ideas. Because each of us has a unique perspective.
So don’t forget to find your niche, if you haven’t already. And if you have, keep working on it.
Sarah of Sarah Jane Studios clearly stated this idea in the Work Life Balance panel. She said that in the beginning stages of a new venture, you won’t have this luxury. But as soon as you are able, you should start hiring help. Sarah made this decision a year ago, and since then she told us she is making more money and spending more time doing what she loves. How wonderful is that?!
Tasks to delegate:
1) Your weaknesses (aka someone else’s strengths)
2) Things you don’t like doing
3) Stuff you simply don’t have time for
For one person this might mean shipping and assembling, for another it may mean graphic design, marketing, and photography. You get the idea.
Not only that, but you should even get help a little before you think you can afford it. Sometimes by waiting too long, you are actually hindering your business. By freeing yourselves up to be creative and do what you do best, you can help your business evolve and grow more quickly and efficiently.
This brings me to the question I asked Ben Silberman (founder of Pinterest) after his keynote speech on Friday. A couple of years ago he personally emailed me back after I contacted Pinterest’s customer service. At the time (and even now) I was struck by how deeply involved he was in every level of his company. But in reality, as a company grows, the founder won’t be able to continue doing this type of thing. So I asked Ben how he is able to stay personally involved and maintain a high level of quality as his company evolves. He replied simply that he hires people who are better than him. “In fact,” he said, “if I applied for a job today at Pinterest, I probably wouldn’t hire myself.” Ha! Such a humble guy. But he has a point. Building a wonderful team is just as important as building a product. Because in the long run, you won’t have a great product without a great team. Which brings us back to the point:
Do what you love (and are best at) and delegate the rest.
Susan Petersen (from the Blog to Shop panel) articulated this sentiment so well in a beautiful little video about her over on Big Cartel. She says: “Get clear about the life you want… re-focus your priorities until you can see that life, and then run like hell at it.” Amen, sister.
I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head, getting used to it. That’s what we are all trying to do in our lives, but she stated it so simply and matter-of-factly. And why not?! So I’ve been envisioning what my perfect life is like. I’m not talking about some pie-in-the-sky kind of fantasy, but a wonderfully realistic version of my dream life. It’s fun to think about, right? For me, it means spending quality time with my family and friends in beautiful surroundings, finding ways to show kindness and give back, and focusing my work life on the creative side of Sycamore Street Press.
What does it mean for you?
And just to make sure that these words won’t be quickly forgotten as soon as I click “publish”, I promise to check back from time to time and give you a little progress report. I’d love it if you want to do the same!
4 years ago, Kirk and I moved our first letterpress into our dining room on Sycamore Street in Columbus, Ohio. I already had the name “Sycamore Street Press” picked out, and went right to work on designing, sourcing materials, etc… Although I knew I was starting a letterpress paper goods company, I didn’t think it would ever be larger than just me and my press. That all changed, of course. It just sucked me in more and more… and I let it. But that’s a good thing.
1) I love it.
2) It’s a wonderful & practical way to use my degrees in studio art and printmaking.
3) Kirk ended up loving it, too, and now we are able to work together every day.
So for the past 4 years, our business has grown and our goods are now carried in hundreds of shops all over the world. (Crazy!) We’ve continued printing every single thing on our trusty Vandercook: our first and only press up until this point. It doesn’t have a motor of any sort, and it’s probably the slowest way possible of letterpress printing (which is already much slower than more contemporary methods). But it’s solid and lovely to work with. And most importantly — it produces beautifully textured results.
For the past couple of years, though, we’ve felt the need to get another press. Kirk has stayed up late night after night cranking the press back and forth, and still we’ve had to turn down more and more requests for custom work. We’ve simply maxed out the amount of work that can be done on one flatbed letterpress.
But getting a press is a little more complicated than a trip to the mall. They haven’t been manufactured since the 1960’s or 70’s, so there’s a finite amount left in the world. Even finding one for sale can be a chore. Especially if you are looking for a very specific kind, want it to be in good working condition, nearby, and reasonably priced. It took us 2 years to find our second press, and I consider that lucky!
We weren’t looking for just any letterpress — we wanted a Heidelberg Windmill. These presses are the true workhorses of the letterpress industry. They’re still much slower, hands-on, and deliberate than digital or offset presses, but compared to our Vandercook, the Windmill is a dream of efficiency. And the resulting color and impression are equal to, if not better, than what we can do with the Vandercook. We still love the Vandie and will still use it to print large scale projects such as our 11×14″ art prints. But we’re hoping the Windmill will take over greeting card duty.
Now, I may be getting ahead of myself with all this talk. We still have to finish cleaning and setting up the press. And learning to print well on it will be a challenge…
With 20 new cards and 9 new art prints set to debut next week, Kirk has been printing like crazy. Here’s a little behind the scenes look at him printing one of our new cards.
1 ///// Registration
Once a design is complete, we ready the files and upload them to Boxcar Press, our trusty plate makers. About a week later, a truck pulls up to our door with a shiny new letterpress printing plate.
The plates are made of photopolymer, which is a transparent, adhesive backed, flexible plastic. Kind of like a big textured sticker. Kirk sticks the plate down on a slab of metal (called a base) that is secured to the flat part of the press (called a bed like on a truck). It usually takes him multiple tries to get the plate positioned so that it will print in the right place on the card. For more complicated jobs, this can sometimes take an hour or more. This process is called registration.
2 ///// Inking the Press
Kirk takes some ink out of a can, places it on a glass slab, and works it with the ink knife until it loosens up a bit. Then he scoops some ink up on the knife and carefully taps it across the rollers, keeping it as even as possible. Since our press doesn’t have motorized inking, he then turns a little crank around and around until the ink distributes as evenly as possible over all the rollers (see image below).
Inking can be a tricky process. You not only have to worry about keeping it even across all the rollers, you also have to worry about having just the right amount. Too little, and the printing will look washed out with too much of the white paper showing through. (This is called “salty”.) Too much, and the ink squishes out everywhere looking really sloppy. The trouble comes when you have a thick shapes and thin lines on the same plate. The thick shapes end up looking salty and the thin lines end up looking sloppy. So we try to avoid that kind of design.
3 ///// Packing / Makeready
Once the registration and inking are sorted out, Kirk needs to figure out how much packing to use. Packing is the paper you place behind the card while it goes through the press. It’s also the layers of paper and mylar that cover the cylinder that the card gets clamped to. The more packing you use, the more impression you get. But if you use too much, you could damage your plate, or worse, the press. It’s a delicate balance.
4 ///// Printing
Once everything is ready to go, Kirk clamps the card down onto the cylinder, and then cranks the cylinder (and rollers) forward to the end of the press bed. It requires taking a step or two forward. Once the cylinder hits the end of the press bed, the clamps automatically open, and he pulls the card out. At that point, he cranks the cylinder back to the starting point and reaches for the next card.
Each piece of paper needs to be cranked through the press one at a time. It makes for some strong, broad shoulders!
5 ///// Cleaning
Because we have a manually operated press and use non-toxic solvents, it takes about an hour to clean the press. One hour of wiping back and forth with cotton rags. For this reason, he tries to plan it so he can print as many items as possible in the same ink color on the same day.
There you have it! I walked you through the steps of a typical greeting card press run here at Sycamore Street Press. And if the card has two colors (as most of ours do) then this whole process has to be repeated. And once the printing is done, Kirk still has to fold all the cards and package them with their envelopes in clear protective sleeves. That process can take as long as the printing itself.
As you can see, crafting a card or art print with a letterpress is a much more involved process than more modern methods such as digital. This is why we have to charge what we do and place the minimums that we do. But the unique, tactile look of letterpress is so beautiful that I believe it’s all worth it! Faster, cheaper methods just don’t provide the same results.
This card was designed by our friend Stephanie Ford, who designs our Pop line. Isn’t she talented?! Two of her designs got picked up by the MoMA Design Shop. (I can brag if it’s about someone else, right? We’re so lucky to have her as a part of the Sycamore Street Press team.
It’s always tough to get back in the swing of things after the holiday break. I started off the year very sluggishly, I must admit. But over the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly organizing and tidying up and it’s done wonders for my motivation and creativity. My boyfriend thinks that it is a female gene that makes a clean house give us the overwhelming feeling that we can take on the world! Haha! He may be right. My advice, take it one space at a time, starting with your desk. Here are some adorable items that will surely help you get your affairs in order.
Kate from Art Hound wrote to tell me about a fantastic giveaway she’s doing over on her blog. She’s giving away an Art Matching session (worth $250) which is a service where she researches and finds the perfect art for your home. I love her blog — she’s got great taste in art, so this would be a very cool thing to win… Leave a comment on this post to enter.
p.s. How adorable is that frenchie?
Jamie Shelman – artist, illustrator, and teacher behind the Pikaland Bootcamp Series is teaching an online course called “Exploring the 5 Senses“. I think you have to sign up by November 10th, so hurry on over if you are interested! I love her funny little drawings of cats… this would be a fun one to take but something tells me I’ll be a bit too occupied this time around.