How did you first become involved in stationery design? Was there a point where you knew that was the career path you wanted to take?
I’ve always been a level-headed gal so the decision to follow an Art Education program in college was an easy one, even though I was instinctively more artist than teacher. Doing the safe thing, at that stage in my life was paramount so off I went towards a life in teaching, or so I thought. Very soon after graduation, struggling to land a teaching job and not being too upset about that fact, the realization came. Teaching wasn’t for me and I swiftly started looking deeper into my lunch break sketches for career inspiration!
Married only a few months and fresh off late night DIY projects for my own wedding in June of 2000, I wondered, “could I make a living doing this for others?”. Quickly I noticed stationers online were limited to staunch catalog types or uber expensive design houses where nothing too artful or handcrafted met in the middle. I saw my opportunity and never looked back.
Explain the “progression” of custom design. What are some of your
methods? Where do you start? How do you work?
I always say, we start with a conversation and truly it is that simple. Our site is designed as a inspiration destination and our goal is to have our couples very well educated on our process before they even send the first email. By then we’ve encourage them to consider their own aesthetic, art style, design wishes, etc. Once they get in touch, we like to hop on a phone conference right away to introduce ourselves, address lingering questions and of course talk art!
Education is a huge part of what we do everyday. Most couples come to us knowing little about fine art, illustration techniques and what I call artist speak. Since our process is so heavily based in fine art and traditional techniques we have to establish ways to communicate with those who are new to the concept. In the first design discussion we ask a lot of questions, try to pinpoint the nuance of color selection, style and mood. We also are careful to ensure our couples feel comfortable in the space of discussing stylistic and artful concepts. This can be the trickiest task. Everyone comes to us with some level of vision and it is our #1 job to draw that out and engage in meaningful dialogue as a path to heartfelt design.
Then we move on to creating real samples to explore all the chatter and give our couples something tangible to consider. In this digital age it is not important but imperative that we create tangible moments amidst all the conveniences of technology and social media. We are artists first and foremost and our magic lies in the moment brush touches paper…Our couples deserve to experience that and it is our daily challenge to ensure they do through captivating photography, descriptive editorial and meaningful conversation.
What are some of the aspects of stationery design that someone who doesn’t understand the profession would never think of?
To run a stationery business that scales and is profitable has so little to do with stationery design. This can be said of any business really. You have to love running your business to be successful. If you want to make invitations all day long, work for someone else. It may sound harsh, but it is true. Early in the development of my brand it became clear I could only profit so much from doing it all myself. Everyday was a crazy balancing act of production, design development, pr, financials…I could go on and on. Growing a team, taking that leap was my only option if I ever wanted to get back to the heart of what made my brand strong….the art. So I did just that, hired other artists to create with me. I enlisted the help of strong math minds to run my books. I hired a publicist. Today I am still running my business and loving it; managing a team and overseeing but most importantly I’m painting, developing and dreaming – BIG every day, now that I’ve made room for it again.
Talk a little bit about your experience in the innovative Art Education Program. What was it like? What were classes like? How did this training prepare you to be in business for yourself?
I spoke a bit to the fact that perhaps my Art Education path in college was seemingly misguided but looking back now, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Mingled with my required general education courses I was lucky enough to experience a force of professors who were not only teaching but actively part of the modern art community. They were exhibiting in New York City, being published in art magazines all the while heading up the Art Education program at Penn State. While friends at other universities were learning how to craft their way through mock lesson plans, I was soaking up big concepts with the help of some of the 90’s most iconic artists. Barbara Kruger became Art History lesson and Richard Serra, a unit on the intersection of anthropology and art. I developed a deep appreciation for interpretation and nuance and this molded my artistic ability to capture emotion with a distinct voice in everything I created. Being able to speak and write about art was also huge in my curriculum and now I credit my narrative and storytelling gifts to this profound time in my life.
What made you go into business for yourself? Was it hard at first? Is it still hard?
To be honest I was drawn to the romance of owning my own business. Being your own boss and controlling your schedule; what could be better? After 7 years in retail visual merchandising I longed to control my own fate and peruse my own creative endeavors. Coming on the 10th anniversary of Momental’s beginnings I certainly admit things were really difficult at initially. Starting a business from scratch is a lot like the first few weeks of college. You are excited, know absolutely no one, have a new taste of freedom and feel an immense sense of opportunity. But the reality of starting a business from scratch can be likened to the first time you nearly fail and exam because you just had no clue what you were doing.
Eventually we established our process, pricing and voice and began to grow quickly. The growth brought immense joy and more challenges. A few years later we now continue to grow in new directions and you guessed it, are challenged every day. I think what can be said about starting and maintaining a business is this: The successes are sweeter because you built them but the challenges are scarier, because…you alone need to establish how to fix them.
All this said, I wouldn’t change my life for one minute. There is nothing more satisfying that experiencing this world as an entrepreneur.
Describe the feelings you get from communicating profound moments in people’s lives.
That moment when your client calls and is near tears after viewing the painting you just created or emails to say they “are moved beyond words” is the magic sauce that keeps us going. We literally get to know our couples like we would a new friend. Many of them we speak to or email every day for the better part of a year, so when we are able to get it right, everything else falls away and we can savor their joy as it is ours too.
Creating artwork on-demand is hard but good work. It keeps you sharp and challenges you to see your technique and talent from another’s perspective. Being able to take a client from envisioning the obvious way to capture their style to a new place where color and texture communicate more than any clip art element could, is pure passion for us.
What are some of the things people should know before they go into business for themselves? Advice?
The very first best thing you can do as you enter into a creative business plan is listen. Establish relationships, ask smart questions and listen again. Seek work from new clients, ask what they are dreaming of and then listen. Ask yourself what your strengths are, the weaknesses and then listen. So many new and established business owners stop listening to their clients, their peers, the market and themselves. This only leads to struggle. Artistic entrepreneurs must develop a keen sense of climate and be willing to absorb and listen as much as they pronounce and pontificate.
Additionally, anyone entering into business now must 100% accept the fact that technology is the breath and life of our days. Social media and it’s ability to enhance face to face relationships is key for anyone looking to build a personal brand. The world wants to see you, hear you, feel YOU…not just your work.
How hard do you need to promote yourself and your designs in order to make a name for yourself?
Promoting yourself needs to be a lifestyle. The world is over cold brands and business. The world wants to know you, be friends with you and see what you ate for dinner last night, the latter only one and a while really…But seriously, my husband tells me, my life is a marketing ploy which admittedly is true, just not in the bad way like it sounds! You cannot separate who you are from your art, that is the truth, tattoo it on your forehead.
When I travel I see differently than others. Food arranged expertly on a pretty plate is share-worthy. A stylish party I’ve thrown for a friend becomes the fodder for a new blog post or magazine feature. My fireplace mantle decor changes and you can see it on Instagram. The moments that inspire my art are also the moments that are inspiring to see, so I show them. I want our couples to feel like they know me before even picking up the phone. I want that first phone call to feel like two friends chatting. I want them to remember where my favorite restaurant in Utah is because all of that is part of who I am, who they will see and experience every step of the way while working with my business.
How has art impacted your life? How is it a lifestyle for you? What kind of background helps you succeed in art as a career?
All artists have that profound moment from early childhood where they just knew what they were meant to be. Mine was drawing cartoons at age 7 by flashlight on cold bathroom tile, way past bedtime. When my mother found me, flahslight and watercolor pencils in hand with a mischievous 2 am grin on my face, she knew too. So it is hard to say where my art stops and my life begins because I don’t know one without the other. The business lifestyle is then just an extension of that. I speak a lot about personal brands here because I firmly believe they are here to stay as we all crave connections in real ways through varying mediums. My face, my art and every carefully placed brushstroke is the most powerful tool I have to speak my passion, I will use them and never be apologetic.
As much as artistic entrepreneurs need to share their world, we also need to be great observers. My past in retail made me a savvy people watcher and I use those skills to this day. I want to know people; how they think, why they do and what they understand and don’t.
What advice would you offer to students pursuing an art career of any form?
– Establish a profound style and stand proud for it, regardless of what’s hot now.
– Don’t try to be good at math if you are not. Hire an accountant.
– Work with employees you could be friends with. You don’t have to be friends but if that chemistry isn’t there, start over.
– Get out of the studio, meet a lot of people, even if this will cause panic attacks. You will get better at it all.
– Be able to memorably introduce yourself in under 30 seconds. Sometimes 30 seconds is all you have.
– Remember that everything about you speaks volumes. Your art is you, you are your brand. What does your clothing, voice, accessories, workspace and home say about you?
– Create an inspiring place where you can work and stay alive with newness. Dull surroundings make for dull ideas.
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