safe cracker

A customer at work today called me a “safe cracker,” and it took me a few seconds to understand what he meant. I’d just successfully divined the four-number combination of a lock a coworker had been trying to open for fifteen minutes. It hit me: safe cracker = one who cracks safes. I got mad skillz in breaking into things, I guess.

The new nickname gave me pause. I’m a safe cracker, a good speller, a bleeding heart liberal, and apparently still an O+ blood type. (I talked my chiropractor into re-testing me yesterday to make sure the world wasn’t playing a joke on me.) What am I not? A maker of wedding invitations.

Never have I designed and made a fancy invitation of any kind.
Never have I partaken in any kind of wedding madness.
Never has a friend asked me to do either of these things.

Until now.

One of my closest friends ever – we’ve known each other since we were ten – announced her engagement to the world this Spring, and along with photos of the diamond slice engagement ring, sent me a more personal question to ponder: could I and would I pretty please consider designing and making her wedding invitations? I got the email in-between my Sunday classes, en route from Asia to Europe, and was appropriately flabbergasted. And flattered. But mostly flabbergasted. It was and remains both a no-brainer, and terrifying. At the time, it was also the best thing ever. I’d been so caught up in my own pity festival (“party” is too demure an event) that the idea that other people might find happiness in love and romance was kind of a revelation. Not everyone was having a shit time. Cool. And that my friend and her fiancé trusted me with something so big? Really cool. I’d have to come home for a project of this magnitude, but that seemed pretty okay.

Seven months later, I’m now fully understanding the weight of that mighty task, and how much of a challenge it is for me, and it’s a bit more difficult than opening a stubborn lock.

Where do I start? What is required? What’s too elaborate, and too simple? How do I find a balance between my own aesthetics, and the “bride’s”? (You know I’m having a hard time when I naturally put that word in quotation marks.) How do I remain emotionally neutral to something intrinsically über personal? How do I make sure my friend truly loves it and isn’t coddling my feelings? How busy is too busy? What’s a good ratio between image and text? How do I incorporate their wedding theme into the design? How do I keep it fun and modern and chic when my personality, and most invitations, are none of those things?

And those are just the design questions. The logistics of the printing! OY VEY!

My friend and I have, interestingly, been talking much more about color palettes and “feel” than cold, solid facts and ideas for specific graphics, so that was where I started. I know I’m not reinventing any wheels here, so we’ve also spent a few minutes using Pinterest for good instead of evil to create a board of invitations we’re drawn to. That helps. Another thing that helped? Diving in head first. Just doing it. Drawing. Erasing. Writing the letter “C” a million times. Creating something out of nothing, just so we have a place to start.

The first of many, many drafts to come:

invitation

I’m scared, but I’m learning. This is how people grow, right?

Stay tuned!

Fiat Lux

I drove by the Masonic Center of South Pasadena this afternoon, and saw the giant “Let There Be Light” engraved on the building’s façade. After the initial conspiracy theories came to mind, the Latin translation for the expression did: Fiat Lux. I’m a geek. I know it.

The last 48 hours have been illuminating indeed, and in the best way possible. I stumbled across this amazing video via an Australian photo blog I follow, and I remembered why I love life. Having never had the privilege of seeing a Turkish artist at work, or seen any finished specimens in the motherland, this documentation of Ebru in process was a real treat. I know it’s a widely respected art there, but I’m afraid Iznik took hold of the popular cultural art sector when they realized just how popular and profitable it was with tourists. Alas. I showed this video to my mom, and after it ended, she turned to me and asked, “how are we going to track him down?” I can’t express how lucky I am to have a parent who 110% supports my dreams. In this case, about 90% more than I do, myself. I laughed and told her I could under no circumstance have that conversation. And then, me being me, I found the artist’s son (who made the video) and emailed him about his father. Damn you, universe! I have a non-stop ticket to Istanbul in three weeks and I have no intention of using it!

 

In even more brilliant news, I received a message on Etsy asking whether I might be interested in selling my cards wholesale! Umm… SO AWESOME! Not only is this the first time I’ve ever been approached by a shop, but this shop happens to be located in southeast Portland. The lovely Charlotte of Palace apparently saw my balloon and stained glass cards and thought they’d be a good addition to her merchandise. Checking out her blog, I see a lot of our tastes overlap and I have every confidence that my work will find good homes at Palace. The cherry on top – the store is right off of Belmont, which in my brain, is home to biscuit breakfasts, cupcakes before they were cool, and the Stumptown Annex. Delicious, delicious memories. Despite the four years that I’ve been gone from Portland, it still tugs at me. It still feels like home. (One of four, I grant you.) All the drizzle, the coffee slinging, the fierce knitting. The cute boys with their plaid shirts and tattoos. I was a goner. So hooray that a small piece of me can return to a city I so genuinely love, and a neighborhood as well. 

I think I see the sun rising.

Also rising: (shameless plug ahead) my new necklaces.

Image

still kickin’

It astounds me that it’s been literally ONE YEAR since I last updated this thing, but then again… I’ve been pretty busy. Kind of. Unavailable might be a more accurate word. Wrapped up in teaching, absorbed in processing the very odd sights and sounds (and tastes) around me, carried away with trying to survive the self-inflicted difficulties of expat life.

Now that I’ve been home for four weeks (holy mackerel), I think I’ve finally accepted that I need to do a bit more than drink a lot of water, watch shit on Netflix, and play with my moody cat. Part of picking up the pieces is… picking up the pieces.

Strangely, a few days before I left Istanbul, I received a message on Etsy from a woman who wanted to order cards (the balloons) I’d ran out of. She wanted to know how soon I could make more, and whether she could buy more than one. I explained that I was currently in a different hemisphere than my supplies, but if she could sit tight, I’d have them available within a week. And that’s just what happened. She and I have corresponded several times since, and she asked me about how I got into all of this. What my “evolution as an artist” has been like. That last question made me chuckle. The first time I heard that word directed at me I was in my second (and last) semester at “art school,” talking to my fantastic ceramics lab tech, Jill. I remember her more vividly than I remember the work I was packing up to be shipped home. Blonde, with a tattoo of a cabbage on her back. She asked me what my aesthetic was as an “artist,” and I was so taken aback that she would associate that very heavy word with me, that very meaningful word, that I just stared at her. How could I be an artist? I don’t make art. I’m way too uptight and rigid and rule-abiding to be an artist. I make things I want to use. Or want other people to use.

Clearly, I have major issues with semantics and self-reflection. But when I saw Jill looking at me, so earnestly and wholly un-sarcastically, I think it changed a lot for me. Life is much less straight-forward than I’d imagined it. Even mine. Especially mine.

So when this wonderful customer asked me about “my evolution,” it really got me thinking. About the twists and the turns, and the moment I picked up my first block of linoleum. About how I first really met paper, and curiously, how I really met Turkey. (Which for those who don’t know me personally, is where I lived for roughly the last year.)

To make a long story short, I was 13 and had really, really bad hair. My mom took us to Italy for two weeks, and from the moment we stepped out of the train station in Venice to get a glimpse of the Grand Canal, we were both changed. This is going to sound super silly, even for me, but walking around Venice that first trip was like walking around my own heart. I saw old men in aprons with stubble and big smiles making beautiful things. Chocolate, glass, sculptures, bread, food, paper. We met one woman, Giovanna, who made handmade shoes that I to this day could not fathom for myself if I tried. One pair looked like feet. With toes. And toenails. Except they were gold. My greatest moment came in a tiny store called Il Pavone which sold/sells paper, journals, and books made with handmade block printed paper. I could see the huge wooden blocks, see the ink drying. Something that looked so refined, and beautiful, and old… being done right in front of me. Just as it had been done for centuries, probably in the same building by that man’s family. Remarkable.

The last time I was in Venice, I had the pleasure of speaking to another paper-maker whose card has never left my wallet. He specializes in paper marbling, (which, in case you were wondering, does not involve marbles) and was the first to plant a mighty strong seed in my brain: marbling, made famous in Italy, actually comes from Turkey. (Its proper name is “Ebru,” Turkish, and also a woman’s name…) He spent about half an hour talking to me about his craft in his very honed English and my moldy decrepit Italian. Beyond these men’s artisanship and skill, what so deeply impressed me was their generosity in imparting hard-earned knowledge on a young and very shy American girl. A stranger.

Those encounters must’ve subconsciously marinated for several years. Because it wasn’t until 2008, the year I spent bumming around in Portland after I graduated college, that I delved into printing for myself. Almost entirely by accident. I was walking home one afternoon from a meeting I had with my writing partner at a cafe. I say “writing partner,” which is true, but I should also say “the guy I spent four years pining after but never got.” As usual, our time together had left me feeling ebullient, frustrated, and gut-wrenched, and it was with a heavier heart than usual that I walked into an art store I’d never noticed before. My eyes skimmed the place for something other than oil paints and pastels, and they somehow landed on gouge nibs. (The sharp bits of metal printers use to carve their blocks.) I picked them off the shelf, along with a piece of mounted linoleum, and two tubes of ink. (Never mind an actual gouge, a brayer, a palette, or a sense of what to do…)

Today I contracted with my third stationery shop. It’s a small order, and will probably involve way more work than it’s worth, but it means so, so much to me. At the end of the day, this is what I want to do. This is what I love. This is what connects me to the wonder, admiration, and joy that frizzy-haired 13-year-old felt.

Pretty cool.

two great techniques together : marbled paper fresh from Italy, and my own block printed Japanese style waves.

from the atelier

And by “atelier” I mean my dining room table. Where we eat occasionally, read magazines, and I print things.

I thought I’d document some production moments to give people a better sense of how linocuts and block printing happen. It’s such a simple concept, and yet so involved, so time-consuming, and often so frustrating. But also awesome and fun and sharp and surprising. Come with me, if you please!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What this slideshow doesn’t portray was what happened next. Namely me gingerly peeling the card off the block, letting it dry for a few hours, and then attacking it with a variety of markers while watching the most amazing / offensive / hilarious English comedy ever, Peep Show. For real. All coloring of cards, whether umbrellas or stained glass, or the intensive balloons, must occur while watching a TV show on my computer. It’s a law.

So you see – not only a long, complex process, but one that requires motor skills, patience, constant vigilance, and British humor. Also: music. Enrique is a printing favorite. Back episodes of This American Life are also genius.

I was talking to my boss about new card ideas for the store, and he suggested a pair of flying pigs. I love the idea, because I think pigs are legitimately really cool, but I think that might have unpleasant connotations. Most people buy cards as gifts, and if I received a travel-themed card featuring flying pigs, I might take it to mean “we’re giving you this card because I know you want to move to Istanbul but it’s never going to happen. Dream on, petite fille.” Non? Am I over-reading?

Any ideas from the peanut gallery? What would you like to see me make?

Because I already am

So despite the look of things, I did go ahead and take pictures of my goodies in their new home at Distant Lands. Or, to be more precise, I asked my coworker and friend (who also happens to be a wildly talented photographer) to blow off his real projects and fiddle around with my camera. He spent a very appreciated hour teaching me how to actually use my camera – think F stops and iris openings and shutter speeds – and then tried to combat the chaotic hell hole of lighting that is our bookstore. Here are some of the pictures!

the cards all pretty and polished in their clear A7 sleeves

if you've never seen a travel bookstore... this is what it looks like.

more environs

he caught a wildly unflattering picture of me checking in that big stack o' books

I normally wouldn’t think to include any of these pictures, but honestly a part of me sees them and still doesn’t quite comprehend their reality. I need to remind myself that somehow, sometime last week, my little paper babies moved on from their comfy nest of my dining room table and storage bins. They’re out there in the world. People are picking them up and looking at them, and shock of shocks – they’re buying them. I got a text from Wayne on the 14th, a week ago. The cards had been there for an afternoon.

Hey, a lady bought three of your cards. 🙂 She’s a graphic designer… sounded educated and put together… Not just a crazy… she kept talking about them… Said they should cost more. Good job!!! 🙂

Needless to say, that certainly made my evening. As did the “Sold another one :)” text from Thursday, and the next one on Saturday which reached me as I iced my back after having thrown it out the day before. I owe Wayne a batch of really really good cupcakes. Or a bottle of vodka or something. My other friends at work have been equally as excited and enthusiastic, albeit less eager to spend their texts on me. It’s been so wonderful to feel such encouragement from them, and from my boss.

Tomorrow is a pretty big day for me and for Ink Blot. Tomorrow I have my first real meeting… and it’s with a stationery store. A stationery store with incredible reviews on Yelp, no less. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t nervous. I spent my back-injured weekend alternately dozing in bed with my trusty ice and trying to organize my life and do an actual inventory. With an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve gone through every box, shaken out the cobwebs, and seen how my work has progressed. It’s kind of amazing. And you know what? It kind of makes me proud. I can do this. Because I already am.

Croisez les doigts!

from A to B

Who knew it would take me a year and a half to actually follow through on that tidbit of advice my brother gave me? In some respects, everything has changed and yet nothing has. I’m still a slow poke. I still do things the old fashioned way. I’m still fiercely homemade and reluctant to think of this as business rather than pleasure. Money still makes me cringe. And yet here I am.

I have a real glass palette for my block printing ink, for one, which may sound inconsequential, but isn’t.

I finally finished my first box of 100 Fabriano cards and had to buy a second, along with envelopes.

Then there are my beautiful business cards, my customized “ink blot” stamp, and my clear A7 card sleeves.

I’ve moved on from printing with merely my two bare hands to printing with my two bare hands and a metal teaspoon pilfered from my mom’s silverware drawer.

I caved in two weeks ago and finally bought a brayer that isn‘t minuscule, which not only improves my printing but makes it take less time.

And then there’s the store thing. It was technically yesterday it happened, but today was the day that it sunk in:

Today I saw my work displayed in a store with price stickers and ISBNs. Eight designs, with six copies of each. Sitting there on a metal rack. Fresh, clean, and mind-bogglingly finished-looking. It seems strange to see them anywhere but scattered across my room or in the big bins I use to organize my stuff, or occasionally being fitted into a padded envelope to send off to an Etsy buyer. To remember how each image found its way into the world, whether from a photograph I took six thousand miles and a year and a half away, or a vague idea I sketched onto a piece of paper… And then to see them with kinks worked out and edges polished and smudges fixed and my name on the back…

I can honestly say I never imagined it would happen. I never really thought I would get from A to B. Most people would say that’s been my biggest problem – lack of vision, or lack of ambition, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think of myself and I don’t see cards sitting in a shop. I see myself at the work table with a gouge and a sponge and a spatula. I see myself with inkwells and forks and nibs and child-proof scissors and glue. I guess I see the process, rather than the result. I know that needs to change at least a little, but for the time being, I’m pretty happy with that.

Next week I have an appointment with the owner of a stationery store in Santa Monica. As delighted as I am to have my work at Distant Lands, a stationery store would be major. It would feel affirming in a way that little else would, I think. That I deserve to be with the best. That my work has value not because it’s made by a nice, kooky person with connections, but because it’s beautiful, strong, and well-crafted. Fingers crossed, friends!
The eight designs:

Tomorrow I’ll post a picture of my cards in their new home.

Stay tuned, friends… this is only the end of the beginning…?

Carte, Ahoy.

I have a project, and a rather large one at that. My brother suggested I create a blog to document this project for myself and others, and though I cringe at the idea of shining light on late night tinkerings and the cups of tea to be consumed, I think it’ll be a fun way to process it all.

 

The task at hand:

-200 postcards, probably block printed. 25 of which will be customized.

-the design and execution of said block print.

The time at hand:

TWO WEEKS.

 

Can she do it?

YES.

 

Join me on this voyage and witness the transformation of Anya into Sainte Carte Postale.