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:


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

Stay tuned!


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!

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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?