Behind the Stationery

I guest posted this on Oh So Beautiful Paper in December, but I thought I would share it here with our readers who may not have seen it. :-)

Hello! Rebekah Tennis here, owner and designer and general boss lady at Wild Ink Press, and I’m delighted to take you behind the scenes of our stationery company!

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I started Wild Ink Press­ in 2009, springing out of a desire to create a cherished, finished product. I have a BFA in Graphic Design, and after working in a corporate design firm, while I loved my job, I found the nature of branding design to be frustrating – Websites getting tweaked over and over, logos stretched out of proportion, with no finality to the work. I longed to create art that was both finished (forever!) and loved. Hence Wild Ink Press was born, to create beautiful paper goods that others would value and enjoy. My husband Matt listened to my wild-haired ideas and we both took a series of letterpress classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book, then made the plunge and purchased a 1908 Chandler and Price Platen Press on Ebay.

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Our Original Chandler & Price 10 x 15 Platen Press

Our company has grown and expanded over the years, believe me through  lots of blood, sweat and tears, and we now are a staff of seven, have a retail and printing space in downtown Chico, in Northern California, converted from an old-soda bottling shop. It houses our letterpress machines, inventory, and also our creative and packaging space. When we bought the building it was abandoned, and it has been very rewarding to restore it to its former glory and let it shine as a 3200 square foot open studio workspace. We now have three Heidelberg Windmills, a 1912 Golding Jobber, a Vandercook Universal I, and a baby Kelsey 5 x 8 press (for the kids) in addition to our original C & P. And yes, we do print on all of them!

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We have a small gift shop in front of our studio where we sell our cards as well as a select, curated group of other maker’s work that we admire. It has been so fun to have the retail space to connect more with our local community, and it really works for us because my packaging staff can run the shop without interrupting their activities too much, as the studio opens right into the front brick and mortar space.

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Scenes from our little brick and mortar shop.

We are primarily a letterpress and foil print studio that prints our own greeting cards (which keeps us quite busy!), but we take a limited amount of custom wedding invitations each year, as well as custom printing on the occasional project for our local community. We have dabbled into combining offset with letterpress this past year, and it has been very rewarding to get to try new methods and experiment with new techniques. One of our claims to individuality is that we are not afraid to run a 3 or 4 color letterpress job, or multiple foil passes, to get that final, perfect card. Details matter, and we like them to be rich and sharp.

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Ink mixing station.

IMG_5340We track our print jobs on a big chalkboard wall in the studio.

Also, from the beginning, I feel like our card mission has been a bit unique. Our greeting cards are clever and humorous and colorful and kind, without jabbing or malice. Dare I say, sometimes it is possible to be funny without snark?! I feel a good card should make both the person sending it and the one receiving it feel smarter, happier and more valued. Our pressman and production staff are true artisans who love what we are crafting, so the attention to detail that goes into even a single letterpress card is amazing. When you send a card from us you should know it has been labored on for hours and touched by at least four people who believe in excellence.

ss-256-you're-souperOne of our new Valentine’s day releases. A bit corny, a bit sweet, a bit Andy Warhol.

On a typical workday at our studio, you’ll find our shipping manager sending out the day’s orders, our packaging team packing up product in the main studio space as well as running our little retail shop. We have two close to full-time packing employees because of our larger clients (like the Container Store which buys our gift wrap rolls) and we prefer to keep it all in-house for quality control (and keeping jobs local!), so that means a lot of hands-on production.

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Our shipping area. Single card orders still get old fashioned stamps on each flat mailer.

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Our card storage and inventory system.

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Rolls and rolls of wrap each month

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Our packaging area

We now have a full-time pressman, along with my husband (who has trained all of our operators and is a general machinery whiz), and usually we print two or so runs on our presses per day. The majority of time in a letterpress run is spent setting up the job, with precise measurements, registration, calculation, ink mixing, and make-ready on press all take a significant amount of time and care. We usually use all three Heidelbergs at once for one job, setting up inking, foil, and diecut/scoring all at the same time to guarantee accuracy and the perfect run.

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I’d love to say I spent most of my day just designing cards, but that would be far from the truth. In the morning I answer emails, respond to shop inquiries, update our website, photoshoot and edit all of our product, design our catalog, purchase for our retail shop, and do general marketing for Wild Ink Press. (We are on the lookout for a quality part-time assistant to help me out on a lot of these items if you know someone fit for the job.) Then, in the late afternoon/early evening I settle in with my sketchbook and work on my latest drafts.

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A photoshoot usually involves standing on a stool. Very high tech.

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A cozy little nook to meet with clients in my office.

We produce 25-30 new products to correspond with each of the major trade shows (NY Now twice a year, and the Stationery Show in May), so there are always ideas in the hopper. I do all of the art and concepting for our entire line. I keep a little pocket size notebook with me at all times and jot down inspiration as it comes to me. (Of which, about 50 percent comes in the evening hanging out with my husband with a glass of wine or two, and another 10 percent comes when my attention drifts off in church. Truth talk.)

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It seems we are always working on a new catalog (we’ve had two since this one!)

My design process is pretty traditional. It starts in a sketchbook with a pencil, followed by pen work (Pigma Micron 08 and 05 all the way baby!), along with tracing paper and multiple iterations of each design. I occasionally get to dabble in paint (I prefer goauche as it what I used in school), but mostly pen and ink is where I work.

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Endless possibilities.

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My drawing desk is seperate from my computer desk. It helps to separate my creative ideas from the day to day running of our business.

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Three or more tracing drafts per design to work out the kinks.

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Lately I’ve been working on exploring other mediums combined with letterpress.

From there, honestly, I take picture of the sketch with my iPhone(!) I found the scanner and the iPhone to be not that different as long as my lighting is good, and it is a quick and snappy way to keep the process moving and get the artwork onto my computer (through Airdrop, so fast and simple). I then clean it up in Photoshop, then move it into to Illustrator to turn it into a vector, clean up the lines a bit and add any color that I am planning for the card. I then send it to plating, either copper plates for our foil runs, or polymer for letterpress. On the occasions that we use a local offset printer, I usually bring my original artwork along to the press check – its the very best way to dial in the color and ensure the job is true to the original.

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An offsite press check.

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The finished product, a 14 page Cocktail Calendar  filled with illustrated recipes, hand-drawn and painted and then offset printed locally, and foil-stamped and lettepress printed in house.

This year has been a major year of growth for us as we bought and renovated our new studio, opened a retail space, hired (and lost a few) employees, expanded to exhibiting at three tradeshows per year, as well as started on some major collaborations (which I look forward to sharing as soon as we can!). It has been rewarding, but also incredibly challenging. I have three small boys, two of which are still preschool, and dividing my time, growing a business, managing a family and still having a life that is healthy for ME is the balance I am constantly working on. Things I have learned this year include be true to your brand (if it’s not you, it won’t work, no matter what the opportunity) and perfect is impossible, but finished is not, and that that is nearly always what makes the difference between success and failure.

IMG_8215Front sitting area in our studio.

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Our storefront.

Thank you all so much for joining me behind the stationery at Wild Ink Press, it’s been a true pleasure to share our studio with you here on Oh So Beautiful Paper! I’ll be hanging out in the comments and welcome any questions you may have!

 

 

Hostess Gifts (that are not wine)

Well, hello there! Popping in today to share with you a quick little gifting guide for some ideas to get you through the last three weeks of the holiday season, which, let’s face it, includes a lot of holiday parties and get togethers. A hostess gift is a must, and soooo many people bring wine (which is okay, bring on the wine), I just wanted to give you a few options for a more imaginative thoughtful gift.

BONUS: these are ALL available at the Wild Ink Press Brick & Mortar shop! With free parking and no mall crowds! Chicoans, you’re pretty lucky. I’m just sayin’.

For the hostess with the mostess:

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Clockwise from top left:

  1. Mason Jar Lights (battery-operated), to make her home look like fairy town.
  2. Adorable animal ornament. These little guys are made of the palm sago bush and are fair-trade from the Philippines. The fox may be sold-out but we have llamas and frogs and owls, oh my!
  3. Holiday Coasters. A set of six little christmas trees with a cloth muslin bag. Designed by yours truly, etterpress printed here at Wild Ink Press.
  4. A lovely seasonal candle. PF Candle co. is based in California and makes some amazing holiday scents. Spruce is GREAT (but Apple Picking is my favorite).
  5. A set of tea towels. These lovelies are by the fabulous gals at 1Canoe2, but we have more than five styles of tea towels in stock, including holiday.
  6. A happy little notepad. Edge-painted and letterpress printed, this little gift by my friend Meg at Moglea is sure to give a smile.
  7. Dried Lavender Bundle. This is my current favorite hostess gift. Fresh 2015 crop, already dried and wrapped in brown paper tied up with string, ready to give. Who wouldn’t want to receive this as a hostess gift?!

Hope you enjoyed this little guide. You can find these online, or if you’re in Chico you can pick them up at our little shop downtown!

 

 

how to remodel a boring building.

August marked the one year anniversary of buying our studio downtown! It’s hard to believe that it has only been a year (really only nine months since we actually moved in), it feels like it’s been home to Wild Ink Press for a long time. We’re already running out of room (a bit!), and the space feels loved and lived in.

In honor of the anniversary (and similar to how I shared my kitchen remodel a year after the fact), I will be posting a whole series of before-and-after pics of the space!! If you know me at all, you know before-and-afters are my favorite, so I hope you like them as well. I feel like they sort of demystify the process of a design and remodel, and make it more accessible to your average DIY hack (read: me). So hold on to your seats – we’re starting with the exterior, but we’ll be covering, in no particular order: the pressroom, retail shop, shipping room, packaging area, my office, and a couple how-tos – how to tile a word, how to plan and layout a space on a computer (or on paper) and how to ombre paint a wall.

I hope you enjoy the ride! First off, to start at the beginning. We were desperately running out of space in our little two-story converted garage studio behind our house. You can see it in its original heyday here:

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Lovely seating area, old presses, cabinet storage. Good for the occasional greeting card, and to meet brides and design custom invitations and print them on old presses.

But with our company, the greeting card section took off, and we had to hire employees for shipping, packaging as well as bring another pressman on. Also, we had to store our growing line of cards and gift wrap. So, around last summer, it looked more like this:

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I’ll spare you the mess that was the attic stock room. With all that stuff, plus four employees coming each day, it was clear we needed to find a new space and find it fast.

I won’t bore you with huge long tale, but basically after poking around all over Chico, we found this empty office building downtown:

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5200 square feet of blank dingy beige structure. It had been the assessor’s office for about 20 years, but for the last two it had been empty. Prior to that it had been a local title company (their space is now next door), but its original use was as a soda bottling plant – owned by Bowman’s Beverage Company and built in 1941. I searched around as well I could and these are the two best items I could come up with for the building’s history – the first, an ad for Bowman’s Beverage (bottom left) listing our address and what they bottled here:

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And this bottle of squirt which lists Bowman’s Chico as its place of origin:

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Apparently they also bottled Nehi soda here, We found a big vat of Nehi grape concentrate shoved in the rafters of the building when we remodeled (perhaps stopping a leak? Holding it up?). It was pretty wedged in there, so we left it right where it belonged.

Back to the story, we saw potential (rather I saw design/remodel potential, Matt saw space/equipment potential and we trusted each other to know what we do best), so we made an offer to buy the building and it was accepted.

So the fun begins!! How do you take a beige box and make it interesting? Turn it into a jewel box! First, a moodboard…

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The plan was to use a really dark palette – rich green/blue (almost black), with glossy black subway tile, bent metal signage, revamped lighting, and a tile entry.

Next came a digital mock-up so we could get the city’s approval:

 

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And then, the dirty work of tear-down. In taking off the seventies-added fieldstone and stacked rock, we found a couple discoveries:

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The original title company signage, and… windows!! Windows in the concrete that had been boarded up and stuccoed over previously.builidingduring_2

Even another large window in the front, which balanced out the building greatly.

Also, beneath each front window we uncovered a little niche which had been sloppily filled in with brick before being  covered in stacked rock…

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Perhaps it was for advertising, or a special tile design, but we wanted to keep them open of course, despite it adding cost to the project. They added a great deal of dimension to the front of the building.builidingduring_4

Meantime, our sign was being bent out of raw steel by the talented Dave Richer at Earthen Iron:

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Bent and welded. Aren’t those overlaps amazing? Such a cool process, I just had to show you a tiny bit of it.

Well, not belabor things, are you ready for the after pictures? Here goes…

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Old school gilded lettering on the doors…

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And here’s a “glamour” shot at twilight:

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My favorite bit of the front:

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And our hanging sign (different from my original concept, but I love this one):

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We love our little shop, and I was so happy to transform this little empty spot and become a vibrant part of downtown Chico. What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Up early next week… stay tuned for the interior (it’s a doozy!)

 

a summer soirée

I hope you had a wonderful summer! In spite of the fact that we have several weeks left of it, I always sort of feel like summer ends with back-to-school, and my kids have, well, done that already, so – hello to FALL! Bring on the sweaters, crisp air and autumn leaves.

I wanted to share with you our summer soirée (aka Official Grand Opening of our new studio, our six year anniversary as a letterpress studio and also the visiting Itinerant Printer). Many people were out of town as it was high summer (and June Saturday which means lots and lots of weddings), but so many others came out, and it was fantastic to meet new faces and show Chico around our studio space.

We made a little video of the event – so if you missed it, you can still enjoy the fun! Seriously, it is the. cutest. Even if you were there you should watch it. Just push play!! ▶️

Also, some photo highlights from the night…

 

We were just delighted with the evening, sharing it with MONCA (the Museum of Northern California Art, our register proceeds and bar cash for the evening went to them), the Itinerant Printer, Schubert’s Ice Cream, live jazz and live printing, and the lively community of Chico. We couldn’t be more proud or happy to be downtown!