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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Ink mixing station.
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.
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.
Our shipping area. Single card orders still get old fashioned stamps on each flat mailer.
Our card storage and inventory system.
Rolls and rolls of wrap each month
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.
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.
A photoshoot usually involves standing on a stool. Very high tech.
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.)
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.
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.
Three or more tracing drafts per design to work out the kinks.
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.
An offsite press check.
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.
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!