Paper Stories Letterpress Studio Tour

My name is Kelly Maron and I run the little Chicago area letterpress studio, Paper Stories. I also author a blog under the same name and I have an etsy shop. I am so thrilled to be filling the guest spot for Holly today!

I make a variety of letterpress paper goods from cards to art prints to invitations. For today?s post I'd like to share a bit of my studio space with you, where my inspiration comes from, and the struggles of running a small business as a new mom. I think we only see the 'good' face of most businesses online and I'm here to show both the good and the 'real' life stuff that goes on behind the scenes. :)

I always love seeing a good studio tour but secretly feel a tad bitter by those ?showcase studios?, you know the ones? the warehouse with the original hardwood floors from the days when the space used to be an early 1900?s sewing factory, soaring 12 foot tall windows covering the exposed brick walls, a healthy dose of antiquated metal cabinets and large wooden work tables, and of course there is always some sort of lounge area filled with mid-century modern furniture, like the infamous Eames lounge they just happened to find on the side of the road. Did I just describe my dream studio? Perhaps; but if you are anything like me, with a young business, you need to keep overhead low which means making what you have work for you. I understand that ?fantasy? studio tours give you something to aspire towards but I'm here to show you a more realistic space. My space. If you have been making excuses for not making your own studio space, perhaps this will motivate you!

I work from home in a converted one-car garage where I house my 1200 lb 8x12 Chandler & Price printing press. I do all the printing and cutting in this space. It is a small space and gets rather cold in the Chicago winters, but it does the job and it's free! I have also commandeered an extra bedroom that is more of an office space. This is where I keep my boxes of envelopes and other paper goods, store my inventory, and can sit with my laptop or just sketch out ideas. Of course at any given time, I may also take over the dining room table for the purposes of boxing up cards or getting things ready for a show. In mid September I will be a vendor again at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago so right now, it looks less like a house and more like a tornado in a paper factory.

Since my studio is small, being organized is important. I have dedicated spaces for printing, sorting, and cutting. I have tried to fit as many tables, shelves, and cabinets as I can without hindering my ability to move around comfortably. Most of the things are either thrifted, like the vintage French kitchen tins that hold my gloves, ink, and miscellaneous printing things, and the dartboard that serves as my makeshift inspiration board, or were built from your typical hardware store supplies. I use a lot of pegboards for keeping supplies within arm?s reach. Of course, the occasional trip to IKEA never hurts either for organizational supplies.

While my studio isn?t glamorous, it is cozy and comfortable plus I have a lot of photographs and collected ephemera hanging up that makes it more personal. Unless you also have a half-ton printing press, it shouldn?t be that difficult for you to carve out a little workspace for yourself.

If having the perfect workspace has held you back from following some sort of artistic pursuit, get over it. Find a little corner, organize it, decorate it and get to it!

Okay, so you have the space. Now for the inspiration. I am going to say it? coming up with ideas is hard! Wait, I take that back? coming up with ideas that will sell, is hard. I have so many ideas at any given time, that if I were my only customer, I would be perfectly satisfied. Since that is not the case, I need to think about what sells. I find this a bit frustrating at times especially when it is April and I am designing Christmas cards. Perhaps if I were only a designer, then I could comfortably rest into my delegated role. However, I am the designer, the printer, the webmaster, the shipper and anything else that needs to get done. This can be draining. However, as many one-person business owners know, you really can?t do it all yourself and sometimes you need to take a break.

For the last three years I have been doing everything myself. Two words: Not good.

I convinced myself that I would have better control over everything that way. (Serious type-A personality issues.) Finally, a few months ago I took on an intern. A wonderful girl named Lisa comes over once a week or so and helps me with various business related things. She has been a great help and is also super fun to talk to. I have found myself looking forward to her visits and have remembered how much I love to work with other people. This has encouraged me to start collaborating with others.

Illustrations from the portfolios of Angela Navarra (left) and Jen Renninger (right).

Still in the negotiating and development phase, I am working with some wonderful illustrators to create some super fabulous letterpress goodies for next year. Angela Navarra is a wonderful illustrator who I am very excited to work with on some upcoming cards. Keep an eye out for those as early as this winter. As for next year, I can?t wait to get started on my collaboration with Susie Ghahremani of boygirlparty. I can?t even tell you what we are cooking up but I promise that if all works out as planned, it will be divine! I am also chatting with my cyber-friend Jen Renninger about a collaborative project. Oh, it makes me all so giddy inside. I hope it all works out. Talking with all these talented ladies has gotten me so excited to get printing and has also recharged my batteries so-to-speak. I?ve realized that sometimes the best inspiration can come by working with others.

However, when I am left to my own devices searching for personal sources of inspiration, I can be all over the place. I absolutely love patterns, especially ones that are found in nature or in architecture. Vivid colors make me go ga-ga. A warehouse filled with antiques makes me weak in the knees. When it comes to my card designs, I have used everything from wrought iron and vintage embroidery patterns to a city streetlamp and cupcakes as inspiration. I prefer things that are bold and graphic to soft and subtle. Having a sense of humor helps as well. Give me a card with a snarky saying and I am a happy camper.

Recently I drove nearly 2400 miles visiting seven different places. I went from the plains to the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains and back again, all the while keeping an eye out for things that inspired me. Above is a little peek of some patterns that I found inspiring. You never know what will translate into a card. Walking around with a camera is a great way to record things.

Once I am swimming with a head full of inspiration, my biggest struggle seems to be finding the time. I am so amazed by other artists who seem to balance their home and work lives successfully. I have been running Paper Stories since 2005 and was doing pretty well with time management. I had left an established career as a high school teacher, with the support of my husband (also a high school teacher) to start my own business. It wasn?t until last October that I worried that my home life might conflict with my business. I had a baby boy; Jackson Calder. He is the coolest little guy. I feel very lucky to spend every day with him. Currently we don?t use daycare so all of the day time I once used for printing, filling orders, and contacting clients has been replaced with feedings, diaper changes and walks around the block. Typically I watch Jackson until dinnertime when ?Daddy? gets home, then Paper Stories is open for business. I work until late at night doing all the things that once occupied my days.

I am not quite sure how I am pulling it off, and some days I would argue that I am not at all, but somehow I seem to be busier than ever with orders and upcoming projects. I must be doing something right even if I feel like I am getting on by the skin of my teeth. The past two months have been easier since my husband, Russ, has been off for the summer but in a few weeks he will head back to school while I chase a ten month around at home.

For all you creative mums and pops out there, feel free to leave suggestions for how you manage it all. I would love to know how you do it! In the meantime, guess I am just going to have to baby proof that paper tornado I was mentioning.

Coincidentally, I was just reading an article on how to raise a happy baby. Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, wrote that children, like adults, must pursue their own interests to feel fulfilled in their successes. He says the happiest people are often those who master a skill. Something for us all to work on I suppose. Put together your space, find some inspiration and make some time, then happy mastering!

Well that is it for now. Thank you to Holly and all of you lovely readers for allowing me to share what it is like to have a small business, along with all the inspirations and frustrations that come with it. Hopefully I have given you a bit of something to relate to regardless of whether you are just dipping your toes into the creative waters or are a seasoned veteran.

(photos and text from Kelly Maron)