I had the pleasure of meeting Cara of Underwood Letterpress in person at The National Stationery Show this year. Though it was her first show, she is no printmaking or business rookie – she is (very quickly) taking over the California coast! Here’s the scoop on her business prowess, days at work, and design process. –Megan
I learned to letterpress print about 10 years ago in a printmaking class during college, but then I took a detour from the world of design for a bit, got my masters in public policy and built a career in philanthropy working with some of the most talented and generous people that I know. I gained skills in management, planning and collaboration that have influenced the way I run my business today. I thrived in my career, but couldn’t be happier about the switch. I love working with my hands again, designing beautiful things and being my own boss. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited to have embraced this non-linear career path and am excited about where it may take me!
I officially launched Underwood Letterpress in 2012. When we launched, our custom work took off really quickly and we were fortunate to get some great exposure through various prominent design blogs including Apartment Therapy, One King’s Lane and Design Love Fest. We spent two years building our custom work and with a leap of faith we decided to launch our own greeting card line this year at the National Stationery Show. We were a finalist for Best New Product and had a really great response to our card’s simple, modern designs and playful color palette.
Underwood Letterpress is located in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles in a shared workspace called The Unique Space. The building is a collective of designers, entrepreneurs, writers and bloggers, and also has a co-working space that brings different creative people to the building every day. While we are all hard at work running our own small business, we often find time to collaborate on projects or just bounce ideas off of one another. It’s a creative utopia!
Our studio consists of our 12×18 Chandler and Price printing press from 1915 (yes, there’s a 100 year birthday in the house!!), our guillotine paper cutter, workspace, and as much shelving as we could fit to house our paper, inks, and other wares. We are lucky to have access to storage in the building’s basement which has allowed us to house a ton of inventory and grow our product line without crowding us out of the studio.
Our incredibly talented studio associate Mallory is running the show in L.A., while I work on expanding our business in the Bay Area. With a “minor” turn of events, my husband was recruited to northern California for a new job early this year, so I figured I would take on the challenge of bringing the business to another part of California that I love. I have set up a home studio and am fortunate to be printing at the San Francisco Center for the Book until I set up a permanent studio there. I travel to L.A. every other month for various projects and to meet with clients.
Running a business in two locations means there is no “typical” day in the office. Each day is a unique combination of client consultations, emails, and designing. I am on the press about twice per week and spend the rest of the time building the business. I’ve found that I actually love working on the business side of things — finances, marketing, planning — all of it. This is an area I want to grow in and can’t wait to attend Business Boot Camp organized by the paper industry’s amazing professional network TSBC.
Our greeting card line incorporates bold color, pattern, geometry and juxtaposition. I take a lot of cues from fashion, home and lifestyle trends and love Scandinavian design. When designing a new card, I focus on color and design first. The sentiment or occasion comes next and usually organically pops right out at me.
All of the cards are hand drawn which means that I start the process with a trusty Sharpie pen. I like to lay out a large piece of paper on my workspace and cover it with doodles, to do lists and reminders. That way, I have access to a canvas all day long and can sketch my ideas as they come to me. From there, I convert the images to digital artwork, refine the designs in Illustrator and then determine the color palette.
We specialize in letterpress printing, but offer foil printing, edge painting and embossing. We dip dye in house using a special technique that allows us to get really rich and textured color. We also work with handmade papers to create custom envelope liners and other special finishes. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they like to frame our cards and I love that! We work hard to make sure everything we touch turns in to a piece of art which I think makes our card line unique.
We also have a love affair with vintage postage and offer curated postage sets through our Etsy shop. We believe that the outside of our mail should be just as pretty as the inside. The U.S. Postal Service has been issuing beautiful stamps for the last 150+ years, so why not send them out in to the world so they can be enjoyed! We just started selling our curated postage through card shops all over the country this year, so definitely be on the lookout!
All photos by Jen Emerling.
Interested in being featured on the Behind the Stationery column? Please contact Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org.