Taking us to Nebraska, our next feature on Behind the Stationery is Ramona & Ruth! Kim, the brand’s founder and designer, shares about her self-taught journey with letterpress and why this classic print method is a key element of Ramona & Ruth. As an illustrator, Kim gives us an inside look to how she sets up her ideal sketching environment, what inspires her designs, and what she’s been sketching lately. –Megan Soh
From Kim: It was around 9 years ago that my first little antique tabletop press was delivered to my doorstep in Omaha, Nebraska. It was better than Christmas morning. I had begun my nationwide search for a letterpress after a few years of working as a graphic designer in a corporate job and not feeling very fulfilled. I initially set out to use this letterpress to print wedding invitations for clients, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to explore, so I began printing my own hand-drawn illustrations. I spent countless hours researching the craft and fumbling around on the press trying to figure out how it worked. I still remember the very first illustration I printed of a little coffee cup and the joy it brought me to see my design come to life in print. It was then that I knew this was meant to be.
Over the years, my Omaha-based studio has grown to include two antique printing presses as well as a paper cutter from the late 1800’s. It was a few years ago that I knew time was right to purchase a Heidelberg Windmill letterpress to help me with printing larger wholesale orders. With this press upgrade also came a studio upgrade. Weighing in at 3,000 pounds, the Windmill was a much larger machine than my current press and therefore needed the space to accommodate it. Instead of finding a separate off-site studio space, my husband and I decided to have a letterpress studio built onto the back of our home. With no overhead and no commute I could better balance staying at home with my two little boys with my work in the studio.
After a few months, the studio was finished and the presses were moved in safe and sound. It was so important to me to have a generous amount of windows so the studio would be filled with an abundance of natural light. My studio is my outlet. I just love the light and airy feeling of my space and how it provides me with an inspirational and uplifting place to design and print. It is in this studio that I strive each day to build a brand of letterpress goods that create delicate, thoughtful designs that leave lasting impressions.
Ramona & Ruth is named for my grandmothers who inspired me to find beauty in simplicity. Ramona, an entrepreneur who handcrafted beautiful floral designs in her very own floral shop; and Ruth, who spent her days tending to dairy cows and wrangling chickens out on the farm. These hardworking, dedicated women helped instill my passion for developing my own business.
At Ramona & Ruth we print contemporary designs with timeless sentiment the old-fashioned way. While offering a variety of paper goods, the core of our product line is letterpress greeting cards. Each design starts from a sketch in my notepad and from there, is transferred to a digital image in Illustrator and prepared for platemaking. Letterpress is an art form and the details are what make it remarkable. The initial sketch, hand-mixing the colors, the intricacies of typography and spacing, hand-feeding the vintage presses — from conception to fruition, each and every product is a beautiful journey.
Each day at the studio is a little different, which is part of what I love about running this business. I typically start the work day at around 9 am once my boys are at their grandparent’s. After I pour a fresh cup of coffee and check through my emails, I go through my list of the day’s tasks which often include a mix of designing new products, printing, packaging wholesale orders, and marketing tasks including social media posts and newsletter design. I recently hired my first employee who will be working as our wholesale coordinator. I am hopeful that this will free up some time for me to focus on more of the things I enjoy, such as the design work and marketing outreach.
Designing fresh new products is the absolute favorite part of my job. I can sometimes be quick to tire of my more seasoned products, so I gain a lot of enjoyment out of dreaming up new ideas and nurturing them to life. When it’s time to start thinking about designs for new product releases, I like to start the design process by setting up a calm, quiet atmosphere where there are minimal distractions. This could be at my studio desk alongside my favorite citrus candle with a little music playing in the background. Other times I need a change of scenery so will head over to my favorite little coffee shop that is both quiet and spacious and design there for a few hours. Setting aside specific blocks of time to design along with creating a calm, relaxing atmosphere helps to clear my mind and allow the ideas to flow.
I have one designated notebook where I jot down my ideas and draw little sketches so that all of my ideas can be found in one place. Recently, I have been really drawn to patterns, so have been experimenting with different shapes and lines and how those can interact with each other in different ways. I also find it helpful to curate boards of things that inspire me such as fashion, textiles, interiors and ceramics. From there, it is interesting to see what overarching theme is apparent across the board and draw inspiration from there. Some of the most fulfilling products to develop are the letterpress greeting cards since many times I am involved in the production from start to finish. It is such an amazing feeling to see a design that started as a little idea in my head pressed into the sheet of cotton paper for the very first time.
All photos courtesy of Ramona & Ruth.
Interested in being featured on the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan for more information at megan[at]ohsobeautifulpaper.com.