The husband and wife team of Bench Pressed are no rookies to the stationery world – even though they launched their business just a couple years ago. Jane and Andy are here to share their creative process, from brainstorming and sketching to hitting the letterpress! I love this story on how they discovered the voice to Bench Pressed – read on about one of their favorite cards and how it shaped the brand. Take it away, guys! –Megan
Hi there! Welcome to Bench Pressed! We are Jane and Andy Shannon, a husband and wife team, running a letterpress and design company in the Twin Cities and faking it until we make it.
Before we started Bench Pressed, Andy was working as a freelance illustrator and I was a stationery buyer at a small boutique in Minneapolis. After a few years, we decided to take our two passions and merge them. We launched Bench Pressed at the National Stationery Show in 2013, and we’ve been working on it ever since. Both of us still have side-jobs one day a week to help support ourselves and our dogs, but we are now working on creating greeting cards full-time.
Our shop is located in the old Hamm’s brewery in East St. Paul, Minnesota. This side of the neighborhood is slowly being revitalized after sitting vacant for a long time. Now our neighbors are small start-ups, like a craft brewery, small distillery, chocolatier and an urban hydroponic farm, all drawn to the neighborhood by the historic building and the cheap rent. Also, we are close to the best taco truck in all of the Twin Cities (priorities).
Bench Pressed is a letterpress shop. We specialize in hand-drawn and hand-printed cards, which means that all of our designs begin with pen on paper. We like to say that our cards are “tongue-in-cheek, with a little sweet.”
Coming up with card ideas is the best part. Andy keeps multiple Moleskine journals around and is drawing constantly. We both use the Notes app on our phones to write down things that make us laugh, which might end up as a card. Most of the time we’re working on cards we need in advance of a certain season (Valentine’s, Christmas, etc.), but not all of our cards are contrived.
For example, one of our most popular cards was just a random doodle that I found inside of Andy’s sketchbook, a little house with the words “Hope Your Neighbors Aren’t Creepy” (which I’m assuming was inspired by our neighbor who has many, many cats).
Once an idea and an illustration is made, he redraws the images from his sketchbook with tracing paper. The images are scanned into Photoshop where we add color, resize if needed, and prep all the cards into large files to be sent out to Boxcar Press for our photopolymer plates.
Our cards are all printed by us in our shop. We have three presses, a small table top press, a Chandler and Price, and our newest member of the family, the Heidelberg. We are using the windmill the most these days, but still use the C&P on some of the cards.
A typical day at Bench Pressed means that I’m at the computer answering emails and keeping on track of our orders, both retail and wholesale. Andy is usually working on our ever-growing print-list or on new products.
As for a team, right now it’s just the two of us. We plan on eventually adding more people to the mix – more hands for printing, folding, and packing up orders – but for now, it’s just us and the dogs at the shop.
Our struggles right now are getting ahead of our print-list to create more time for new products. I also think that keeping business separate from regular life can be tough, especially when you work with your partner. We have to remind ourselves take the weekend off or to take a step back when we need to.
One of our favorite cards is the “Oh Shit” pregnancy test card. It was one of our first designs and it really opened up the door for us to get a little more snarky with our line. At first, we didn’t want to push the envelope too much and didn’t want to upset people, but when we released this card there was such an overwhelming response to it that we were able to keep creating cards that we would want to give. And I guess that’s the exciting thing about making greeting cards for a living; we get to be a (tiny) part of people’s everyday joys.
We find inspiration from a lot of places. First of all, the stationery and paper industry is the most supportive industry that I know. We have learned so much from other stationers from printing techniques and troubleshooting to the best places to buy cello sleeves, envelopes, etc. Going to the National Stationery Show is one of our favorite things every year because we get to meet new and see old friends and catch up with them. It could be so easy for us to all see other stationers as competition, especially since we use the same medium, but instead it seems like we all boost each other up. Which is really refreshing and energizing.
In more basic terms of inspiration, we are constantly blown away by other artists and makers on various social media accounts, mostly Instagram. There is so much to see, from furniture makers and jewelers to installation artists, photographers, and chefs – strangers and friends alike – literally hours could vanish and not a damn thing would be done around the shop. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but there is an endless amount of talent out in the world and it’s kind of a paralyzing beauty.
All product photos by Bench Pressed, all other photos by 2nd Truth Photography.
Interested in participating in this column? Reach out to Megan at megan(at)ohsobeautifulpaper.com for more details about Behind the Stationery.