I fell in love with Heidi’s yoga calendar and cocktail greeting cards at the National Stationery Show this year, so I’m really excited to feature redcruiser‘s behind the stationery story today on the blog! Heidi shares how a blog feature jumpstarted her stationery shop, what measures she’s taken to maintain a balanced life, and what inspires her most in Minneapolis. —Megan Soh
Before I started redcruiser I was a full-time graphic designer. For over 10 years I worked at a variety of different design firms and companies, including Starbucks Design Group in Seattle and Little (design firm) in Minneapolis. Both Starbucks and Little were great places for me to explore my illustration and introduce them into many design concepts. While I loved working in a team based environment and as I was nearing the due date of my second child, I was beginning to realize I couldn’t do it all…and do a good job of it all – something had to give, so I decided to leave full-time work to be home with my little girls.
While at home I had a lot more time to do the things I love – cooking, gardening, and drawing in my sketchbook. Before long I had filled a sketchbook with drawings from my garden with no real intention – but I really liked the feel of that sketchbook so I turned a lot of those sketches into illustrations and made a few calendars, art prints and greeting cards and started a little Etsy shop.
I sent an email to a design blog I read daily called design*sponge with photos of my garden calendar (of which I had 10 made). My calendar was posted on design*sponge the next day and my Etsy store had hundreds of orders, and that really began my transition into stationery. I’ve continued to approach stationery in this same organic way – I draw things I am interested in which keeps it authentic and fun for me.
I still do a lot of freelance design and illustration so I’m able to be flexible on what I am working on and it keeps things fresh and new. My work days are so different each day, which is what I love the most about this career I have created — every day is different. It can be a little chaotic sometimes but usually I try to start the week off by planning out my schedule looking at different due dates for the week and planning around those using my weekly planner.
Once I have a loose plan in place for the week, I really try to stick to my list and work through the various tasks or projects. From November until end of December, I am busy packing and unpacking for different maker or farmers markets as well as filling online and wholesale orders. From January to March, I try to devote the majority of my time to concepting and illustrating next years’ collection. Last May, I exhibited at the National Stationery Show with the help of my husband so there was a lot of preparation for that.
The past two years we have exhibited at the NY NOW show in August so the amount of work in the spring and summer months usually depends on what trade show we are doing. I try to exhibit at a few farmers markets in the summer as well — Mill City Farmers Market is a great little market downtown that I love to do.
I love being able to be home with my kids in the summer. This past summer I moved my studio back into our newly renovated basement of our Golden Valley home. I had a studio a few miles away for the past few years but found that I was slowly slipping back into that feeling of having too many things going on and not being able to do a good job at all of it. Making sure I reevaluate and make good choices in how, where, and when I work has been one of the most important things I do running this business.
At this point in my life I like keeping it small (mainly it’s just me), but sometimes I collaborate with other designers and design firms or hire my brother, husband or friends to help me out with packaging. I use a great local book keeper to help with the business end of things — delegating the parts of the business that are not my strong suit is a great way to keep things running efficiently!
Since I spend a lot of time by myself, I love to get out to farmers and maker markets in the city. It is so great to talk with my customers and make personal connections with them. Minneapolis has a really great maker community — there are so many talented, friendly and supportive people making some really great things here! It is so fun to connect with them at all these different shows and markets and talk about this unique kind of business we do.
I try to be really thoughtful about the products I create. I don’t want to just be making stuff to make stuff. I try to create products that aren’t out there and, most importantly, products that I would use in my life. All of our paper products are printed locally on 100% PCW recycled paper and are assembled by hand in my MN studio. Whenever possible, organic materials are sourced and we use a minimal amount of packaging for shipping.
My design process always starts out with a sketchbook and pen. I love spending time in my sketchbook and drawing things that are a part of my life. I love to travel throughout the year and be out in nature to get some fresh perspective. A trip to California always brings so much inspiration! My family and I usually try to spend a few weekends camping or renting cabins in the summer in northern Minnesota as well. The North Shore and Burntside Lake in Ely, MN are my top picks. I also find inspiration doing things I enjoy, like cooking, gardening and entertaining. After I’ve given myself some freedom to explore I usually look for connections in my sketchbook and begin narrowing down my ideas into a few collections.
I use a lot of different materials when creating my illustrations – paint, ink, pencils, charcoal and lots of different textures. Then, I scan everything in and finish up my illustrations digitally. Once I have some ideas solidified I like to show them to my husband (he’s also a graphic designer) and friends to get an idea of what they think — a kind of very loose focus group. After I have decided on designs, I start working with some great local printers I have developed relationships with. It has been really helpful to have these relationships; it’s great to work with a printer who can print samples, do small runs or large runs without having any difference in the quality.
I create a new catalog only once a year — it just has to do with my personal goals and what is the right amount of work for me right now. It’s really easy to get caught up with thinking there is a right way to run a stationery company with all the information we have with social media, but really there are so many ways to work in this creative field it’s all about finding the balance that is right for you!
All photos courtesy of redcruiser.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.