Today’s installment of Behind the Stationery takes us to Michigan with Kristen Drozdowski of Worthwhile Paper! The beginnings of Worthwhile Paper started by happenstance when they had some extra space screen printing a poster. I’m excited for Kristen to share her unique story about how she dreamt of her business name (and it stuck!), details into her screen printing design process, what inspires her art, and her goals for 2018. Take it away, Kristen! —Megan Soh
From Kristen: Starting Worthwhile Paper happened organically for me like a story of cause and effect. I first discovered my passion for making cards and smaller prints almost by accident — by using the extra space on a screen when printing a poster. There were a few inches left in the layout of a poster my husband and I were screen printing so I squeezed some little positive sayings on the side and we cut them into postcards. We took them to one of our first local craft fairs and the little positive cards went over well, but more importantly I found myself connecting with the shoppers more over the positive cards than anything else. It made me feel happy and human to make connections like that, which sparked my idea of making more cards.
Shortly after, I had this dream that I had my own card line and was telling someone in my dream that it was called Worthwhile Paper. I woke up thinking it was such a dorky name, but a little later when I sat down to name my business it just held on. There is this very real idea that sometimes the things that require more thought or work are the most worthwhile things, like climbing a mountain and getting to the top, doing a really long yoga practice to get to the other side of your sense of self, or going through all of the work it takes to screen print cards! It continues to fuel my work. One of my favorite things about Worthwhile Paper is that it is a business that I get to do with my husband. It has been such an adventure for us, a designer and printer love story, and he has been supportive in so many ways along the journey – always encouraging me and helping me feel empowered as a business owner.
Worthwhile Paper is a collection of lively screen printed paper goods for lovers of nature, magic and meaningful design. We are a wife + husband team who love to create beautiful print work to share with others. Everything we make is drawn and lettered by hand and screen printed with earth-friendly papers and inks. Featuring a unique blend of nature and minimalism, our designs carry a goal to truly bring some positivity and love into the world through meaningful connections – whether that is a personal reconnection to nature or a connection between two people.
My love for the design and print world feels like it was always here, but really took root for me in college. I was always incorporating hand drawn lettering and designs into my work and I learned how to screen print. Finding this path was more of a process of elimination and discovery than anything else – I had so many interests when it came to what I wanted to do with my design background and I tried to explore them all. At one point, I had two part-time jobs (both in the design industry) and on the side I was taking on freelance design jobs, doing calligraphy for wedding invitations, designing gig posters, and exploring more with personal side projects. But as my schedule shifted after becoming a mom I became stressed in keeping up with everything and I slowly and intentionally started dropping away from the types of work I was offering starting from my least favorite, and eventually dedicated myself to pursue Worthwhile passionately and fully.
Last summer I made the exciting jump to move Worthwhile out of our house and into its own separate space. I found this amazing building nestled in between houses hiding behind pine trees and a wooden fence — so, not quite a store front but not totally hidden either. I walked inside this place and immediately felt at home. Sprinkled with windows with natural light pouring in and the perfect shade of warm white paint on the walls, it was practically made for us, and at this point I am still in denial that I actually get to work here. Inside lives my drawing studio, office, our wholesale inventory and shipping area, and a large area in the middle that during non-working hours we call “The Guest Room” – our workshop space.
We have been hosting a variety of creative workshops here including my own design and lettering workshops as well as other crafty events for beginners like weaving, macrame, and terrariums. We’ve been having open shop events and appointment based shopping hangouts with local customers too, and it has been so fun to be able to have a physical space to bring people together. It excites me! Where we print is not a far trek — just down the road is VGKids, the screen printing shop my husband co-owns. They screen print a variety of wonderful things but their specialty is large scale art posters and tee shirts. We print all of our own things there when a press opens up or on the weekends.
During the day at the studio I am usually either drawing, finishing designs on my computer, making layouts, attending to emails, bookkeeping, taking styled photos for social media, and making tea (and then forgetting about it until it’s too cold). I have a few super amazing women working for me too, to help with managing our wholesale accounts, updating spread sheets, pulling orders and packaging our items. I am so grateful to have a team, I couldn’t keep up at this point without them.
I am always thinking of ideas. Sometimes when I start a design, it feels like the end of a process instead of a beginning because the idea may have been living in my head for a whole year or so! If you spied on my phone and went through the notes app, you would find hundreds of one line ideas or phrases that pop into my head that I jot down there. (I’m guilty as ever for using my phone instead of a notebook, don’t send the paper police). Once I’ve reached the point where I want to start bringing some ideas to life, I will start with small, very fast thumbnail sketches. This allows me to get the ideas of how I want a design layout to be quickly without judgement about details.
Then, I work up toward a more finalized design in pencil, using a light tablet to trace over and make revised copies until I get to an original that I draw either with black ink or a combination of black and colored gouache paint. Sometimes if I am working with multiple colors I like to make separate layers because that is how my screen printing brain works, and then I scan everything in, make the final layouts and choose ink colors via the Photoshop Pantone matching system, which is how we determine our screen printing inks.
My design process is usually a very fun and fulfilling challenge. Lately, bringing a collection together has become more slow and organic rather than strategic. For the collection of art prints that will come out soon for spring, I started by simply sitting down and drawing what I liked and wanted to explore. After I had a substantial amount of work, I laid it all out in front of me and chose what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to make out of it. To start, I usually draw from multiple points of inspiration. This ranges from inspiration from nature to deep inspiration that stems from feelings, or sometimes it’s more obvious inspiration from my existing work (maybe I tried something once and want to expand upon it, or there is a certain color palette I want to use more, or a theme/direction I want to pursue further). All in all, the inspiration that I find the most meaningful are my day to day interactions and emotions.
Phrases in my cards may have started as something I said out loud, wrote in a note once to someone, or something I wrote in my journal. It is really important to me that my approach as an artist who makes material things for sale isn’t centered around what I think will make me the most money or based on the most popular on-trend thing. When I am designing, I want it to feel real, so I always ask myself things like, “Who in my life would I send this card to right now? Where in my house would I hang this print? What would I use this notebook for?”. If the answer is nothing or nobody, than I scrap the idea. If I don’t want to use it, how can I assume anyone else will? It’s an easy game of “do I like this or do I not?”.
If I am being honest, the fact that anything I make resonates with anyone and makes them smile or feel happy truly feels like a gift. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is what I get to do for a living, and I am excited to continue growing and learning.
The business end of this is fun and all, but I live for the times I am able to turn away from my computer and phone and just zone into the creative abyss in my plant-filled studio where engaging with technology is not allowed (unless you count my light tablet for tracing). I almost never even have a light on because the window light is my best friend. One of my struggles is wishing I had more time to just make art for art’s sake and explore creativity. It is so hard to break away from the mindset of making art that gets turned into a product. I have this deep desire to just make to simply make, to explore and use making as a way to learn things about myself and dig deep, but part of me feels this fear of not even knowing how to anymore.
I know that even if I lived in a cave in the middle of nowhere I would find a way to make something and share it with someone. Maybe the desire to share is just something we have as humans, and it’s not all that bad. Nevertheless, I am really feeling a nudge to create more space for exploration and fun in the new year. I’ve been getting back into painting and I just installed a mini screen printing setup in the corner of my drawing studio. (Since we print in larger quantities of our products right now with legitimate professional equipment, I haven’t printed something by myself in years). In 2018, I’m looking forward to getting messy, and reuniting myself with the roots of my love for screen printing, and of course continuing to find inspiration for my card and print designs.
Photos by Heather Nash Photography.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.