Jenna from Paper Wilderness joins us on this installment of Behind the Stationery from Long Beach, California. Her stationery collections bring together lively watercolor illustrations and puns galore, and she makes it work all right out of her living room apartment! She’s here to share how her artwork went from a side hustle to her full-time job and how she maintains that handmade feel in her line. —Megan Soh
From Jenna: I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I could pick up a pencil and always knew I’d be some kind of artist. In 2010, the question of what exactly I’d be doing was definitely on my mind as I was about to graduate from CSU Long Beach with a BFA in Illustration. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for actually putting a paintbrush to paper, traditional art methods where you really have to commit to every brushstroke, and for me that was watercolor painting specifically. Yet in an increasingly technological society, where a large portion of art is created digitally, I was uncertain if my work would have any place in today’s art world.
Meanwhile, I’d been hand painting greeting cards for friends and family for years, and usually customized them with their favorite animal and a punny phrase. Everyone loved the cards and I discovered that they’d often get framed. Shortly after I graduated college, I got the opportunity to have a table at a small local art walk. While brainstorming ideas of what to sell at my table, I realized that my greeting cards were always well received and would be the perfect, affordable piece of art to sell. So I drew ten animals wearing party hats, traced each drawing onto cards, and hand painted every one! The cards sold out and I was addicted to the feeling that people actually wanted to buy my art. (Fun fact: a few cards from this first Party Animals series are still in my line to this day!) This little hand-painted side hustle continued for a while where I sold framed paintings, brooches, cards, and anything I wanted to experiment with at the occasional art walk, just as an artist with a hobby and not a business.
Eventually I realized that my unique watercolor greeting cards were the obvious draw and that I wanted to make an actual business out of it, and Paper Wilderness was born in 2014. Hand painting each card was not a sustainable option anymore (ha!) so after printing in-house for a few years I recently found a couple amazing printers who digitally print our goods now. Having inventory on hand to pull from has been amazing.
I run the business out of the dining room of my apartment in Long Beach, California and space is a little tight but I make it work. Paper Wilderness revolves around my lifelong love of animals, so every design is animal and nature based. I feel like animals and the natural world are a universal love language, symbols of purity that every human can appreciate and admire. That’s why they’re the perfect subjects for my work and goal of uniting people and encouraging communication and togetherness.
My cards usually involve some kind of pun too because I will always appreciate a good dad joke. Working from home while my bunny Lou Lou hops around is a constant source of cute inspiration so she’s got me covered on that front. The rest of the inspiration I get is from zoo trips, National Park visits, old illustrated textbooks, animal encyclopedias, and nature shows like Blue Planet. I love featuring obscure animals in my designs! The Notes app on my phone is full of snippets of funny conversations, cool animals to draw, and ideas for future cards.
All my work begins as a pencil sketch in my favorite mixed media sketchbook. Once I’m happy with the sketch, I ink it with waterproof Micron pens and watercolor paint over that inked illustration. Next I’ll experiment with hand lettering until I find a style that feels right for the card or product I’m designing, and that gets lettered in my sketchbook or piece of tracing paper. Then I scan everything into Photoshop, clean them up a little, lay it out, and it’s ready for production!
I just love how every single product exists on an actual piece of paper somewhere in my studio. I think this handmade process lends a certain intimate feeling or emotion to my work, which is definitely what I’m going for. I want my customers to feel like my own friends and family did when I first started, like I made this card just for them.
Paper Wilderness is a one-woman-show so every day is different. Whatever needs to happen gets tackled one task at a time, whether that’s packing up retail and wholesale orders, painting new illustrations, answering emails, checking inventory, bookkeeping, updating websites, or prepping for craft and trade shows. I just debuted my line at the National Stationery Show back in May and it was amazing! My business has slowly evolved into the hand painted, hand lettered watercolor paper goods studio it is today and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All photos courtesy of Paper Wilderness.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.