We’re bringing you a sister act on today’s installment of Behind the Stationery! Alice and Doris of ilootpaperie recently moved into a dedicated space this year in Pasadena, California (congrats!) and their greeting card and pin designs are full of vibrant colors and puns galore. They’re here to share their story—from their experience in finding a local printer to outsource their printing needs to the different methods they use to sketch and render designs—take it away, ladies! —Megan Soh
From Alice: Our foray into the stationery world had its beginnings, funnily enough, in wedding invitations for some of our close friends. We found quickly that the part of the process that we were drawn to the most was designing the accompanying thank you cards we included with the invitations as part of our gift to the couple. This realization shaped the beginnings of Ilootpaperie when we launched in December of 2010 as a passion project with just six designs on Etsy. This all took place before the advent of the phenomenal of the side hustle, so we simply thought of it as taking steps to get an idea Doris and I had daydreamed about off the ground in case she moved to London for a position she had been applying for at her day job in the finance industry.
During this time, I was working in marketing and design for a shoe design company. After making it through several rounds of layoffs due to company restructures, at the end of August 2013, I was laid off and this set off an unexpected course of events in which we eventually decided I would apply my full effort to help grow the company.
With the advice of our fellow entrepreneurial creatives in mind — that few part-time projects can take off without full-time attention applied to it — we embarked on this ever-challenging but also ever-fulfilling endeavor. We have found ourselves to be a small part of a very special industry filled with fantastically talented kindred spirits that we have the honor of working amongst and calling our friends. Doris continues to work at her day job, so we often joke there is 1 and 1/4 of us getting things done!
We are based out of Pasadena, California and just moved into a new place this past January. This move was a huge deal for us because for the first time since Ilootpaperie sprung into existence, our little endeavor finally has its own dedicated space. We converted the master bedroom into our working studio and there are two tall windows that let in a flood of beautiful natural light during the day—oh! and we installed an extensive shelving system along one of the walls to hold our inventory, something we’ve dreamt of for years.
Our first real card shelves were handmade by Joel Kvernmo of the awesome Iron Curtain Press (it was their previous shelving) and it was a milestone we hold dear because those shelves made us feel like a legit card company. Rosanna’s encouraging words when we met her to pick up the shelves from their beautiful shop Shorthand stayed in our minds as we prepped for our first trade show. Those first shelves dominated the living room of Doris’ tiny studio apartment.
So the idea of this converted studio space has been quite thrilling as we’ve always been about scrappily making it work (card inventory thoroughly infiltrated both our living rooms by time we had moved) and we can’t wait to unpack in the next couple months to create a more centralized studio area with the goal of finding more opportunities to streamline our day-to-day processes. We’ve had to put unpacking on hold to focus on prepping for the National Stationery Show (which took place at the end of May), fulfilling NSS orders, and then NSS show unpacking! As you can see, we’re in a bit of a transitional state. It can be challenging and frustrating at times, but we are learning to be patient with ourselves, to stay focused on current tasks and look to new possibilities just on the horizon to stay motivated as we settle into the new space.
From Doris: In 2015, when we started to seriously consider attending the National Stationery Show in New York, we began researching to outsource the printing and production of our designs. We wanted to educate ourselves on the how-to’s of scaling up should the need arise following the trade show — it was a process of reaching out and learning about the various printing capabilities of printing companies near and far from us, and this definitely took some persistence. We’ve always had a subtle linen texture in the paper stock we used for the line even when we were printing in-house so we wanted to be able to carry that textural brand element forward. In the end, one of the local Pasadena printers (top notch!) with diligent effort was finally able to source a premium linen paper stock that we loved, and the pop of the colors they were able to achieve for the samples we printed for NSS sealed the deal, so voilà! Here we are.
Due to the colorful nature of our designs, our collection is printed on an HP Indigo digital press on the beautiful premium linen stock in white or natural white depending on the design. Certain designs will then go to our second printer, who is also located in Pasadena and specializes in die cutting, foil printing, embossing and debossing. We love being able to build concepts around new design elements we are excited to incorporate be it a new foil color or a technique new to the line (i.e. embossing, debossing). From the printers, everything comes back full circle to us for packing, packaging, finishing and fulfillment.
Being able to work closely with our local printers in Pasadena has been integral to our growth and we feel these strong working relationships with our printing partners have helped us to be able to sustain the order volumes and levels that we had dreamed to achieve when we began attending the National Stationery Show.
Doris: We believe what really shines through in our cards and sets us apart is how much fun we have when we are coming up with our card designs. There are lots of laughs involved behind the concepts that are full of humor and heart. Even the vetoed concepts tend to make at least one of us giggle while we try to sell it to the other person. We aim to have a good time with it and believe that that’s what makes our products memorable; and that this shared laughter and connection extends beyond just the two of us is a gift.
Doris: Each day is different depending on the deadlines that we’re working on so there isn’t really a typical work day—our days are generally filled with pulling items and packing them up for retail and wholesale orders, working with our various printers/vendors to submit new orders for new designs and restocking orders to keep our inventory stocked! Concepts for new cards, pins, and products is an ongoing conversation that happens throughout all of this.
Like many other small business owners, we struggle to find enough time in the day to get everything that we would like to get done completed as there’s an ever-growing list of to-dos that need to be balanced with the fun we’d like to have, the art we’d like to create, and other life obligations that can’t be ignored for long. Moving into the new space has definitely helped us move toward achieving efficiencies in our processes to move quicker and be able to do more. In talking with other creatives in the industry, there are definitely more opportunities and workflow tools that we can continue to explore when we have a little more time on our hands (the irony!). It’s definitely a work in progress.
Alice: Our concepts are the sparks that set off our design process. We aren’t always able to set aside a specific time aside to concept so that has always been a constant on-the-flow process for us, even from the beginning. Ideas come about through every day conversations and text conversations back and forth when we aren’t together (inspiration really is everywhere!) and often times in the car on the way to drop off post or while running errands. Things that we feel deeply about also contribute to this flow of inspiration.
We keep a running list via email / phone notes /sketchbook list of our half-baked concepts and taglines, and we review the list prior to a print job or placing a pin/ notebook / button order to see which ones we should fully explore and execute. Admittedly there are times when I will take a 4am detour in the midst of designing at night and there will be a surprise concept when Doris wakes up in the morning (I tend to be a night owl when it comes to the creative side of things). We like to keep the design and brainstorming loose and open to playful impulses to keep things lively!
Once a concept has been moved into the “Let’s Execute” list, I often find myself researching lots of images of animals doing funny things (usually for the concept, but sometimes to procrastinate because it is always a little nerve-wrecking to begin a design). When we first started, Doris and I had throughly discussed and agreed we wanted to allow the brand’s visual voice to come into its own. So, especially in the beginning, I incorporated different mediums like watercolor, pencil sketches mixed with vector and text elements, and even thumbprint art when executing the designs.
As of late, all designs have begun with a hand sketch but then fall into two main methods of execution. Our enamel pins now all tend to be vectored in detail (meaning point by point by mouse) to give me more control over the small details. For certain card concepts we like the flat clean graphic quality of vectored lines as well, so they are also rendered point by point after the initial sketch like our enamel pins. My second method of execution starts with an ink pen sketch usually on tracing paper or in my sketch book, which I snap a photo of with my phone to take into Photoshop where I then composite my favorite parts of the sketches and clean up the lines. I like the hand-drawn feel that is preserved in these designs. From there these sketches get taken into Illustrator to be vectored using the software’s tools and then I start put together the colors and the composition with the text.
Sometimes your initial instinct is spot on, other days there’s a lot of nudging, and tweaking and pushing to get to the final design. The first test print is always very exciting—we get an idea of where the colors/ tones fall and check the spacing and composition as it lives on the physical space of the card. Then comes more tweaking. When the designs are finalized, they go to our printer and next comes the proofs! At this crucial point, I check to see if we need to make any corrections / notes for printing. Ideally we don’t, and it moves into production.
Our overall design process is very much about shaping the physical lines I’m able to achieve toward the idea I have in my head. I never went to proper art school, so what I do is a mishmash of techniques and tricks I learned on the job and in classes I took after work while I was still in marketing.
With everything we do for Ilootpaperie, from our product and packaging design to shop window and craft show display designs (and even painting our first mural at our first NSS booths), there is a strong element of improvisation and constant problem solving. We take what we know and mix in a whole lot of research, trial and error, terror and gumption to keep going—it is often terrifying and exciting all at the same time.
Thanks so much for allowing us to share our little piece of our cheeky universe with everyone, Nole and Megan. We cannot fully express what a thrill it is, to be a small part of OSBP as it has inspired us so much always. We pinch ourselves every time!
You can shop all of our cheeky paper, pins and more at ilootpaperie.com and follow along in our day to day shenanigans on IG @ilootpaperie.
Photos by Michelle Nicole Photography.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.