Top Design Tools: Analog

These days, there are a whole lot of fancy tools and tricks that artists have at their disposal. Yet what being a successful artist or designer really comes down to is working your booty off, creating daily, and constantly trying to master a basic arsenal of tools. In rockstar designer Jessica Hische's words, "All you need is a decent sketchbook and a well-curated pencil case."

Obviously, what works for me is not going to be the be-all-end-all for the next artist. We all have our preferences, tailored for exactly the kind of creating that we put our hands to. I just want to shine some light on a few of my favorite standards as well as a couple hidden gems that I just can't work without.

Inside my pencil case (From left to Right)

  1. Faber Castell Kneaded Eraser- This moldable eraser has about the consistency of silly putty and is just about as fun to play with. It does a pretty decent job of erasing as long as the lines aren't crazy dark.
  2. Faber Castell Grip Trio Sharpener- I am not at all attached to this sharpener in particular, but it does a great job, has three different hole sizes, and doesn't cover my desk in shavings, so that's a plus.
  3. Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen (Brush Nib)- Wow, this is embarrassing. I didn't realize that I was such a cheerleader for Faber Castell until just now. This pen is more like a marker and is good for writing calligraphic lettering-- not a calligraphy pen, but you can get some good "thicks" and "thins" with its brush-like tip.
  4. Pilot G2 .38 Pen- This pen is by far my favorite pen for daily use and has wiggled its way into my final sketches. It's super fine-tipped, doesn't bleed, and rolls like butter.
  5. Literally any mechanical pencil- No preference on brand here, just your classic clicker. This one is a Pentel Champ.
  6. Gelly Roller White Pen- I know, you are having flashbacks to 1996 right now, but this is seriously the best pen that I have found for writing on dark paper. I have addressed thousands of wedding envelopes with these bad boys. I can also handle the $1.40 investment.
  7. Pentel Aquash Water Brush- This is a new addition to my go-tos. It has proven to be a great tool for casual brush lettering and doing little watercolor sketches on the go. You just fill up the handle with water and control the "wateriness" with pressure.
  8. Plastic Ruler- Pretty sure I have had this since childhood.
  9. and 10. Assorted pencils- It's fun to experiment with different brands and hardness to find what works best for you. I tend to prefer harder graphite because it doesn't get on my hand, or claw, once I get sketching. (I don't have the prettiest drawing grip.)

For Sketching

I know, I know.... in a world of Adobe Illustrator and tablets does anyone still actually sketch? The answer: Yes, absolutely. The best designers in the world start projects with a paper and pencil. I once read that you shouldn't allow yourself more time than thirty seconds on preliminary sketches. Like a stream of consciousness, ideas can flow from your brain, to your hand and onto the paper freely, without a filter. Give it a try-- you might just be surprised to see what you can come up with when you aren't thinking so hard. The sketching process allows you to quickly understand the relationships between the shapes you are dealing with, for instance, in the case of a monogram or type-focused logo. You get to visually explore concepts and directions in a very noncommittal way, knowing that if an idea doesn't seem to be playing out you can move on to the next, no harm, no foul.

I use anything from torn scraps to graph paper to lined notebooks to explore ideas... and to be honest, I stick to the über cheap stuff (like this and this). I sketch in loose strokes and write in sloppy cursive all over everything, so I don't deserve nice things. I try to keep a small notebook in my purse just in case I am blindsided by an idea while in line for groceries or riding in the car. Once I have arrived on an idea that deserves some extra time pursuing, I graduate that design to a sketchbook. Sometimes, when I have worked out a basic form that I am happy with, I use tracing paper to play around with embellishments without ruining the original.

Only when I am truly pleased with what I see in pencil do I move to the computer to vectorize the design.

For Painting

In stark contrast to my attitude about paper for sketching, I am a complete snob when it comes to watercolor paper. I pretty much exclusively use one brand of paper: Arches. To prove my loyalty, here is a small rant about why I have been using this brand for the past six years.

  1. Arches offers four or five different textures to suit your painting needs. If your painting style is loose and watery like mine, a cold press paper is going to have more tooth to soak up the water before it starts shredding. If you are planning on digitizing your work and don't want the texture of the paper to be too obvious when you scan it, I'd recommend their hot press paper for its smoothness. Hot press is also great if you paint in a tighter, more precise style.
  2. The paper comes on a "block," meaning all of the pages are adhered together. This prevents the paper from curling while drying. You can later use an X-Acto knife to cut the finished product loose.
  3. I have a thing for French things.
  4. I can't resist the pretty colors and gorgeous flourished borders.

As for other painting supplies, it has been a lot of trial and error. I always go with the cheap fifty cent plastic palettes and I just use an old teacup for water. When it comes to brushes, I'd stick to the cheap ones to experiment with different sizes first. This way you can figure out what you will use the most and later invest in nicer brushes of those sizes.

As I said before, every artist has their own preferences and quirks so it is really up to you to experiment with what analog tools work best for you. Call me old school, but even if your artwork is destined for the screen (which much of mine is), you will create better work if you begin your process on paper. By investing real time, allowing yourself to fail, and getting a little ink on your fingers in the process, you are joining the ranks of thousands of years of analog artists who came before you. 

Genevieve & Scott

People say home is where the heart is and I couldn’t agree more. The older I get, the more I realize that it is really less about where you spend your time and way more about who you choose spend it with. Over the years, I have made my home in the Midwest, the Northwest, and the South, in huge cities and small towns and the memories that I have of each experience are almost entirely made up of the people who surrounded me.

That being said, I think pretty much everyone has a special physical space that stirs something inside them. Places saturated with so many memories that they seem to have a living, breathing soul. Flashes of remembrance sweep over with one glimpse of a familiar railroad crossing or the smell of the ocean on the wind.

It is no surprise that many couples choose to host their wedding celebrations in places that hold special meaning for them and share these places with those close to them. It is a wonderful notion-- bringing the people that you consider “home” into the place that you call home.

Photo by Kathryn McCrary

When Genevieve and Scott were introduced to me by Rachel at Sincerely, Ginger Weddings, I knew that this idea of “place” was very important to them and would be an integral part of their wedding weekend. Both of their families have homes in Northern Michigan and some of their fondest memories as children, adults, and as a couple are from places on and around the Leelanau Peninsula.

Photo by Cory Weber

Photo by Cory Weber

One thing that became evident throughout the design process was that Genevieve and Scott truly believe that love is in the details. Sharing this same belief, and being a bit of a snob about the tiniest of details myself, we dove into the design process for the better part of six months, creating, collaborating, and refining. Our hope was that each guest would see the love that went into each and every personalized touch.

Photos by Cory Weber

Photos by Cory Weber

We pulled out the stops with the stationery design. I created a line drawing style that would be carried throughout the paper goods through custom illustrations of the weekend's notable locations as well as an arsenal of the sweetest hand-drawn floral elements. These sketches, highlighted by elegantly-paired typography, became the basis of each piece.

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Photos by Cory Weber

Photos by Cory Weber

When all was said and done, I had created about 12 pieces for them-- everything from save the dates to thank you notes. To the Charltons, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this incredible celebration. To Rachel at SGW, thank you for your creative direction, coordination, and friendship. To Cory Weber and Kathryn McCrary, thank you for taking such beautiful photos of my work. Stationery is often a very fleeting art form, sent away, written on, and sometimes discarded, so having permanent records of my work means the world to me!

I am currently scheduling clients for the remainder of 2016 and would love to talk with you about your wedding day. Say hello!

Chrissy & Eric

The 2015 Wedding season is winding down and I am taking a breather to look back over the summer and the months of hard work that led up to it. I booked most of this year's incredible couples in early November of 2014 and what followed were months of excitement and creativity as their wedding days took shape and every last lovely detail fell into place.

I welcome varying levels of collaboration with my couples while their suite is being built and refined. Each couple is different, just like their love stories. I have found that some of my clients truly enjoy the back and forth of ideas and proofs-- they like the fact that they play an integral role in shaping their suite to reflect their style. Others however, hire me to take their ideas and run with them, eager to be surprised by how I interpret their love story into a physical articulation. They breathe a sigh of relief to have one more wedding to-do checked off the list. In either case, if my couples could take one thing away from working with me I hope it would be that they felt fully heard and fully taken care of.

The Vision

One of my favorite suites of this season was actually created through a true design collaboration with one of my brides. Chrissy is a graphic designer and I was fortunate enough to work alongside her and help bring her ideas to life. She and her sweet fiancé (now husband!) chose to host their wedding weekend “Up North,” Michigan, a place near and dear to both of their families. Their ceremony was held at a beautiful Roman Catholic Church and the reception at the incredible Bay Harbor Yacht Club, right on the waters of Lake Michigan.

The simply incredible Rachel Moger of Sincerely Ginger Weddings worked with the couple to develop a distinct and rich design concept for their July wedding. They set out with a vision of elegance, refinement, and tons of fun for everyone present. They approached me with a color palette that was absolutely spot on: navy, black, charcoal, whites, and metallics. I am a sucker for neutrals and intentional, typography-focused design and they had me within the first moments of the initial meeting.

The Result

Our months of hard work paid off and I couldn’t be happier with the result. We decided on extra thick, luxurious, 100% cotton paper which takes a beautifully deep letterpress impression. I created a custom monogram for Chrissy and Eric with a dainty wreath of baby's breath circling their initials which was later hot foil stamped into the center of the black belly band and adorns the top of the invitation. We collaborated on a custom map of the area with points of interest and the important locations of the weekend’s events. The RSVP envelopes also got a touch of sparkle with the gold foiled return address. The final presentation was classic with the perfect touches of whimsy and glamor.

Trisha Marie Photography

Trisha Marie Photography

Trisha Marie Photography

Trisha Marie Photography


I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the homes of the guests as they opened the hand-lettered envelopes and were presented with this impressively posh suite. I hope they felt the love and attention that went into every tiny detail.

I am currently booking 2016 weddings and spots are filling up fast! Contact me here if you would like to chat about working together.

Why is Letterpress Worth It?

When you are searching around the internet for the perfect paper goods, you are met with a seemingly endless sea of options-- weights, types of printing, fonts, color schemes, and design elements coming at you from all sides. It can be completely overwhelming and hard to navigate.

As a designer and letterpress printer,  stationery is my bread and butter. I fully believe that quality paper goods are one of the best ways to tell your unique story to the world. There are a whole lot of options to choose from out there and I’d love to tell you why I think letterpress is a worthwhile investment for your wedding or small business.

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If you are just wanting to get the point across, to simply transfer practical information to someone, there are huge websites that offer laser and digital printing on anything from menus to stickers for next to nothing. If this describes your need, to be perfectly transparent, letterpress probably isn’t for you. But if you are the couple or small business owner who believes that the love is in the details and that quality and intentionality is part of the beauty of life, you want something more. After all this is your wedding stationery, your business cards, your personal gesture to your guests and clients.

 

What is letterpress?

Before we dive into the reasons that I believe letterpress is worth it (and believe me, this is the abridged list) I thought I would take a second to quickly explain what letterpress is.

Letterpress printing developed as an early form of mass producing text. It’s origins date back to the fifteenth century. A whole lot has changed with the machinery through the years, especially during industrialization, but the general process has remained the same. Individually cast letters, made of metal or wood, are arranged into a frame, called a chase, covered in ink, and pressed into paper.

The result is an inked-in depression in the surface of the paper and it is this tactile quality which  makes letterpress so highly sought after. The effect is not something that you can’t replicate through any other technique. The processes of setting type, hand-mixing ink, and preparing to print are incredibly meticulous, but I have found them to be therapeutic in a way-- putting together the pieces, locking them into place, the rhythmic mechanical sound of the machine and printer at work.

Here’s a short video that beautifully explains the process of letterpress printing.

In my studio, I have joined classic techniques with modern designs. Though I was trained in the traditional process of hand-setting type as you see in the short film, these days I more commonly use custom-made copper plates on my press, created from the designs that I create digitally. I love to include little hand-drawn illustrations in my work and commissioning custom metal plates helps me to achieve this aesthetic. Though the letterpress process looks a little different in the modern age, I love that I get to pay tribute to this five hundred year old technique with every pull of the lever.

 

Weddings and Events

Bespoke Decoration

I believe in simple elements that create a big impact. Something as uncomplicated as a classic letterpressed menu at each place setting helps create a rich experience for your guests. Quality paper goods serve the dual purpose of presenting information and complementing the decor. Weeks, sometimes months, of work go into each set of made-to-order letterpress pieces and this level of detail does not go unnoticed.

Token of Appreciation

From the time your guests receive their save the date in the mail, they are presented with an impression of things to come. Your wedding day is about you and your fiance of course, but it is also a celebration of the people who have contributed to the people you have become. A gesture of hospitality shown through the little details lets your guests know that you are thankful that they are there and that everything is taken care of.

Precious Keepsake

The flowers wither and the cake is eaten, your guests go home, and you settle into your new adventure of marriage. I am not the most sentimental person in the world, but I think there is something to be said about mementos that can tie you to a moment and ignite memories of a time and place. Letterpress pieces can stand the test of time, serving as little treasures from a very special season of life.

 

Small Businesses

Lasting Impression

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Investing now in high quality and intentionally designed business collateral can result in a big pay off later when a client decides to entrust their project to you. Leaving a lasting impression can lead to the creation of a loyal customer base that keep coming back for more.

Unparallelled Customer Experience

As small business owners, we are always seeking to provide a uniquely rich customer experience every time they use our services or buy our goods. You know the companies that are good at this. You open the box, undo a ribbon, and neatly part the tissue paper to reveal the product. They could have just tossed it in a box and dumped it into the mail and technically, the product would be the same, but there is something priceless about curating an elegant and cohesive customer experience which leaves them feeling treasured.

Quality Assurance

Presenting your brand with luxurious and beautiful paper goods shows you care about quality in all facets of your business. If you care enough about commissioning beautiful business cards or branded stationery, then just imagine the consideration and intention that you will put into your work. I recently was told about a piece of Chinese business etiquette and I love it.  In China, a business card is passed with both hands to the recipient, who then receives it with both hands as a sign of respect.

 

Are you interested in pursuing letterpress printing for your wedding or business? I am an open book and would love to talk your ear off about it! Contact me here.