Finds From Our Team

Finds From Our Team

Finds From the Team!

Finds From Our Team!

A Crafty Life: Angeliki Jackson And AstrODub

This is Birdy27 and I'm stoked that June is finally here! I'm ready for warm summer breezes, free kayaking on the Hudson River, Shakespeare In The Park, skating season, and hanging outdoors all day. And I hope you're ready for another intriguing installment of the in-depth interview series "A Crafty Life." I'm having a great time interviewing talented artisans from the Etsy NY team and helping them share their stories. I try to mix things up a little, so this month I decided to focus--pun intended--on photography. Angeliki Jackson of AstrOdub immediately came to mind. The exotic Angeliki--with her trademark bangs--is a exceptional photographer, fine artist, DJ, and graphic designer. Through her photography and fine art, Angeliki explores the gritty yet beautiful world of urban decay and street art. I finally met the statuesque photog during the holidays and immediately loved her spirit. I knew that Angeliki had an interesting story to tell and I'm elated she let me into her world.

Like many New Yorkers, you weren't born here. Where were you born?

I am from a small island in the Aegean Sea in Greece named Chios. It is a great off-the-beaten-path destination with beautiful beaches, medieval villages, and amazing food. It has a population of around 50,000 people. My town is the second biggest on the island with 3,000 residents.

Wow! It must be incredible there.

It's pretty amazing as far as beaches and nature go. It's a great island to visit when in Greece. It's very close to Turkey, so you can kill two birds with one stone as there are day trips to Turkey daily.

You were surrounded by so much history and culture. How do you feel your formative years in Greece influenced your aesthetic sensibility?

My aesthetics are heavily influenced by my upbringing. In my fine art, the Byzantine influence derived from religious imagery. This imagery is very evident in the ornamentation of many of my pieces.

Also, growing up on an island that flourished in the Middle Ages and then was ravaged by wars, I was surrounded by stone, aged buildings, and a lot of ruins and abandoned houses with an abundance of texture and color.

You have a great eyebut I now see why you are so enthralled with decay and ruin. You must miss aspects of Chios. How often to you go back? 

I last visited in 2006 when I went to baptize my daughter Isabella. (She's now eight years old.) My husband Stefan and Izzy met my extended family for the first time. It was very homogenized community growing up, but that has changed in the past decade.

Isabella is great in this shot. So what ultimately brought you to the Big Apple?

I grew up in a society with very limited opportunities, especially when it comes to jobs. I left Chios after I graduated high school at 17 and came here to go to college. In the past 20 years or so that I've lived in the U.S., globalization has reached the island. With the current economic crisis in Greece, even if I hadn't left in the 90s, I'd be immigrating now.

Did any of your family members relocate with you?

My parents had been traveling between New York and Greece since the mid 70s, trying to figure out where to settle. When I came here in 1990, I lived with my father and, a short while later, my mother joined us. They lived here until they retired to Greece last month. My entire family--aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.--is in Greece, including my younger brother.

You mentioned you came here to go to college. What did you study?

I have studied Greek literature, Latin and ancient Greek, attended Queens College for a few semesters, and eventually got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts (SVA).

I love that you have a graphics background to support your photography. That background is evident in the "FWIS Geometry" photo. It's graphic and personal.

Heh! My stockings always make a statement. I wanted to showcase them in an Instagram, but there was nothing but asphalt and concrete around. I work in a very industrial neighborhood and see the same landscape three days a week. This photo is a perfect example of how I shoot. I observed my surroundings, took a moment to look down and reposition myself in the center of a Con Edison manhole cover, five feet from the entrance to my office, while on a ten minute break.

I can't believe this was a spur of the moment shoot--it's like guerilla photography. The design of the stockings match the manhole cover so perfectly. I have to ask you about your moniker. "AstrOdub" is such a cool name. How did you choose it?

I have been a DJ since I was 13 years old and through the years have taken different alter egos as stage names. "AstrOdub" settled in as my DJ alias in the 90s. Since the internet was popularized at the same time, it became my email address at Yahoo and it is now my alias in all social media, including my street art persona.

You do so many things! Do you still work as a DJ?

I love music so much! But I never got paid to DJ. I did it out of sheer pleasure. (I bartered with artists, though.) I did it regularly until I was five months pregnant with my daughter. It started to get harder to fit my growing bump behind some of the DJ booths. I still keep up with new music and discover old music. I mostly DJ at art openings these days because the club hours are not family-friendly.

We have a lot in common. My day job involves music, singing, dancing, and I act a bit like a DJ. Do you feel music influences your photography?

Music influences everything I do! [The lyrics in this photo by Radiohead.]

I find it immensely important to my creativity. I whistle while I work, so to speak. And I am very glad when I am able to listen to music when I do consulting. It makes the day go by faster.

Consulting? Is that your day job?

I am a freelance graphic designer. I have a steady gig three days a week working for a textile company in Richmond Queens. I'm very proud to be living and working in Queens.

Can you tell us a little bit about your "street art persona"? 

My street art persona is my avatar. A fantasy. If we were in The Matrix, I'd be AstrOdub, a femme fatale that could kick ass! If Christopher Walken had a female counterpart, I'd be it. [The quote in the first photo below is from the movie True Romance.]

LOL! I can definitely image you that way. I see you're heavily influenced by film, too. How early did you start thinking about being a photographer?

I started taking photographs regularly in high school. At my foundation year at the School of Visual Arts, I fell in love with photography. I entertained making it my major, but since dark rooms and prints were expensive, I went into graphic design. So my training consists of two semesters in photography back when you developed your own film. That said, I consider myself a hobbyist and ultimately self-taught.

Interesting. I taught myself the basics of graphic designing and now make money doing it. Can you briefly describe your "self-education"?

Practice, practice, practice. The more photos you take of the same thing in different angles, the more you'll find your desired angle and establish a style. Observing other photographers' techniques can be inspiring. Apps like Instagram and EyeEm offer weekly challenges, which essentially are themes/tasks/projects to get you out there and shoot. I am also part of a local Instagram community-- Instagram NYC--which is basically a meetup group of like-minded individuals (i.e., photo geeks). We take photo walks and exchange tips. 

When did you buy your first camera and what kind was it? What were your first subjects?

My parents financed my first professional camera for my class at SVA in 1996: a Minolta X-700, which was one of my instructor's recommendations. I mainly shot  in black and white. My subjects were commuters in the subway, nature, and family and friends.

We talked a little bit about your aesthetic sensibility. What are some of your other influences?  

I tend to photograph architectural details, all kinds of textures and urban decay. Lines, geometry, symmetry, and vanishing points are aesthetically appealing and interesting to me.

Thanks to you, I now know that a vanishing point is "that spot on the horizon line to which the receding parallel lines diminish."

I love learning new things! Please continue.

The textures, colors and shapes of urban decay--be it graffiti or a weathered structure--capture me at a deeper level because they convey the age and history of a given environment. One can't help but wonder and imagine the stories those walls could tell if they could only speak.

Yes, I get that. When you see ancient architecture or even vintage furniture and clothes, you immediately wonder about the designer, the builder, the owner, or the wearer.

It is clear your upbringing in Greece led to your fascination with the urban landscape, nature, and decay. Can you trace it to anything else?

I always had an affinity for paper collage and what can be achieved by manipulating and layering paper. In the same way, graffiti on a wall, a rusty bridge, and abandoned and forgotten structures are layers of history in the landscape of our every day lives. There is some insanely good street art out there, original pieces created and placed on a wall for everyone to enjoy.

And when this art gets weathered it becomes all the more interesting to me. In a graffiti piece the paint cracks and peels, someone tears a posted bill, someone posts or writes over something else adding or revealing layers and so on and so forth. Whenever possible I go back to see if something I have photographed is still there and whether it has changed.

Love this! What is your theory regarding composition?

Composing elements to fit an allotted space is one of the main principles of graphic design. It is the same in photography. Anyone can push a button and take a picture. Not everyone composes it. It's a matter of taking the time to study your subject, ask yourself what attracts you to it, and find the right angle to shoot so you convey what you saw to the viewer.

That is something I'm learning about as I take photos for my Etsy shop. I'm also learning that lighting is everything. 

Indeed. Good lighting and the right angle can make even the most boring subject come to life and ultimately produce a successful photograph.

The lighting in the "Industrial Workspace" image is amazing! Do you prefer natural (outdoor) light? Or do you prefer indoor lighting that you can control?

I always shoot in natural light--overcast days are the best--and do not like to use flash. That said, I would love to be able to control and manipulate light and one day would love to have the opportunity to shoot in a professional setting.

I learned the hard way that overcast days are best. You mentioned that you didn't have a dark room. How do you think photography has changed in the digital age? If so, do you miss the good ol' days or are you totally down with digital?

I never had any dark room experience besides my foundation year at SVA. I would love to have one, absolutely. I am totally down with digital, especially mobile photography. Ninety percent of my photos are taken with my iPhone. You cannot beat the convenience of an instant capture, being able to edit on the spot, and not have to schlep a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera at all times. However, the phone lacks the quality of the DSLR. There are also other limitations including aperture control issues, lens versatility, etc.

I'm surprised you use your iPhone camera for so many of your shots. Depending on which model you have, you're talking about up to 8MGPs (mega pixels). Is that the minimum requirement for good pictures?

There is no minimum requirement for taking good pictures. I have seen amazing pictures taken with the first iPhone. It all depends on your style. The more MGPs, the more detail in your image. My iPhone has high-dynamic range imaging (HDR); however, my camera does not. In a low-light situation, my phone takes a better photo than my camera. For example, I took this photo when I went urbexing--"exploring urban areas generally off-limits to the general public"--at the Freedom Tunnel. Light is very limited there.

I don't have an iPhone, but when I get a new phone, I'm going to think about the camera in a whole way. And I might even go "urbexing" for my next photo shoot. When you do use a DSLR camera, what kind of camera do you use? And, for the amateur photog, what is the key to taking great photos?

My DSLR is the first one that SONY produced, the Alfa a 100It is 10MB and came with an 18-70 lens. I have been faithfully using it for the past eight years and only recently bought a fixed 50mm lens for it. It's very basic, has no bells or whistles (no video capture, no LCD display). It's the closest thing to my manual camera as far as operating it, but with the convenience of digital. To the folks like me out there that want to buy a DSLR but can't afford the Canons and Nikons, just remember: It's your eye that ultimately takes the picture. Your equipment can only get you so far. A good lens is very important, using the rule of thirds, always have the grid and HDR on your device, and compose, compose, compose. Don't just shoot!

I'm so relieved. Last year when I needed a new camera, I wanted a DSLR badly. The cost, however, was prohibitive. But you're saying I can get the job done with just about any camera as long as I have an aesthetic that works. Excellent! What is your biggest seller?

It's probably the photo on the Woodside No. 7 train platform with clouds around sunset (Woodside Clouds). It seems that everyone who has bought that picture has a special connection to that station. It's great to hear from the customer why this photo is so special to them.

I like this one, too, even though I don't know that particular station. I like the off-center vanishing point. Where in Queens do you live? Do you have a dedicated studio? What is your work space like? 

I live in the Briarwood section in Jamaica, Queens, in a two-bedroom apartment with my husband and daughter. No dedicated studio space. I have spray paint and block prints in the kitchen, my working surface is my dining table, and I have two armoires full of working and potential art supplies. It's tough to operate as an artists when you have to lay everything out and clean it up immediately afterwards. It really messes with the creative process which is why I work in small scale.

I understand completely. My living room used to be just that. Now it's my studio and, unfortunately for my living room, I like to have my tools an projects handy. So it's taken over by yarn, projects in progress, my mannequin head, a dress form, my laptop, tools, etc. Let's switch gears a bit and talk about social media. How do you deal with it? Has it helped your business? Do you long for the days when you didn't need to spend time on all the different social media sites? Or does this energize you? 

I started with My Space then moved to Facebook, then Twitter, and then Instagram and Tumblr. I don't have much time to spend on social media. Thanks to Instagram's push feature, my posts are mirrored on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. My popularity on Instagram has not boosted any of my sales unfortunately, but I get other perks from time to time like a free ten-day all inclusive trip to Israel last summer, a New York Rangers playoff game backstage tour, going to the MET museum when it was closed, shooting for Panasonic at the U.S. Open, an exhibit at the W Hotelin Times Square, a lecture on mobile photography at the Apple Store, and many more. 

Nice perks indeed. This brings me to time management.  How do you manage your time?  Do you spend, like, 75% on the actual photography portion and 25% on everything else?

It's a wonder I can get anything done! I work 9-5 three days a week. I take my daughter to after-school activities on Mondays and Wednesdays. I also cook every day, clean, and do the laundry for my family. I wish I had more time to spend on my photography, art, and urban exploration, and I do just that whenever possible. I don't take many pictures and, with time, I learned to edit as I go along, sort of like shooting with film. I hear of people shooting thousands of photos at an event. Somehow I can't do that. I shoot what I find interesting, not everything. But everybody has their own way of doing things.

I like that. Doing more doesn't necessarily mean higher quality. What do you do when it all seems to be too much?

When life gets too much I take my camera and ride to 5 Pointz. That's how this whole "I gotta go take some pictures" started first place.

Now I'm going to have to check out the 5 Pointz Aersol Art Center. You have a varied product line. Please tell us about what you offer.

I sell photographic prints in various and custom sizes, repurposed cigar boxes that feature my photography, journals for charity that feature my photography, tote bags, and calendars. I just debuted my new black and white 2014 calendar in my Etsy shop! (All the photos were taken on my iPhone.) For my fine art, check out my other Etsy shop, In Stitches.

Thanks for announcing the calendar debut in this interview. Do you sell at craft fairs?  If so, approximately how many per year?

I did craft fairs regularly for the past four years. I only do two a year now. The craft fair thing was not profitable for me and it was not worth the time away from my family.

That makes sense. I, too, am trying to do craft markets in a smarter way--again, quality, not quantity. I struggle with this, though, because I think that people really need to try on my hats, scarves, ear warmers, etc. They also like to feel the items and that means in-person contact. So selling online may not work well for my crochet and knit items. What about you? Do you think people are best served by seeing your work in person?

As far as my fine art goes, yes. It has to be seen and touched. Photo prints not so much. They look the same online or in person. Only the size only changes.

Yes, you're right. My handmade items sell well in person and my graphic designs sell easily online. Do you have any wholesale accounts?

I have one for my fine art and one for my photography. The product moves slow, but it's nice to have it out there.

No matter how much you sell on your own, being in a store is great validation. Marketing is challenging for most creative artists.  How do you approach marketing and advertising?

I don't have much money to spend in advertising so I market myself the best I can. I am always thinking of more ways to reach an audience online, but let's face it, it's very competitive out there and unless you have a big advertising budget it's hard to stand out. I do my social media thing, send some Mail Chimp blasts every once in a while, and did craft fairs for a while.

You offer fine art as well as photography and photo-related items. How do you approach pricing for the different arms of your business?

All my "In Stitches" cards are original one of a kind pieces of art. Each of them takes me an average of 1.5 hours to complete and I couldn't even sell them for $12! That's when I decided to try to capitalize on my photography. The overhead is reasonable and it takes almost no time to produce compared to fine art. My photography sold better than my fine art, but not well enough to make a living out of it.

Stefan and Izzy must be proud of you. How do they help you? Do you have any pets? 

Yeah, they are. I wouldn't be able to pursue any of my hobbies without their support and my husband's chauffeuring and babysitting. I am very grateful to have them in my life. We recently adopted a gray tuxedo cat that came with the name "Dante."

Nice. It's wonderful when you have a supportive family. Where do you see your business in 5 years?

It is very difficult predict an art/novelty business in a fluctuating economy. For the past 3-4 years I tried new products, vended at pretty much every market in NYC, and placed my product in consignment shops. It was not enough to get by, so I had to go back to being a graphic designer and took a 9-5 gig. Needless to say, that does not leave me much time to create. However, I am redoing my business plan and focusing on selling on more online outlets and vending at art-specific markets--which are very rare in NYC. I am returning to the Better Than Jam’s pop-up shop on Governor’s Island this summer with a pretty eclectic collection of photographs, where I will also be offering  a free workshop on making collage postcards. The new 2014 calendar will be available there, too.

I hope you do really well on Governor's Island. Well, it's time for my last question. How has being part of the Etsy NY team helped you?

It has helped me immensely as a business advice resource, a materials resource, and for vending opportunities. On a social level, I have made some great acquaintances. I love being part of Etsy NY and try to give back to the team as much as possible.

Thank you, Angeliki, for an incredible interview! I learned a lot. You are a gifted artist and a wonderful person. I have no doubt you will be hugely successful in the near future.

The fourth of July is on the horizon and so is another exciting installment of "A Crafty Life." I hope you've enjoyed meeting some of our team artisans. These interviews aren't like the four-minute fluff segments you find on your favorite morning TV shows. We go deep here at ACL! Our amazing artisans need your support, so don't just read the ACL interviews. Comment below and share the ACL series with your friends, tweeps, and family. This is Birdy27 signing off. Please support the handmade community. Successful creative artisans change change the world! Chirp, chirp!

Birdy27 is an actor/writer/singer/songwriter/graphic designer/knitter/crocheter/yarn-based accessories designer/jewelry maker/entrepreneur and founder/president of Birdy27 Designs. Please join the action at the Birdy27 Designs Facebook Fan Page

A Crafty Life: Ursula Jaroszewicz and Pepper Press

I'm Birdy27 and I'm so ready for spring! I'm sure you are, too. This month's "A Crafty Life" in-depth interview features Ursula Jaroszewicz of Pepper Press. Ursula is a thoughtful, intense, and striking brunette and, when I saw her in January at a team gathering, I knew she would be a great interviewee. I wasn't prepared, however, for the level of openness I found. Ursula answered each question thoroughly and earnestly. Fashion trends may come and go, but greeting and note cards are always in demand. In meeting that demand, Ursula has found her calling. She creates unique cards and other specialty paper goods using the truly old school "letterpress" printing technique. Ursula's designs have a traditional yet modern feel with textures you don't have to touch to feel. I also create greeting and note cards, so I was really stoked that Ursula agreed to the interview.

The last time I saw you, I noticed a trace of an accent. Where were you born? What brought you to New York? And can you tell us about your educational background?

I was born in Poland and lived in there until I was 11. In 1991 I moved with my parents and my sister to New York City. My parents moved here to pursue economic opportunities available in the U.S. that weren't so much available there, so my sister and I came with them. I studied graphic design first at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I took a break from school to work and travel, and then finished at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan. I've been in New York City my entire life since moving to this country. I have a lot of family in Poland, so I try to visit on a somewhat regular basis.

That's a great story! I imagine going back to Poland regularly helps you keep in touch with your cultural roots. New York and Poland must be very different, right? Do you feel that both places contribute to your creative process and your world view?

I guess I tried to process what was happening in my own way at the time, that things would never be the same. Poland, like so many places outside of New York City, isn't very diverse.

Like in many other European countries, everyone is pretty much from there. No one ever asks "what's your background," etc. And it's a LOT smaller in size and scope compared to the U.S. So it was rather a huge culture shock: to come here and see people from all walks of life, from every single place on earth imaginable. It was very eyeopening. At the same time, Poland was always a cultural place. My parents would take us to plays, films, and philharmonic concerts when I was young. A lot has changed since then. Every time I go home for a visit, it's fascinating to discover the new trends, fashion, ideas, etc. It's surprising and wonderful to see all the new changes. 

As to my world view, I do strongly feel that both places have influenced me so much. New York City was, as I said, eyeopening, and in Poland, during my childhood, I received this foundation which makes me value family and nature, preserving it, and living a "non-disposable" lifestyle. And we had good homemade food all the time.

Food is definitely a cultural marker. You create cards and other items via letterpress printing. Most people have seen letterpress printing, I think, but I bet most don't know the process. 

I agree with you that most people know it once they see it, but often don't know what's behind the finished printed piece.

Exactly! For the letterpress newbies like me, can you give us a brief history lesson?

Letterpress printing goes all the way back to mid-1400s. (Well, there are accounts of earlier presses in Asia.) Johanes Gutenberg invented/developed a movable printing press which utilized movable type. He created individually cast-in metal letters and punctuation. At the time, this was revolutionary as it allowed for speedy composition and printing multiple copies quickly. (Quickly is a relative term, however, as it still takes a painstakingly long time to compose something letter by letter, line by line. Even so, it was way more efficient than the options existing before: copying the entire thing by hand, one letter or character at a time.) It was THE method of printing for over 500 years and it was just known as printing, instead of "letterpress printing." Traditionally, printers had entire cabinets filled with different typefaces and sizes of individual metal and wood letters, using those to compose newspapers, theater bills, and all kinds of printed media. In addition, one could (and still can!) use a linoleum block (a semi-soft rubbery block) and carve a design into it. You would carve out everything else except what you want printed, so the part that remains is raised. Essentially, letterpress is "relief printing": the part that you want to print is higher than the non-printing area and the ink covers the raised areas. It then makes contact with the printing surface (paper). Rubber stamps are a form of relief printing, too; the raised parts are coated in ink and then transferred directly to paper.

In the 1960s newer methods and techniques replaced letterpress printing, especially in commercial settings. A group of old school printers kept the presses alive (although many didn't survive). In the meantime, digital technologies allowed printing plates to be made directly from digital files. Eventually letterpress printing went through a revival; book artists and artisans elevated the somewhat forgotten printing method to new levels of craftsmanship. So these days, many letterpress printers have their digital file (created in Illustrator, for example) made into a photopolymer--a kind of plastic--plate. This allows for infinite designs to be press-ready.

That's fascinating! How did you decide to create Pepper Press?

In 2010, a good friend of mine took a letterpress class and highly recommended it to me, saying it would be right up my alley. She knows me so well! Upon Donatella's recommendation, I signed up for an evening letterpress class at Cooper Union (taught by the very knowledgeable and ever helpful Dan Morris of The Arm Letterpress) so I could get back to working with my hands and get away from the computer. (I'm a graphic designer by trade.) Long story short, something just clicked and it felt so right! I found what I was looking for. The letterpress printing process, despite being so old, feels very new in the age of all things digital. I find lots of enjoyment in mixing inks by hand, tinkering with the machine, adjusting the pressure, checking the rollers, and cranking the handle to get the paper to meed the ink. The convergence of graphic design and true hands-on process is a perfect combination. It never ceases to fascinate me.

After the semester-long course ended, I continued going to The Arm, where I printed a plethora of designs. My friend and I were thinking of starting something so we could keep doing it, like creating wedding invitations. Well, I ended up giving some of the cards I printed in the class and afterwards to friends, colleagues, and neighbors in my building. One day one of my neighbors told me that she was soon opening a neighborhood "cheese and gifts" shop right around the corner. She asked me if I would make some cards so they could sell them. And that's how my business was born! I didn't plan on--or plan on so soon--having a stationery biz, but one thing led to another. Other neighborhood stores ended up contacting me to carry my cards, and it sort of evolved very organically.

I love when that happens. I'd say you experienced true "cosmic synchronicity": the universe was working to fulfill your dreams. I can tell you really love what you do. What are the benefits of letterpress over other types of printing like offfset, silk screening, digital, etc.? 

The tactile quality achieved with letterpress is what does it for me. Texture can so beautifully be achieved on paper; you can create a great interplay of light and shadow by printing even without ink. (This is called "blind color" because, even though there's no ink on the press, the print still goes through the press and is imprinted.) Now generally thicker or "fluffier" paper is made specifically for letterpress; however, any kind of thicker stock will work, too. For example, the kraft cardstock--thicker brown cardstock--I use for my map cards isn't made for letterpress, but it still gets the impression.

Compared with other methods, are there any drawbacks or limitations?

There are some disadvantages. Because it's printed one color at a time, it's generally good to narrow down the color choices, otherwise it can become a costly and time intensive affair. Also, it's not ideal for large areas of solid color coverage, as it tends to be uneven in color.

Letterpress is best for limited color palette. The inks are semi-transparent, so if you have too many colors overlaying each other, it would get muddy. (Most of the ink suitable for letterpress isn't fully opaque; it tends to be somewhat transparent.) So think of the colors as transparencies, and what colors will look like when they interact with one another.

I could keep adding more colors to one design, as well as account for colors that overlap when printed that create a third color. However, because each color adds to the cost and time of printing the piece, it can be cost prohibitive. In general and in my opinion, letterpress looks ideal with limited colors in a printed piece.

I see. One of the most interesting things about letterpress is the texture. You mentioned how much you love texture. I love the feel of yarn when I'm crocheting or knitting; however, my greeting and note cards are digitally printed, so there is no texture to speak of. How does tactile sensation contribute to your sense of satisfaction?

I've experimented with a variety of "hands-on" arts and crafts, etc. Professionally, my favorite jobs involved packaging design: something tactile, multi-dimensional, and with a potential of surprise to the user. So when I got into letterpress, one of the things that I loved about it was that tactile quality (in addition to being able to utilize my design skills). It became a whole new layer on top of what I already knew (design) and adding a printing method on top of that.

I love that you're so analytical about what you do. I can imagine you at the press with a smile on your face when everything comes together perfectly. What type of machine do you use? How much is manual?

In my studio are two presses:

1)    Chandler & Price Pilot: This is a vintage tabletop press with a manual lever that I have to pull down every single time to make a print. It's a small press, so it's generally good for smaller things: business cards (if done one by one), coasters, and small prints. For people who get into letterpress, this is often their starter press because it's small. However, it's still heavy! It's approximately 200 pounds of cast iron!

2)   Vandercook Universal-1: This is a huge! It's 1,200 or so pounds of metal, gears, and rollers. From around the mid-20th century, it uses a small motor that powers the ink cylinder, which in turn inks the rollers. The actual printing, however, is done by manually cranking the handle.

So in essence, both my presses are powered by manual labor.

Let's talk paper.  Do you use one particular cardstock or does the weight vary according to the item printed?

For my greeting cards, for consistency's sake, I use the same cotton paper throughout, as well as the same kraft cardstock for the map cards.

I use a variety of paper stocks for different projects (such as custom work, etc). Sometimes a thicker and sturdier paper is requested, or just works better. For example, thicker paper works well for two-sided prints so the printing won't show through to the other side. Sometimes a project calls for not so thick paper, such as business cards. But it really varies according to the individual project's preferences and needs.

Since texture is such an important part of what you create, is the content of the card secondary to the look and feel?

Hmm... that's an interesting question. I think that the content can be elevated by the right design of the card, or it can make all the statement that you want to make. It's really subjective.

Yes, that makes sense. How do you conceptualize your cards? Does the design come first or the text?

It can go either way. Sometimes a saying or text that I have in my head calls for a certain treatment to elevate it, or illustrate it, and sometimes the visual is there first. And then if I have a complimentary "text" portion, that's great. Sometimes I'll see something and I'll think "This will make an interesting print; it'll look great letterpressed." Half the time, I'm interested less in the specific greeting card type; I just want to create interesting patterns and textures where the message part of the card (such as happy birthday, etc) becomes a universal note card that is good for any occasion.

I love interesting patterns and textures, too, and the one in that link is really lovely.

Thanks. I have ideas brewing nonstop, most of them subconsciously, and I've learned to start writing them down quickly (thank you, Evernote). Sometimes they are so fleeting that I can't recall what that brilliant idea of mine was.

That happens all of the time to me, too.  After you decide on an idea, what is your next step?

My idea turns into an illustration (either a sketch in my sketchbook or on my computer). My digital file gets made into a photopolymer printing plate (by Boxcar Press). Each color has to be on a separate plate.

What inspires you?

My cards are really an extension of myself. I can tie the underlying theme to love of packaging and design, as well as nature. Nature is a huge part of my life, and elements of it continuously show up in my work. I'd like to think of it as "urban meets nature," along with the influence of other natural elements such as biking, patterns, urban exploration, maps, organic shapes, and typography. All these things at an (often subconscious) confluence inspire me.

Personalization is so popular now.  Is personalization possible with letterpress?

I'm really glad that you asked me the personalized question! I don't have a list of things I offer personalized, although I've done plenty of personalized and custom projects: personalized note cards, business cards (both design and printing services, as well as printing existing designs), announcements, and wedding invitations. If there is something that you'd like personalized, let me know!

In the next year, I plan on putting together a cohesive customizable wedding collection, as well as personalized note cards, monogram cards, etc. Letterpress is definitely customizable. All it takes is getting a plate made, so feel free to inquire about it.

Now that surprises me. I thought that personalization would be challenging. That's good for our readers to know. What are your biggest sellers? 

My best sellers are definitely the map cards, postcards, and now prints, too. I started out with a map of Brooklyn, but then personalized it for my neighborhood, Clinton Hill. People love the fact that they can get their neighborhoods on a postcard. I've added neighborhoods as they were requested by different stores carrying my cards, as well as by brides who used the different postcards for their wedding. One bride used a different Brooklyn neighborhood that was meaningful to her and her groom for each table at their wedding. I've personalized my map cards inside with a custom-printed message as part of goodie bags for out of town wedding guests. I thought was so sweet! Currently, I'm adding more cities. I've been getting so many requests for random places: someone's father is from Puerto Rico, someone wanted Greenwich, CT, and so on. I'll be rolling out a selection of different cities very soon.

I love that! You offer your customers something uniquely personal using a technique that is steeped in tradition.  And, with your European background, I'm not surprised your designs have an international appeal.

Oh yeah, how could I forget! This past holiday season I met a woman at a holiday market who owns a store in Japan. We stayed in touch and she ended up purchasing pretty much all the Brooklyn and New York City-themed things that I have available, as well as other cards. So Brooklyn goes to Japan! How cool is that?

Very cool indeed!

The Bike Love Couple card has been doing very well, too. People use it for Valentine's Day, wedding cards, love cards, and I've turned it into a wedding invitation. The whiskey card also sells well. People love booze!

LOL! I'll leave that alone. You live in Brooklyn's up and coming Clinton Hill area. Do you have a dedicated studio? What is your work space like?

Yes, I live in Clinton Hill, but my working studio is a 7-10 minute walk to Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. I love having my studio dedicated to just my printing so I can spend time away from all distractions. There are 11 studios in the space occupied by a variety of artists/makers/small businesses and a gallery space for occasional shows and openings. It's great being surrounded by other people dedicated to what they're doing that's outside of a regular type job. It's a great supportive crowd, ready to be asked for an opinion on something, or to lend or borrow something if needed. There's 24-hr access, so sometimes when I'm in the groove I can easily stay there till 2 am--or until i have no more energy left. A short bike ride makes it very easy to get home in just a few minutes. I share the space with my studio mate, who is a fashion designer, so I get a peek at new fabric choices and patterns. Our space is probably around 200 square feet (the biggest studio in the building). It's not huge, but we totally make it work. I think the fact that it's a dedicated space outside of home is what makes it efficient.

You're lucky to have a convenient location and a great studio mate. When you own a small business, there's always a lot to do. Does your family help you?

I get asked about "you guys at Pepper Press . . . " Well, you're looking at her! I pretty much work on my own. However, during especially busy times, like the holidays, my boyfriend has helped me package box sets until super late at night. He also loves to spread the word to his co-workers and friends. My mom and dad are very enthusiastic champions of my work and my dad is always up for a trip to find more parts or to check out the printing museum.

Speaking of your business name, how did you decide on Pepper Press? It sounds spicy!

Pepper Press initially began with Donatella (now of Tella Press), the friend who recommended the letterpress class to me. So it started out as a collective effort. We wanted to continue working on the press as a side project and get paid for it. We thought about names for a long time and went through a long list of possibilities. "Pepper Press" had a nice ring to it and it represented our love of spicy things and allowed for an abstract interpretation of the logo. We're both graphic designers, so that stuff really matters. Eventually, after many conversations and trying to figuring out how this would work logistically, we decided that each of us working separately would be best. But the Pepper Press name remained.

Marketing is a challenge for me.  How do you approach marketing and advertising?

It's a challenge for me as well! Most of my marketing efforts have been word of mouth and referrals, both for getting my cards into new stores and for custom work. In addition, lots of people find and contact me through Etsy for both wholesale and custom. I also send my work to bloggers with a wide audience, which is a great way to gain exposure. Soon I'll be sending out direct mailers to store owners, inviting them to check out my booth at the 2013 National Stationery Show (NSS). That will be my next step in marketing.

Getting ready for NSS in May at the Javits Center is scary and exciting at the same time. It'll be my second time officially. Last year I participated in a group booth, but I will have my own booth this year, so the costs and risks are much higher. This puts a lot of pressure on me; I want to have the best possible booth and add some new products. It's going to be a sleepless next two months.

Do you sell well on Etsy?

I am very happy selling on Etsy! It's a great testing ground. Don't know how something will be received? Put it up on Etsy and see what happens. I've done several custom wedding projects because the client saw my work on Etsy and liked my style, or was interested in something for their wedding I had already turned into an invitation. Besides the one-on-one contact with the customers, I get contacted by stores that are interested in carrying my cards and that leads to wholesale orders.

 Where do you see your business in five years?

Hmm, in five years, I think I will be much smarter about running a business. I'm still learning. If you think about it, I'm a newbie! I probably know a tiny portion of what I should or will eventually know. In five years, I will have expanded my line and offerings, moving into more personalized work, such as weddings, announcements, etc, and having at least an employee. I will hopefully have reps in the stationery industry who represent my cards and get orders from stores all across the country. My business will be more efficient and allow more time for designing and working on new things. Also, I've been daydreaming of working in a tropical location, somewhere with hot weather year round and great water activities. (Can I check 2,000 pounds of metal on a plane to Hawaii?? ;)

I share your daydream! Lastly, how has being in the Etsy NY Team helped you?

I became aware of the Etsy NY Team because, everywhere I went, there was a cool pop-up shop/tent/etc. I saw the team represented on Governors Island, at Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer of 2011, and at the Brooklyn Flea. It was clear that the group was well organized and able to get members in front of the buying public. I had to join! It turned out it was just the tip of the iceberg. Being on the team has been tremendously rewarding. I got to immerse myself in the world of like-minded, creative, entrepreneurial people. The feeling of knowing that there's this whole support network as well as potential friendships is priceless. The forums are a great way to research different markets, get feedback on different issues, sell or buy supplies, and get invited to great events at Etsy headquarters. I secretly want to work at Etsy, too!

Thanks a lot, Ursula, for a terrific interview! I know you'll be extremely successful at the NSS and in all of your future endeavors. You're inspiring me to move forward with my greeting and note cards, so I'm sure others reading this will be inspired, too.

Ah, sweet April is on the horizon and so is another enlightening installment of "A Crafty Life." Mark your calendars and join me on Monday, April 22. You won't want to miss it! This is Birdy27 signing off. Please support the handmade community. Successful creative artisans can change the world! Chirp, chirp!

Birdy27 is an actor/writer/singer/songwriter/graphic designer/knitter/crocheter/yarn-based accessories designer/jewelry maker/entrepreneur and founder/president of Birdy27 Designs. Please join the action at the Birdy27 Designs Facebook Fan Page

Valentine's Day isn't just for from local Etsians

For the cat lover. Card by DeborahJulian

I never liked Valentine's day as a single person. To me it was just a reminder of how single I was and all those thoughts of why am I hoo.  Now that I am married there is pressure to do something on Valentine's Day.  And when we do celebrate I feel as though I am being obnoxious to those who don't have anyone. Ok obviously Valentine's doesn't work for me either way.  However coming from a family of 5 kids, my sisters and my parents would always send Valentine's to us.  As an adult living in the same city as one of my sisters, I would find a Valentine gift at my door that morning. It always made me smile or laugh and feel loved.  Valentines are for everyone, not just lovers.

Here are a few gift ideas for your friend, your sister, your brother, your child, your parent....all from members of Etsy New York.

for the friend who is always late, Vanilla Green Tea clock by Newyorkclocks

There are so many gifts to choose from the Etsy NY Team. Just go to and in the search box type etsynyteam.

Get shopping, you have 7 days!

Tracey Toole

Etsy Mother's Day Cards

Those who know me well know that I'm a huge stationery fan!  I love to find the perfect card for that special someone for each occasion.  Mother's Day is about a month away, but that doesn't mean it's too early to find the perfect card for your mother!  There are so many fantastic options on Etsy- take a look below!


What Makes Valentine's Day Sweet To You

If you can't get enough Valentine's Day, then today is your lucky day!  Get your fill of sweetness from The {NewNew} and then check out some of our friends and their blogs about this notorious day of romance, flowers and of course sweets.
Andrea Davis: Pure Food Nutrition: Valentine’s Day Chocolate: Good & Good for You?
The Bitchy Waiter:  F*ck Cupid
Brooklyn Flea:  You Gotta Have Heart
The Experimental Gourmand:  Valentine’s Day Special Dinner
Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market:  A Blog Affair to Remember
Metalicious Jewelry:  Well Hello February 
Kumquat Cupcakery:  My Messy Pink Kitchen

Did I mention sweets? Chocolate and conversation hearts, what more could you ask for? Maybe a lot of them.  Did you know.....
A bowl just waiting to be filled with conversation hearts by LennyMud
  • More than 36 MILLION heart shaped boxes of candy will be given and received this year. (
  • About 8 BILLION candy hearts will be made.  If you put them all side by side they would reach from the city of romance, Rome, all the way to Valentine Arizona -- not just once mind you, 20 times and back again! (
  • Those candy conversation hearts have been around a long time.  NECCO, the maker of them, started putting those catchy little phrases on them all the way back in 1866, and we've been in love with them ever since. (Sweethearts: The Continued Success of America's Favorite Valentine's Candy, 2010)
Of course, candy is only one of thing that makes Valentine's Day sweet for The {NewNew}, when I posed the question I found out there was a whole lot more.

Home is Where The Heart is by JDavisStudio
Mom has been making Valentine's day special for a long time and {NewNew} members Lorrie from LennyMud, Alton of AltonWeekes and Jill from JDavisStudio remind us how sweet mom can make Valentine's Day:

Lorrie's mom made the day special by summoning the Valentine's Day Pixie.  The Pixie is a magical creature that would ring the doorbell several times over the course of the day and leave presents on the doorstep.  Today, Lorrie shares the same tradition with her kids.

Alton's mom and her Valentine's day tradition are actually the driving force behind him starting his stationery design studio.  Every year Alton's mom would give him and his sisters a box of valentine cards to share with classmates.  Those little cards with cupid, hearts and sweet sayings were Alton's introduction to stationery beyond birthday cards.  It was the holiday of love that inspired Alton's love of stationery.

Jill's mom started sending her special Valentine's day care packages back in college and still does today.  They are filled will fun things like candy, silly jewelry, even the occasional McDonalds gift card. Way to go Jill's Mom!

I Do Card by Alton Weekes
Let's face it, nothing makes Valentine's day more romantic than a ring, and I don't mean the doorbell.  A ring is exactly what Loella from LoellaMedina and Angel from CardsInStitches got one Valentine's day.

With the view of the New York skyline in the night time sky Loli's best friend surprised her by popping the big question.

Now Angel, has a bit of a different story.  She got married not just on Valentines day 2003, but on the 5 am Eyewitness News along with 4 other couples!  She found out on Monday that she'd be getting married on Friday at Tavern on the Green in Central Park all expenses paid.  Now that's what I call one sweet Valentines Day!

Since The {NewNew} is an Etsy team made up of the best and brightest artists and designers in the tri-state New York craft scene, it is no surprise that DIY valentines are high on the list of sweet things about the day. Nothing makes Simone, from Groundsel, smile more on Valentine's day than a handmade valentine.  Anne from Felt It loves making valentines for family and friends with her three year old.  Each year her daughters designs become more creative and intricate, I bet it won't be long before she has an Etsy shop.  Jennifer from MellowBeing recalls Valentine's day as a time to make valentines for her mom and friends.

Love painting by LennyMud
Dinner, mix tapes and wearing red made the sweet list among {NewNew'ers} too.
Jody at AStudioByTheSea makes Valentine's day sweet by planning a special night out with her husband of 23 years.  But they do it a little different, they skip the February 14th crowds and inflated dinner prices and celebrate at a fancy restaurant a day or so off.  What a great idea, we may just do that this year too!

Te Amo Card by S2 Stationery and Design
Sara from S2 Stationery and Design has mixed feelings about the holiday but has a great tradition of making a mix CD she calls the "Love Mix" and shares it with friends.  It's her way to let them know that she supports and loves them no matter what.

The perfect notebook for February by CardsinStitches
Lisa from Pretty Stationery loves that Valentine's day is close to Chinese New Year so she gets to wear red and eat candy for two weeks.

And finally, Stephanie from MulryJewels finds sweetness on Valentines day by simply remembering and being thankful for all the love in her life, romantic and otherwise.

Wishing you all the sweetest Valentine's day.
Holly / EllisDesign

Artist Spotlight: Laura Carollo of Gracenotes Papers

Laura Carollo is in the business of making the act of saying "thank you" extra special with her beautiful line of notecards and other papergoods thoughtfully named Gracenotes Papers. Find out a little more about Laura and her line as {NewNew} blogger Alicia from Lingua Nigra shines the spotlight on her and Gracenotes Papers.
Check out Laura's Etsy profile
1. Alicia: What brought you to New York and keeps you here?
Laura: Design and art brought me to New York and it’s been keeping me here ever since. After graduating college in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Graphic Design, New York was calling! I knew it was the only place to go because of overwhelming number of creative people, museums, design agencies, and artists. Creative energy is all around in this city—I can’t get enough of it!
Bee Mine Valentine
2. Alicia: What started your love of type and paper?
Laura: From a young age, I loved to color and draw--to create crafts or dream up cards or projects. But once I realized all the different papers available and the beautiful things I could do with them, I was hooked! I really honed that passion in a college typography class that was exciting and so motivating (to a type nerd like me). The professor’s love for typography was easily transferred and I became slightly obsessed with letterforms and the beautiful shapes they create.
Set of 8 Polka Dot Note Cards
3. Alicia: Do you see yourself doing anything other than paper goods? Would you ever branch out?
Laura: I’ve been taking small steps to expand my offerings. I just started working on a line of cut paper wall art.  I’ve occasionally done non-paper projects when they’ve presented themselves. But mostly, my passion is in paper and until I feel I’ve exhausted this area, and Gracenotes Papers is a well-known brand I’ll continue working to perfect it.
Say thank you with style
4. Alicia: What is the nicest thing a customer has said or done to you?
Laura: My customers are wonderful! They always take the time to thank me or to express how much they enjoyed working together, it’s hard to choose just one comment. I think one of the kindest acts is their repeat business and referrals. I feel great when I see the email or convo from a familiar name and know that they enjoyed their last order enough to return or send a friend to my shop, and I'm always excited they have another happy event to celebrate!
Express your gratitude with elegance
5. Alicia: Can you give any advice to beginning paper people?
Laura: My best advice is perfect your own style. Make it shine through your work and everything you do, and people will be attracted to that. There are a lot of people working in this medium, but it will be your style and personality that helps you build your client base and really succeed. It's not easy, but doing what you love everyday is incredibly rewarding!
Say I love you over and over again
Alicia: Thank you so much Laura for sharing your lovely work and wisdom with us!