Random Mid-February Musings That Are Sort Of About NYNOW

Hi, friends!

Despite what I thought were my best efforts, that thing is happening where I’ve overcommitted myself again. Instead of approaching each day and task with clarity and intention per my nice little vision board, I’ve been doing the opposite, and the craziness has been mounting since before Christmas. So here is me, refocusing. I made the very difficult decision this week to back out of a huge project I had coming up on the horizon — a project that I was really excited about and that was a really great opportunity. But every time I thought about the deadlines on top of running my business and keeping up with new product releases, I felt like I was going to barf. There was a time when I would have pushed forward and made it happen, even if I made myself sick and miserable in the process, but I am choosing a different way. Hear that, universe? I AM CHOOSING A DIFFERENT WAY. (Picture me shaking my fist, but in a kind and benevolent manner.)

Okay! One reason things have been so crazy is that I just spent ten days in New York, exhibiting in the NYNOW wholesale gift show. It was our first show and the whole experience was fairly challenging and stressful, but we learned a lot. Which is what you say when you didn’t make any money and your booth almost fell down, but you want to put a positive spin on the whole thing because life feels better that way. I will do a full post about it at some point, because lots of you guys have asked and I’m happy to share my experience, but I want to have a bit more perspective on the whole thing before I do that.

A high point of the show was when the lovely Nole Garey of Oh So Beautiful Paper came by our booth to chat and work her photographic magic. If you don’t already read OSBP, you should check it out post haste. It’s one of the best, most comprehensive resources out there for stationery appreciators, as well as those of us in the stationery industry. And if you’re getting married or having a baby and need invitations/announcements? OMG GET OVER THERE NOW. It’s a rabbit hole of paper amazingness.

I didn’t take any photos of our booth because I was too busy being stressed out, but fortunately for me, Nole took some fantastic ones, and she was kind enough to include us in Part One of her multi-part NYNOW roundup. If you’re curious about what stationery/gift trade show booths look like, or you want to see a glimpse of some new stuff coming this spring from powerhouse brands like Rifle Paper Co and Kate Spade as well as indie up-and-comers, head on over and check it out.

Here are a few of Nole’s photos of our booth. When she took these, the walls were seriously being held upright by zip ties, boxes of catalogs, two Ikea tables, a few strategically placed illegal screws, and prayer. The magic of good photography: You can’t even tell.

All photos by Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper.



Using Other People’s Quotes In Your Work: When Is It OK?

*DISCLAIMER: I am not an intellectual property lawyer (nor any other kind of lawyer) and this post should not be taken as legal advice or permission.*

I get asked a lot about the issue of using famous quotes on products, and this post is my attempt at shedding some light on this (very complicated) topic.

I know this isn’t a fun thing to hear, but in most cases, the answer to the question “Can I legally use X quote on my products?” is going to be no, with a few exceptions (which I’ll get to in a minute).

According to US copyright law, the legal rights to a quote belong by default to its author (or speaker). Quotes are considered intellectual property, which is protected under the law. This means that if you’re not a quote’s original author and you want to SELL something with the quote on it, one of two things must be true:

1: You have the author’s written permission to use their words on your work. If you can’t get the author’s permission for any reason: they won’t give it to you, the quote’s owner is a movie studio (yes, this rule also applies to movie and TV show quotes, and song lyrics), they don’t answer your email, they’re dead, they’re super famous, they’re in hiding, etc., then Condition 2 must be met in order to legally use the quote:

2. The quote is no longer “owned” by the author and it has passed into what’s known as the public domain, meaning it can be freely used by anyone for any purpose. When a quote passes into the public domain, it’s almost always because it’s old enough that its copyright has expired. (It doesn’t have anything to do with whether the author is dead or alive.)

This is where it gets tricky. The following chart is from the University of North Carolina’s website and illustrates how complicated it can be to determine whether something is in the public domain or not:

Public Domain Chart

This chart makes my head hurt. If you break it down into its broadest and easiest rule to understand and remember, it is that works published before 1923 are in the public domain and are therefore legal to use. This is why there are 4 jillion products with old quotes like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” on them — I mean, that’s a great quote, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also legally cleared for commercial usage, since Gandhi said it in 1906. (Yes, I know a lot of people claim he never even said it in the first place, but that’s not the point.)


As you can see, there are other works published after 1923 that would fall under some of the other categories in this chart and would therefore be in the public domain, but unless you’re an intellectual property lawyer or have one at your disposal, it’s pretty hard to figure out what applies where. This is why, in my work, I follow the pre-1923 rule. People ask me all the time why I don’t sell products with more modern quotes on them: this is why!


It’s also important to note that attributing a quote to its author does not make it legal to use the quote, which is something I’ve been asked.

If you’re not selling your work, you can almost always go ahead and use any quote on it you want, under what’s known as the Fair Use Rule (more information about that here). (Again, I’m not a lawyer and this blog post is not a substitute for real legal advice.) If you want to use a quote on your wedding invitations or put a quote over a picture of a sunset and post it on social media, that’s fine. But when you start profiting from someone else’s intellectual property, you need to comply with intellectual property law.

What happens if you don’t comply?

In some cases, nothing. It’s up to the person you’re quoting (or their estate if they’re no longer alive, or the movie studio or company that owns the rights to the quote if it’s from a movie or TV show, etc.) to go after people who are using their words on unauthorized products. This is why there are tons of Etsy shops selling stuff featuring Steve Jobs quotes, etc. — Steve Jobs’ estate generally has more important things to do than look for people on Etsy who are violating his copyright.

However, the more work you sell, whether it’s on Etsy or wholesale, the higher-profile you beome, and the more likely it is that you’ll get busted for breaking the law. If this happens, the first step will generally be a cease-and-desist letter from the quote owner’s attorney, telling you that you are in violation of copyright law and instructing you to stop selling the offending products, but there’s also the possibility of getting sued and having to pay hefty settlement and legal fees.

Here’s the thing, though: It is really not cool to profit from someone else’s intellectual property without their permission, even if you can technically get away with it. If you’re an artist, you’d be pretty pissed if another artist put your hand-lettering on their work and sold it without your permission — and with good reason! It’s just a really unethical thing to do. And that, more than the fear of Steve Jobs’ people coming after me, is why I don’t do it. In fact, when I started to feel really boxed in creatively by being limited to using pre-1923 quotes, I started writing and selling my own stuff, which is what led to my card line and was the smartest thing I could have done!

For further reading and clarification on this topic, here are a couple of links that I have found helpful:

Guide Through the Legal Jungle
Fair Use Doctrine (from ExpertLaw.com)

I hope you guys found this useful! If you have a question about the legality of a specific quote or a specific piece of IP law, please ask an IP lawyer, because I can’t give you legal advice. I can, however, tell you where to get my favorite pie in Los Angeles. (Maple custard at The Pie Hole!)




On Having Ideas: Make It Relevant

When I was a junior art director, I remember showing my creative director some print ads I’d designed. He pointed to the little abstract decorative element I’d created in the corner and said, “What is this and why is it here?”

“Um… It’s just a thing. For visual balance? Because I like it?”

He told me that wasn’t a good enough reason, and then we had a conversation about how every visual element in a print ad should always relate somehow to the content of the message. For example, if it was an ad for an airline and I created a decorative background pattern based on the shape of the plane’s windows, great. But if it was just something I randomly made as decoration, it didn’t work nearly as well.

I learned that when there was a strategic reason behind my artistic decision, it made the overall message more cohesive.

I use that lesson a lot when I’m coming up with product ideas. For example, I’m designing a screen printed tea towel collection right now. There are lots of screen printed tea towels out there that have illustrations of cute animals on them, or patterns, or pretty flowers, but none of those things have a bigger reason for existing beyond being decorative. (This works great for some other brands, but not mine.) Because my line is all about being insightful and relatable, I wanted the illustrations on my towels to relate back to their function/environment: cooking and the ways we experience the kitchen. So I started to come up with some observations and truths about kitchens, food and cooking, like:

–You always hear people say cooking is good stress relief, but I think it’s kind of a pain and I’d rather lie on the couch and let someone else do it.

–I bet a lot of people wish they were the kind of person who cooks to relax. I kind of do.

–People take a ton of pictures of their food. A lot of them are terrible.

–Every time I use my fancy blender, I feel guilty about not using it more.

A lot of these observations didn’t really go anywhere. That happens. But a lot of them did, which is how I came up with the ideas for my tea towels.

The first five towels are on sale now, and six more new styles are currently at the printer. They’ll be added to the shop on January 1. Here’s a sneak peek of a couple of the designs!




I am in the middle of writing a gratitude/Thanksgiving post so massive, I’m not finished with it yet — but in the meantime, I wanted to make sure you guys all know about our Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving sale. From Friday, 11/29 through Monday 12/2, you’ll get 20% off your purchase of $20 or more when you enter the code FOODCOMA at checkout. This sale is also happening in my etsy shop, and we also ship internationally from there. Go forth and shop!

Much love and gratitude,



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You Ask, I Answer: My Process

Hi guys!

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about my design and illustration process, so I thought I’d take a quick break from holiday insanity to answer.

I also wanted to touch on a related topic that’s been on my mind a lot: I’ve been getting several emails a week from people who want to talk on Skype, over the phone, or in person about the stationery biz, my design process, my manufacturing sources, what to do when XYZ happens, etc., and I’ve struggled a bit with how to respond. I would LOVE to be able to give individual attention to all of these requests, but to be completely honest, running this business is pretty much taking everything I’ve got right now. If only there were 32 hours in a day — I would get SO much more done! In the future, I may take a cue from the brilliant Jessica Hische and set aside a half-day a week for consulting “office hours,” but right now it’s not part of my immediate plan. I’m hoping that as I cover more of your questions on this blog, it’ll be a resource I can point people to.

So, if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t responded, please know that it’s not you! I’m trying to get back to everyone, but the holidays are in full effect and I’m prioritizing my time according to “most in my face” –> “least in my face.”

SO! On to my illustration process. Fun fact: I don’t use Illustrator. I’m self-taught in design programs, and I just never tackled the Illustrator learning curve when I was an art director. I can do basic things and fake my way through some of it, but unless I’m working on a rare client project where they need something vectorized, Illustrator doesn’t enter into my process at all.

When I started illustrating, I was doing most of it by hand, scanning it, and cleaning up and finishing it in Photoshop. If you’ve ever done this, you know that it can be kind of a pain in the ass. So, last year, I changed it up. After trying out a Wacom Cintiq tablet owned by a friend of mine, I took the plunge. I hadn’t made much money drawing anything yet, so it was a REALLY big deal to spend $1,000 on a tablet, but I have to say it changed my life — or at least the way I make work. It rules.

Behold the Cintiq! (This is the smallest one. They also come way bigger, but those cost as much as my car.)

The Cintiq is a flat monitor that plugs into your computer, and you can draw directly on its screen. I hold the Cintiq in my lap and draw on it with a digital pen, just like I’m drawing or painting in a sketchbook. I draw everything in Photoshop, and I use different brushes to get the effects I want. The pen is pressure-sensitive, so (after a pretty steep learning curve) it really does feel quite similar to drawing on paper.

I still sketch everything on paper by hand first, just so I can get the placement of various elements down. I have a million sketchbooks going at once and I’d love to say there’s a system, but I really usually just write in the one closest to me at any given time. See, here’s what I was working on last night:

This system has effectively replaced the draw-and-scan method for me, and I find that it works really well. I do miss painting with actual, non-digital paint, and I try to get in at least a couple of hours a week with my old-school materials just for my own sanity. But as someone who’s generating a lot of work, having the freedom to work mostly in Photoshop has helped streamline my process immensely.

I hope this helped — if there’s something you’re curious about that I didn’t cover, please feel free to ask in the comments!






Pinterest: Just Say No

Okay, the title of this post might be a little harsh. I love Pinterest for recipes, wish lists, and looking at colors. But once I got serious about creating my own work, I’ve come to realize that there’s such a thing as too much “inspiration.”

After spending a few months falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole while supposedly gathering inspiration for my own projects last winter, I realized that I needed to just stop. Why? Because I knew that in order to be successful, I would need to create something that didn’t feel derivative of any other stationery line out there right now, and I didn’t want to get other people’s designs stuck in my head. (Not to mention the fact that it’s a GIGANTIC time-suck!)

As an artist, it’s a double-edged sword to have images of literally everything that’s ever been made, ever, at your fingertips. It’s amazing and inspiring and fantastic on one hand, but on the other, if you’re looking at other people’s work all day, the things you create will inevitably be influenced by that work, even if that’s not your intention. Sometimes that’s okay, but as a total unknown trying to break into a crowded stationery market, it was critical that my work looked and felt fresh.

This is what happens when you search “chalkboard lettering” on Pinterest. 

So what can you do to get inspired when you feel stuck? Look at things outside of your field of work. Recently, for me, some of those things have been South African painted signs, rock formations, and Japanese fashion — but they change all the time. Also, I truly believe that the best way to come up with ideas is to just sit down and do it, uninterrupted.

I know it’s not easy to stay away from the siren call of the internet when you’re trying to create something new. It takes a lot of faith in yourself and your own vision, and requires you to trust your own instincts in a way that can sometimes feel really uncomfortable. But when we practice listening to ourselves, that’s where the best work comes from.

For more of my thoughts on coming up with ideas, check out this post.


New Products Inspired By Actual Events

When my boyfriend Seth and I first moved in together a couple of years ago, he found a box of a hundred or so of his old business cards one day, while I was at work and he was working from home. Instead of recycling them or tossing them, he drew a heart on the back of each card and hid every single one somewhere in my stuff. In the pockets of my pants in the dresser, inside every shoe in my closet, in every purse, in my makeup bag– you get the idea. (Awww, right? He’s the best. Online dating, yo!)

More than two years later, I’m still finding heart cards. (When I do, it’s a signal that I should probably donate the thing I found it in to Goodwill.) It makes me happy every time I see one.

Those heart cards are the inspiration for one of the new products just added to the shop: the “Let Me Count the Ways: Tiny Love Notes for Important People” mini-card set.

These tiny 2″x3″ love note cards come 10 to a pack, and are the perfect way to surprise your favorite people with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Slip one into your kid’s lunch or your best friend’s bag, or pull a Seth and put them in your significant other’s off-season shoes. The front of each card has space for you to personalize the “I love you because” sentiment, and the back is printed with a colorful heart pattern.

We’ve also added three more styles of tiny card packs: Thank You For Existing, We Are All Awesome, and Be Yourself. Check them all out here.




On Having Ideas: Start With Your Brand

This week, I’m taking a detour from the stationery show talk to address a question I get a lot, which is “How do you come up with your ideas?”

OK. The answer to this question has a lot of different pieces, but I want to start with something that might not sound obvious at first, but is super duper important:

A simple way to begin is by coming up with three adjectives that define your brand. Elegant. Cozy. Whimsical. Classic. Funny. Inspirational. Uplifting. Modern. The descriptors can be anything– but choose them carefully, because the key moving forward is that everything you create will be all of those three things.

My three adjectives are: Insightful, Relatable, Colorful. (See — I do this too!)

You have to be willing to kill even your favorite ideas if they don’t fit the adjectives, because if an idea doesn’t fit, it’s not right for your brand. I’m not gonna lie, this hurts, like finding a pair of pants that make your butt look awesome and leaving them behind in the dressing room. But ultimately, “because I like it” is not a good enough reason to add something to your line. If you’re going to build a cohesive, successful brand, you’ll need to consider your product ideas more strategically.


For example: Above is a great card by Rifle Paper Co. It’s beautiful, right? But if I had this idea, I’d kill it — because it doesn’t fit my brand. It’s colorful, but there’s nothing especially insightful or relatable about it. And if I painted a card like this and added it to my line, it wouldn’t sell as well as the other things that DO fit my brand. (I’m sure it does really well for Rifle, though;  it fits seamlessly within their brand look and feel!)

But! The good news is that it’s actually EASIER to come up with ideas when you have strong brand guard rails to measure them against, because it will help you narrow and focus your thoughts. This streamlines the process and makes it less likely that you’ll be overwhelmed by possibility. It also gives you a easy first step in evaluating your ideas, since being on-brand is part of what makes an idea worth keeping.

What else makes an idea good? Here’s how I evaluate mine. Any idea I come up with has to meet all the following criteria in order to be considered for production:

1. Is it consistent with my brand? Does it match the brand description I’ve written for myself? If it’s off-brand, even if it’s clever or funny or pretty or I love it, it’s dead.

2. Has it been done before? Are there products with the same message or look out there? If so, it’s dead – unless there’s a very good reason to keep it.

3. Is its message universal and relatable to a majority of people? If it’s too specific, it’s dead.

4. Do I like it, and can I articulate why I like it? If I can’t say exactly what resonates with me about an idea, it’s dead.

If I’m an expert on anything, it’s coming up with ideas. Are they all good? F, no. 90% them are terrible. But the most valuable skill I took away from my career in advertising was the ability to generate a ton of ideas in a really short amount of time and be able to quickly and objectively decide if they work. At this point, after ten years of practice, my brain can evaluate an idea based on the above criteria almost instantly, like when you start to be able to dream in a second language. But this does take practice. And the process works just as well if you do it slowly and deliberately.

In future posts, I’ll go into the whole coming-up-with-ideas thing in more detail. Let me know if this was helpful!


You Ask, I Answer: Starting A Card Line, Part 2

Hi guys!

Please excuse the slightly belated nature of this post; it’s been the busiest couple of weeks yet around here. We’ve just released our first 5 temporary tattoos and tea towels, and I’m working on some licensing deadlines and holiday orders are coming in and and and. Bottom line: it’s a lot.

Anyway! I was really happy to hear that the first post in this series was so helpful to so many of you. I actually had a dream last week that I wrote an e-book about launching a card line and made it available as a digital download for like $10, which is basically the most coherent dream I’ve ever had. Let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in! I could definitely explain things in greater detail in that context.

Okay! Without further ado, here’s Part 2, which covers some basic information about working with sales reps.

What’s the deal with sales reps? How do they work?

Sales reps show samples of your line to the retailers in their territory multiple times a year, take orders for your line, and act as the liaison between you and store buyers. One of the reasons this is great is that your reps have relationships with store buyers that you don’t have; they will also show seasonal releases and new products, so you don’t have to personally connect with every store every time you add to your line.

Some larger rep groups also have a permanent showroom where they take appointments with buyers and host events a few times a year. I took these photos at the Lynn Mitchell Group showroom in LA; the showroom is set up like a store, with each line merchandised in its own section, so it’s easy for buyers to see all the products in a line.



Some larger rep groups have their own booth at wholesale shows like the National Stationery Show and NYIGF, which means that they can take your line to the show for you. This is awesome if you can’t afford or don’t want to deal with having your own booth at the show, which can be very expensive and labor-intensive.

How do reps get paid?

Reps take between 15-20% of your wholesale price as a commission on all orders that ship into their territory, even if they are not directly involved with taking the order (i.e, the retailer comes directly to you with their order, or you take an order directly from a retailer who visits your booth at a trade show).

Do I need to have sales reps to get my stuff into stores?

Nope. They are helpful as you grow, but a lot of people don’t work with reps and do just fine, especially just starting out. You can always send PDFs of your cards and a line sheet with prices directly to store buyers. Physical samples are always good to send, too.

Is there any reason I wouldn’t want to work with a rep? 

It’s really an individual decision. The biggest factor in choosing to work with sales reps is that you’ll need to factor their commission into your profits. You’ll also need to do the work of constantly keeping your reps updated with all your latest products, and sending out commission checks monthly.

How do you find a good rep?

In order to find my first rep, Lynn Mitchell Group, I looked up who Rifle Paper’s rep was in Los Angeles and cold emailed them. I sent Lynn Mitchell some info about myself and my line, and attached some of my favorite card images. (Most lines who work with reps list their rep information on their website.) Based on that email, I landed an appointment to meet with LMG in their showroom, and I ended up signing with them for representation in Southern CA and AZ (their territories).

I didn’t know anything about different rep groups when I started, but I did know that my goal was to work with reps who carried other lines I wanted my work to be associated with. I still think that’s a good place to start. Look at lines you admire, and see who their reps are. There’s no real google-able database of stationery reps that I know of. (If anyone knows of one, please let me know!) Some parts of the country have several different stationery reps or rep groups, and other parts of the country don’t have much going on.

As I started to grow and talk with different reps about the possibility of working together, I reached out to some of the designers of the lines they carried, in order to hear what their experience had been like.

What does a rep look for in picking up a line? Is it hard to land representation?

Top reps get approached by a lot of lines wanting to work with them, so in order to be considered for representation, your line will first need to be different from the other lines they carry. I’ll talk about this more in a future post, but one major thing to know is that reps are very careful about not taking business away from their other vendors (and themselves) by picking up new lines that look or feel too similar to something already on their roster. The other thing to keep in mind is that most reps will want to see at least 40 or so cards in your line before considering you as a candidate for representation, so if you’re just starting out, you may not have enough product yet.

Next week, I’ll talk about the National Stationery Show. If you’ve got questions about sales reps that I didn’t cover, please feel free to comment — I’ll answer as best I can!

Off to watch the Breaking Bad finale,