Almost half a year after starting Emily Rose Ink, I feel like I can finally breathe, look back on the past five months, and do some thoughtful reflection. A blog seems like the perfect place; I've learned so much from reading blogs about creative businesses, and the personal nature of the posts especially appeals to me. Reading them, I feel like I'm part of a larger community of other "makers" (mostly women) who are also pursuing their dreams. Whether it be the vast resources and inspiration culled by Nole Garey at Oh So Beautiful Paper or the tour de force that is Grace Bonney's Design Sponge (Grace's podcast, After the Jump!, has kept me company on many a 90-minute commute), these blogs help burgeoning creative business owners like me feel supported and informed. I finally feel like I have a voice to add to this community of amazing people.
When I started Emily Rose Ink, I had so much to learn about the stationery industry. I've spent spent countless hours educating myself since then, and I'm still learning, but today I know SO much more than I did five months ago, and that feels really good. To boot, I've done it all while still working full-time as a high school English teacher. So, you ask, what exactly have I learned? I've compiled a list below.
We don't live in a paperless world. Even though I love technology, when I started Emily Rose Ink, I was worried. I wondered, Do people even buy paper goods anymore? Will wedding invitations go paperless? Would I be killing the environment? But the more I learned about the paper industry, the more I realized that we don't, in fact, live in a paperless world: every boutique in Chicago seems to carry some sort of card or calendar; Rifle Paper Company, which has only existed for 5 years, is KILLING IT in the retail market; and anyone who's been to a wedding can agree that paper invitation suites really do add so much to special occasions. We live in a digital world, sure, but people also use the internet to buy paper goods. And these days, it's easy to find high-quality recycled paper so that pretty paper isn't ruining our beautiful world. I was able to find 100% recycled paper for my products rather easily.
Color is complicated. I didn't go to art school, and I taught myself everything I know about graphic design in the last year. But I had no idea how complicated color is. Learning how to mix watercolors to get exactly the right shade, I had to refer back to my color wheel diagram about a million times. And printing. Not only are there many different color profiles (RGB, CMYK, Pantone/PMS) used by graphic designers and printers to find the right colors, but each kind of color is used in a particular printing or design method. RGB, for example, is typically reserved for electronic images, and it's much more vibrant than CYMK color. Pantone colors are the most exact for printing, but they have to be mixed by hand, so printing in Pantone is typically expensive for smaller quantities (This web article gives a really straightforward explanation of RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone). And who would have thought that printing a card on my home HP inkjet printer would yield such drastically different results than printing on a laser printer at Kinkos? And that the color could be completely different on the exact same machine a week later? I have an entirely new appreciation for the infinite shades of color that make up the world we see around us.
You can make a living as an artist. I've always loved art, but I was really good at reading and writing, so I focused my energy and extra-curricular time on being an English student in high school and college because I'd always been told that you can't make a living as an artist. Six years into my teaching career, it hit me that it wasn't particularly easy to make a living doing that, either. I always thought that since I wasn't a Picasso or a Van Gogh, I couldn't be an "artist." But following my industry has opened my eyes to an entire world of people who make their livings making beautiful things. Whether it's self-taught artists like Lisa Congdon, artist extraordinaire Maira Kalman, or all the local artists and jewelers and potters I've met in Chicago, I have been amazed to see that you can, in fact, make a living as an artist. (Side note: if you get a chance, watch Maira Kalman's TED Talk, "The Illustrated Woman." My favorite quote from this talk has been a mantra of sorts in my pursuit of Emily Rose Ink: "We don't know anything, but that's all right, we're going to do it anyway, and as a matter of fact, it's better not to know anything, because if you know too much, you're stymied.")
The internet is smart. For a person who has sworn by books her whole life, I've been AMAZED by how much I can learn on the internet. I became a member of skillshare.com, which gave me access to cheap online courses in everything from calligraphy to Adobe Illustrator. I took Melissa Esplin's comprehensive online calligraphy course, I Still Love Calligraphy. I joined atly.com so I could take Stationery Business 101, taught by Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press (I'm obsessed with her company), which was one of the most useful online classes I've taken so far. And then there's the blogs, the online forums, the youtube videos, and the many social media platforms that have given me a sense of community and inspiration. I've even crowdsourced my Facebook friends for coding help when I needed to make detailed changes to my website. When I was trying to center the etsy shop preview on my "shop" page, I had FIVE different people working at the same time on code to make it happen. Within 30 minutes, my problem was solved (note to self: It pays to have amicable breakups with coder ex-boyfriends).
Women + design = power. I grew up in the age of girl power, with parents who insisted that my sister or I could to "do anything" or "be anything" a man could do or be. As a student, I was naive about the real-world challenges faced by women in the workplace, probably because my major (English) was dominated by smart women. Then I became an adult, and I experienced all the struggles of being a woman in the workplace. My first year out of college, a male co-worker, also hired right out of college, who had the same amount of experience and education, was earning $2,000 more than me because he negotiated his contract. But when a relative tried to negotiate her contract at a new company, the firm was put off and rescinded their offer. I saw women, not just in my own workplace but in the workplaces of friends and family, dismissed by men during conversations for being "too emotional" or "dumpy." And everywhere there were men in positions of power. But the world of design is different.
In the design industry, I've discovered, women are the "indiepreneurs"--the driving forces, the creative brains, the business leaders. The Biz Ladies column over at Design Sponge is one of the best examples of the incredible power and inspiration I feel from women in design; what started in 2006 as a series of in-person meetings run by Design Sponge has become a weekly column dedicated to business tips, tricks, and interviews for, about, and from creative women. And female bloggers like Joy Cho of ohjoy.com, Bri Emery of DesignLoveFest or Jenna Kutcher, women who are writing thoughtful, informative posts about design while also working on their own creative businesses, are one of the driving forces in the industry, gaining thousands of followers and fans and spreading the word about other women who are doing equally beautiful and awesome things. It's an exciting time to be joining this community, and I feel so hopeful and grateful to be a part of it.