Discontinued Prints, and Lower Prices!

Hi guys,

Next time you check out our shop, you’ll notice something awesome: all our prints, dish towels, tote bags and tiny card sets are CHEAPER! Yep, we’ve lowered prices on all those things by up to 25%! (I know. That pretty much never happens, right?) But we’ve made some changes to our production processes, and not to sound like a used car salesman or anything, but we wanted to pass the savings on to you.


Until now, we’ve been printing all our art prints in-house, but as we’ve grown, that’s become an unmanageable process. (For example: I now own 3 $700 printers, at least one of which is broken at any given time.) So, going forward, our prints will be professionally printed in New England, and I’m really happy about this. With that change, as of July 4, we will no longer be offering 5×7 prints for sale, and we are also retiring several of our existing designs in all sizes. So if there’s something you want that’s being discontinued, we wanted to give you the opportunity to grab it while it lasts! You can find all our discontinued prints in the LAST CALL PRINTS section of the shop.

If you made it all the way through this post, you get a prize: 15% off any purchase through July 4 with the discount code DETAILSMATTER, valid on our site only. Yep, 15% off everything, even the stuff with new lower prices. Hooray!

Happy Summer!



Ask Emily: When Your Professor Gives You Crappy Advice

I should start this off by noting that the person who inspired this post didn’t say her professor gave her crappy advice. I said that. Here’s the actual question I got from “Shirley” (not her real name) via email a few weeks ago:

“My question is related to the fact that I gave up hand lettering due to professors telling me what was “really” going to make me successful in the design industry, and I’m wondering if you had an experience like that ever, and how did you determine what to do?”

Oh man. Have I ever had experiences like that! In fact, the first semester I took printmaking in college, our school’s beloved printmaking instructor was on sabbatical, and the class was taught by a visiting professor. This visiting professor and I did not see eye to eye on many things. I remember she gave me a C+ on the piece pictured below, a general linocut assignment, because she didn’t think words belonged with imagery in fine art.

Vintage Me: Linoleum print, circa 1996

Vintage Me: Linoleum print, circa 1997

I mean.

This isn’t Picasso, and yeah, maybe it’s a little sacrilegious (I was 21!), but making a statement like “words don’t belong on fine art” is just a silly, narrow-minded thing to say. It’s a similar statement to “hand lettering isn’t going to “really” make you successful in the design industry,” in that I think it reflects a very narrow and dated idea of what “the design industry” is all about.

As someone who has experienced a few different facets of the design industry, there is one thing I know: There is no one path to success, especially in design. I mean, yes, if you want to get a staff design job at a design firm or an ad agency and work your way up, you need to know Adobe Creative Suite, etc. (and I use Photoshop every day, even though I’m hand-lettering), but beyond that, it is totally up to you what to focus on and what kind of designer you want to be. And if you don’t want to follow that traditional path — like, if you want to make art out of condiments and take pictures of it and put them on Instagram and eventually end up with a book deal, or if you want to draw pictures of famous cats, or if you want to turn your blog into a product line? There are ways to do that now that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

I honestly believe this: the thing that is “really” going to make you successful in the design industry is the thing you most love to do. If you want to be successful, whatever you do, you’re going to be doing it a LOT — because that’s generally how successful people get that way –so you’d better love it and you’d better have fun doing it.

(And to that particular professor who says you can’t really be successful in the design industry doing lettering: I think Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt, Erik Marinovich, Katie Daisy, and Gemma O’Brien would beg to differ. I know I would.)


On Gratitude: Celebrating Jenipher Lyn’s Book Launch!

The sweet, bubbly and lovely Jenipher Lyn is a social media friend-turned real life friend (I love those!). She recently wrote and illustrated a book for tween and teen girls, filled with encouraging, loving and important messages, called “How Being Stubborn, Depressed and Unpopular Saved My Life.” 

Jenipher says:

As part of her “book launch blog party” (brilliant idea, btw!) Jenipher asked me to contribute a doodle and blog post about gratitude, the subject of her book’s final chapter.

For those of us with more cynical tendencies, gratitude is one of those things that seems like it might fall into the category of “Pinterest spirituality.” You know, inspirational quotes superimposed over pictures of nature that make you think “Yes! This will TOTALLY make my life better.”

The bad news is that none of those quotes are going to make your life better, in and of themselves. (If that were the case, every person with a Pinterest account would have achieved permanent enlightenment by now.) But what I will say, from my own personal experience, is that every once in a while, one of those quotes might ring true for you, and inspire you to take action and change some stuff in your life that isn’t working. And THAT is what’s going to make your life feel better.

Having a daily, conscious gratitude practice — basically, counting your blessings instead of counting the ways the universe is screwing you — is super easy, free, and has made a gigantic difference in my own personal outlook.

I theoretically have a daily gratitude journal in which I write 5 things I’m grateful for that day, but realistically, I make mental lists while I’m sitting in traffic, and the journal is lost under my bed somewhere and covered in cat hair. I’m happy to report that mental traffic lists seem to work just as well. I also use gratitude as a reset button, on days when everything seems overwhelming and ridiculous and terrible. It’s a good way to get my brain out of a Spiral of Awfulness. Even if the things I’m grateful for are, like, coffee with extra shots of espresso and the internet. That’s okay. It’s not really about WHAT you’re grateful for. It’s more about training your brain to replace “life sucks” with “thank you,” because “thank you” feels so much better.

We live our lives moment by moment. (Trust me, there are lots of brilliant quotes about this that are way better than what I just said.) But it’s true: the only time we REALLY have is the moment we’re in, right now. Everything else is a memory or a projection. And my personal, independent research has concluded the fact below to be true.




Ack! I’m Speaking At Alt Summit!

Altitude Summit, or “Alt Summit,” or just “Alt,” is a business conference for bloggers, creatives and designers held in Salt Lake City. Since its inception in 2009, it’s expanded to include an online channel where folks can take ongoing classes from blogging and social media experts, as well as an entire online conference, as well as one-day Alt Design Camps on various topics held around the country. In the past, the flagship conference has always been held in January in Salt Lake City, but by popular demand, this year, they’re holding a second conference in June. (And the keynote speaker is Martha Stewart!!!!!!)

Seriously? WTF. I don’t even know.

I attended Alt in January 2013 for the first time, with pretty much no clue what I was getting into. I’d heard of the conference, and I’d seen photos of the fancy sponsored parties and very stylish-looking people looking like they were Having Fun!, but since I’m not really a blogger, I wasn’t deeply involved in that world. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or if the experience would end up being relevant for me. I’d just started contributing illustrations to Design Mom, which was really my primary connection to Alt: Gabrielle Blair, a.k.a. Design Mom, is one of Alt’s founders.

Alt had been sold out for months when a friend posted on Facebook that a friend of hers needed to sell her ticket, and something in me said “you should go to this!” So. Despite not having any money and not really being a blogger, I bought her ticket. (I am in a constant process of learning that, as it turns out, logic isn’t always the best way to make a decision. I’m as surprised as you are, seriously.)

At the time, I was still freelancing in advertising, and I had my etsy shop on the side. I’d also just run a successful Kickstarter project to get my Un-Tourist Scarves printed, so I was hoping that maybe I was going to start designing scarves for a living. But I really didn’t know. I knew I wanted to draw and write and work for myself, but I had no idea how that was going to happen.

Leading up to the conference, I was full of second thoughts: I’m a horrible networker. I don’t have a million cute outfits. I don’t even have a blog. BLAH BLAH BLAH. But I went, and it was awesome. In addition to learning a ton about a ton of things, from 3D printing to Pinterest strategy, I made some great friends, made work connections with conference sponsors/speakers, including Chronicle Books and Michael Miller Fabrics, and got to meet one of my personal design heroes, Stefan Sagmeister, who gave one of the keynotes.  And I left feeling like I still didn’t know exactly HOW the next phase of my career was going to happen, but way more certain that it WAS going to happen.

Anyway! All of this is backstory to tell you that I’m returning to Alt next month, as a speaker. Yikes! I pitched them on me leading a roundtable session, which is basically just talking to a small group of 10 or 15 people. They have like 20 happening at once, it’s really relaxed, and attendees can sit in on one, or move around to a few different ones during the session. I figured a roundtable would be a good, no-pressure way to go as a speaker, since I’m not, like, a SPEAKER.

But then they asked me to do a larger standalone presentation. Which is terrifying. But I’m gonna do it, because fear is an asshole. The general topic is my process of going from designer to product maker — bringing a product to market. But because there are a lot of different ways I can go with this, I’d love your feedback. If you were at my talk, what information would YOU most like me to share? Let me know in the comments, would you?

OK. Back to packing for the stationery show. Procrastination is so powerful, right?




My Booth’s Theme is “Stationery:” Some Thoughts On NSS 2014

Hi guys!

So the National Stationery Show starts in six days, and we’ve been busy figuring out all the millions of things that go into that, from booth lighting to press kits to last-minute sample printing. I launched my line last year at NSS, but leading up to the show, I was kind of blissfully ignorant about what I was walking into. A year ago, I was stressed and overworked because I’d just finished designing 45 cards in 6 weeks, and two weeks before the show, I was frantically reading random blog posts, trying to figure out what else I needed to do. Press kits? Mailers? OH CRAP, A CATALOG?!

I didn’t even get to walk the show last year, since I was the only person manning my stuff, in my shared booth with my friends at Igloo Letterpress. I was like a booth subletter. I didn’t have show giveaways, or a fancy mailer. I didn’t even know what a show special was, until a buyer asked me if I had one.

Last year's NSS mailer: a postcard.

Last year’s NSS mailer: a postcard. Sent out, like, 3 days before the show.

This year, things feel different, because they are. I have a company now. We have our own booth (1544, holla!) and, unlike last year, people are paying attention to what we do. Which, for a while, was really stressing me out. As some of my retailer friends have pointed out, and as we’ve all seen on instagram thanks to the #nss hashtag, stationers REALLY stepped up the pre-show mailer game this year. I saw photos of so many amazing mailers, from custom-printed aprons to entire boxes of swag. We did a calendar poster, which a few folks asked to see in its entirety, so here you go:

The handy NSS hashtag also alerted me to the fact that some people are doing themed booths this year, which I didn’t even know was a thing. So I spent a few days stressing out about not having a booth theme, and having plain white foam walls, and OMG what if we didn’t do enough, and then I was like, dude, snap out of it.

Here’s the thing: the Stationery Show is small enough that buyers are going to see your booth, regardless of how over-the-top your pre-show marketing is. Don’t get me wrong: beautiful, themed booths are awesome. Crazy mailers are awesome. All of that stuff is great, and can be super fun to figure out. But it can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to all this.

Which leads me to my point:

...and super out-of-focus pictures.

…and super out-of-focus pictures.

Last year, I didn’t even have my own booth, and I DEFINITELY didn’t have a theme, or live demos, or a kitten-petting happy hour, and it all worked out fine. Because when it comes down to it, the National Stationery Show is about your work, and getting it in front of buyers. Are you happy with your work? Does your booth show your products well? Does it have walls and lighting? Is it in the Javits? You are good.

At this point, you can’t control what buyers are going to respond to (and believe me, there’s stuff of mine that I LOVE that nobody buys!), so you might as well try to relax, have fun, and be proud of yourself. Because if you’re headed to NSS to exhibit next week, I know you’ve worked your ass off to get there.

If you get a chance, come say hi!  My work and I will be in Booth 1544, and I’d love to meet you.



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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