I’m pretty stoked to share today’s Career Chat (formerly known as: Style to Inspire) interview with you guys! Whether or not you know her name, I guarantee you know her work: designer Joanna Reynolds is one of the contributing creative forces behind many of Sugar Paper’s beautiful cards, prints and collaborations with mega brands like Goop and J.Crew. I’ve known Joanna for some time — we went to college together! — but funnily enough, have only recently re-connected with her when our worlds sort of collided. I was thrilled to learn about what other ventures she has going on besides working as a freelancer for Sugar Paper (see: new textiles collection, and a growing costume design business). Today, I wanted to get the scoop on what it’s like to manage so many different types of creative ventures, and of course, how she got into the lettering and illustration business to begin with. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in lettering and type development? Did you always think your career would go in that specific direction?
Lettering is something I started doing relatively recently; I studied fine art at USC and developed my illustration skills while studying fashion design at FIDM. My mom is an artist and one of those people who can make absolutely anything, so my childhood included an amazing mix of art history lessons, fine art, and every craft project you can think of. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in a creative field, I just wasn’t sure which.
About two years into working at Sugar Paper as the Custom + Production Manager (a job I got because of my art/craft background) an order came through for a stationery set with a bespoke monogram. We didn’t have a specific illustrator lined up for the work, so I asked the principal designer, Erika Finney, if I could have a go at it. She didn’t hesitate for a second in saying yes, which I will be forever grateful for – that monogram was the start of more lettering opportunities with the company, and having the support of Erika and the company’s two founders, Chelsea Shukov and Jamie Grobecker, gave me the confidence to eventually take the leap and become a designer full-time.
What are your favorite types of projects to work on at Sugar Paper?
Every project that I do with Sugar Paper is different – the inspiration is always something fresh, the end use is often varied, and the development process is a great, creative back and forth that often inspires other new projects. I get to mess around with chalk and paint, play with calligraphy, and build more traditional style lettering with carefully measured lines and curves. One of my favorite things about working with the girls on the Sugar Paper collaborations with Goop and J.Crew was that we did 4 or 5 completely different styles of lettering for the various products. I really love the variety of work that I get to do, as projects never feel old or boring.
So are you still working with Sugar Paper now? I feel like I’m still seeing that gorgeous lettering of yours pop up in new products!
I worked full-time for Sugar Paper for 3 years, but in February of 2013 I decided I wanted to make a move into other design roles. I went back to school in 2008 to learn fashion design so that I could get into costuming for film, an interest Iâve had for long time that combines my love of film, passion for creating things, and knowledge of clothing design and construction.
Once I started being able to stand on my own design legs, and also started making contacts with people in the film industry, the time came to wind down my full time work with Sugar Paper. Nowadays I feel I have the best of both worlds, getting to work with them on special projects and, of course, as a freelance lettering designer. I do quite a bit of illustration work as well, but my main focus is costume design. So reallyâ¦.I have 4-5 jobs? I have a short attention span too, so itâs really quite convenient!
You recently launched a shop, The Last Oyster. What was your inspiration behind it? In addition to offering hand lettered products, how did you become interested in developing home goods?
The Last Oyster is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. My designs are primarily inspired by the ocean and my life growing up and living in Southern California. Beaches, lakes, mountainsâ¦I’m a proud California girl and my work reflects all of my memories here and the things I see and experience in my everyday life.
My mom taught me to sew when I was really young, so I’ve always looked at fabric products as projects that I could figure out how to make myself. I made my bedding for college, and every apartment I’ve lived in has been decorated with items that I’ve designed and made. Everything sold in my shop has existed first in my home. My friends and family have always been really supportive of my creative adventures and convinced me that if I put in the effort to take these hobbies and turn them into a profession, I could be successful.
Designing textiles is obviously a lot different than putting pen to paper…or is it? How has the design process differed between the two, and what has surprised you about developing new products for the shop?
The way I approach designing lettering and designing textiles is very similar – I like clean lines, sharp contrasts, and little details that show a lot of thought was put into the creation of each item. In designing for The Last Oyster, I referenced vintage maps and my collection of old nautical books for both the home products and the hand-lettered paper products. I really like strong graphic elements, which I use in some of my items for the home and are definitely influenced by my illustration and lettering work.
What’s surprised me in the development of new products for The Last Oyster is that my design aesthetic is much preppier and more masculine that I would have thought. I’ve never had particularly feminine taste – you would be hard-pressed to find anything pink in my apartment, and won’t be seeing anything in radiant orchid in my shop – but I’m interested to see how my style of design evolves over the next few years. I’ve been working with a dear friend on her wedding invitations that involve a lot of soft floral elements, so I might be inspired to work a little bit of that softness into new products. We’ll see.
How do you hope to grow The Last Oyster in the next 5 years? Are there any dream collaborations or shops you’d want to sell in?
I plan to expand the line to include throw blankets, more kitchen linens, and potentially bedding, and to start offering original art prints of my lettering work. I also have a list of dream stores that I would love to have carry my line, so my to-do list for The Last Oyster includes a lot more promotion of my brand. I’m interested in doing collaborations with other designers, with lettering work as well as home goods – I think pushing together two or three creative perspectives always results in something amazing and unexpected. I think there will also be more crossover in future products for The Last Oyster between lettering and textiles. I launched the shop with hand-painted home goods and I’d like to bring lettering into that, potentially with custom monogrammed items, but also with my own original lettering art.
As for dream collabs or sellers, School House Electric (based in Portland with another store in NYC) curates an incredible selection of goods with a lovely clean vintage feel. That company feels like home to me. Reform School (here in Silver Lake) is one of my favorite neighborhood shops – they always have really great art and a perfectly cozy and eclectic mix of things for the home. The Future Perfect (in NYC) is a place my sister introduced me to years ago that just has the dreamiest collection of modern home items, as does the other store under the same owners, A&G Merch. Our wedding registry included a handful of items from both spots. And, maybe someday, a collaboration with a company like West Elm. Who knows? The world is my Oyster, right? :)
Whatâs the best part about owning your own business? The most challenging?
The best thing about owning my own business is the freedom. I used to be really terrified by it because each day is different and it’s up to me to make sure each one is successful, but I’ve found that I actually love having so much control. Also, I can go have picnics whenever I want. I really like picnicking.
The most challenging part is balance. When you own your own business work never stops – being your own boss means that you are always hyperaware of what needs to be done, what deadlines you’re about to blow, the limits of your budgets (for time and money)â¦you have to know when it’s time to turn off the computer/sewing machine/whatever it is, make a fancy cocktail and curl up to watch a movie with your guy and your fur babies.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in starting their own business? What about those that are interested in building a career based off their hand lettering?
I made an illustration for myself the other day that says “It’s OK to sink a little. You’ll swim again.” It is very easy to lose confidence in yourself when you first start out – it’s lonely and you have to make every call on your own. You’re financially, creatively, and administratively responsible for every part of your business and inevitably there will be moments when you feel like you are drowning. I constantly remind myself that there is a solution to every problem, I just have to step back and look at the big picture (and maybe get a bit creative).
When it comes to lettering work, the main piece of advice I can give is to put yourself out there. Offer to write menus. Do work for your friends. Create your own opportunities and be willing to do any projects that come your way because every single one of them will make you a better artist. You never know who will see your work or what projects may come up based on something random you’ve done.
Can Paixano, in Barcelona.
Item you’ve ever designed:
Our wedding invitations
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Images courtesy of Joanna Reynolds; “Je T’aime” quad graphic from this post