Getting to here
Let’s start with this. I am a massive secret nerd. Most people who know me know that I love letterpress, typography and lettering, and I don’t hide my fondness for a good greeting card. But I am way more nerdy than just that.
Not many people know that this enthusiasm stretches far into the depths of paper, wood type and the mechanics of vintage presses. I’m by no means an expert, but I’d probably bend your ear about paper stock and finishes for a lot longer than is strictly necessary.
I’ll (very) occasionally admit the true reason I’m fascinated with letters. If you must know, it’s because they’re just shapes that we’ve added meaning to, in order to understand and transmit words. They can come in so many forms - we understand a letter ‘e’ the same whether it’s capital or lower case, cursive, serif or sans serif - but when you manipulate that ‘e’ beyond a certain point it stops being recognisable as a letter. That BLOWS MY MIND.
With an answer like that, many people would glaze right over so I tend to keep this stuff to myself… See? Nerd.
And so we arrive here. To the Lovely Paper Co. To launch day.
I feel pretty weird about it. It’s been just an idea for so very long, and it’s even completely changed from what it was going to be since I first registered the domain four years and three months ago.
Truth is, I’m not that used to making my enthusiasms obvious. And the behind-the-scenes is not quite how I’d like it. Add to that the standard levels of anxiety about starting a business, if anyone will like it, if it’ll succeed or fail and if I’ll lose all my money… and it’s all a bit much really.
But a wise lady told me last year that the feeling of being mildly freaked out is a good thing and if I’ve got it, then I’m probably doing something right and I should keep going. So here I am.
This is the unofficial story of Lovely Paper. A long old rambling road that I didn’t think would end here, but in hindsight, kinda all makes sense.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on the floor, carefully opening and reading every one of my birthday cards sent to me while I was a baby. I loved the cards; the bright colours (it was the '80s), the textures and the shapes.
I was also fascinated by the idea that people had written words in those cards, especially for me. I’d pore over those words, examine the handwriting and ink. I kept the cards in a little box, and every birthday, I would carefully collect and add the new year’s haul.
Then when I was around ten or so, I got a colouring book based on the Book of Kells. For those who don’t know it, it’s a religious text that was painstakingly drawn and coloured by Irish monks in the 9th century. I loved that colouring book, particularly the heavily illustrated Celtic letters. They were so different from anything I’d seen before - so elaborate and intricate. And so freaking old. The 800s! People drawing and using familiar characters over a thousand years ago. It was there that I became fascinated with letters as an art form all of their own.
Opening the door
In my twenties, I developed my love of paper. I was living in the UK, working in marketing and every role I had involved some kind of print production. I produced so many projects over those years; leaflets, booklets, catalogues, brochures and Annual Reports. I regularly worked with a wonderful design team and print company, and it was with them that I first learned about the variety of papers available, the different styles of printing and how the costing structure of each style works. I also first learned all the incredible techniques that could be drawn upon to make print work shine.
From there on in, for every single project that came my way, I would attempt to persuade my bosses to fork out extra money for die-cutting, foiling or embossing. It never once worked.
But it was here that I learned to truly appreciate the versatility of paper, of ink, of great design and of the machines that could bring them together.
Learning the ropes
I moved to Sydney in 2012, just after my 30th birthday. While working at a marketing consultancy, I worked on a creative project that involved illustrative lettering - with incredible local artists like Gemma O’Brien. Lettering, typography and letterpress were all growing in popularity at the time, aided no doubt by the early days of Instagram, and looking back, it was very much a case of ‘right place, right time’ for me.
I was able to indulge myself in lettering and I took my first course with Wayne from Australian Type Foundry, not long after I arrived. Although I loved and still love drawing letters, it’s not really a core skill of mine (!) and so I expanded my view. And a love affair with letterpress was born, in the most unlikely fashion!
On a whim, for something to do on the weekend, I decided to try my hand at a typesetting course, and I travelled to the Penrith Museum of Printing. I thought it would just be a fun way to spend an afternoon - but instead it started a fascination that has endured for over five years.
I spent a day compositing - forming sentences from lead type, using individual letters and spaces, and then having them printed. The museum is filled with more printing presses than you can imagine, salvaged and restored and maintained by a team of mostly retired volunteers; most of whom had previously been employed in the newspaper industry. The volunteers are men, who had completed apprenticeships 50 or 60 years earlier and spent their careers as jobbing print operators and compositors.
The job back then was very different. These were technical roles - compositors skills were to be speedy and precise, while print operators needed dexterity and problem solving skills. Creativity and design weren’t part of the package; the printers were responsible for the production, not the conception of the work itself.
Together these volunteers have so much knowledge, often knowledge that has never been documented - learned from years on the job. So show the slightest interest and they’ll share whatever you want to know! I probably asked all kinds of geeky questions, let’s be honest. So they willingly fired up the presses and showed me how it’s done. It was then I decided I wanted to have a go on the machines myself.
I enjoyed seeing the presses in action so much, and the treasure trove of artefacts of vintage printing that the museum holds, that I travelled back a few weeks later to take a wood type class. We selected the original wood type letters, and assembled them together into a poster to print on a proof press. Proof presses are the simplest to operate, and the least likely to claim a limb, and so didn’t excite me quite as much!
It took me another year to find a letterpress course. It was a combination of hand-lettering taught by type designer, Dave Foster, and hands-on letterpress printing with the team at The Distillery, on the much more hazardous and way more fun Heidelberg Windmill.
I loved the rhythm and routine of using the Windmill. But operating a two tonne motorised printing press isn’t the most convenient of hobbies… So while I’ve taken many other classes over the years since, my time on the press has been few and far between.
With the many workshops, and the constant searching for classes, and the incredible network that has developed between all of those people working in the letterpress world in Australia and beyond, I have discovered and met many makers through my years here.
Stopping and starting
In 2014, I registered lovelypaper.co and went about starting an ecomm business. I’d worked in ecommerce in the UK, when it was still emerging, so I always thought I’d have a crack at running my own online store when the time was right. Back then, I thought the Lovely Paper Co. would be a stationery store, selling the kind of beautiful stationery that I aspired to own, and the kinds of lovely notebooks I couldn’t help but collect.
Back then, I also thought that it would be okay to run a little sideline. Turns out, I was wrong, and it was against the terms of my visa.
It drove me mad at the time, but now I’m so glad that the stationery version of Lovely Paper never came to be. Timing is always on your side, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
It’s been over four years since that day, and in the intervening years, Lovely Paper has changed form a few times - as a store concept, and even visually. I scribbled an idea for the logo by hand, and I’ve had help to make it into what it is today. I needed the encouragement of one graphic designer friend to stick with it, rather than to have something designed for me. And another has tweaked and polished it up to my exacting requirements: “make it neat, but not so neat that it doesn’t look hand-drawn.”
As the years passed, and I learned more about letterpress, I developed more and more respect for those people painstakingly restoring presses that are hundreds of years old and patiently trouble-shooting the million things that can go wrong while operating them. I experienced for myself the manual labour involved in producing the prints. The hours of set up and clean up for every print run. The investment in tools and equipment and plates to bring their designs to life.
It’s not just about the process either, it’s about keeping these traditional machines in operation, and keeping a craft and skill alive. It’s also about the appreciation for the analogue; the tactile, the textural, in an increasingly digital world.
I’ve worked in digital for years, and I’m definitely not a technophobe - but I do think it’s good for us to feel natural materials in our hands, and not just interact with screens. To pick up a pen and write by hand, to feel the pressure and motion, and to watch the ink appear on the paper. And to not always rely on the electronic to communicate special feelings. Instant messages are great, but sentiments can feel more powerful and enduring in paper and ink. Words are powerful. And when they’re important, or the impact that we want them to have on another person is important, written trumps typed.
The final version
Once my visa restrictions lifted, it made sense for the new Lovely Paper to build on the passion I’ve been fostering in the intervening years. It should be about letterpress, the most lovely way to print on paper. It should also be about supporting the little guy; the men and women who are running small businesses and need an audience for their products. Because these are the people who are the guardians of presses that have existed for hundreds of years, and the custodians of a craft and skill that could easily be forgotten.
For you, the customer, it should be about choice too. Most cards are mass produced, digitally printed in the thousands. Visit your newsagent, or your favourite stationery chain store, or even specialist gift stores, and you’ll see the same brands everywhere. We’ve all received the same card twice for a birthday, or sent a card for a special occasion only to see its twin given by someone else.
It should also be about convenience. Truth is, now I live on the other side of the world to many of my closest friends and family; while I’m excellent at sending a card for no real reason other than to say hello, or I miss you, or congratulations - when it comes to birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas, I’m hopeless. I’ll send you a card and it will be specially selected, and heartfelt in its message, but it will absolutely be late.
My mother is one of those people who always had a stash of cards ready to go for any given reason. She kept them in a box, with gift tags, wrapping paper and ribbons. Whenever an occasion would roll around, as it often did in a big family, the box had all the trimmings ready to fulfil your requirements.
I hope Lovely Paper Co. helps me, and maybe others, be that organised. To always have to hand the perfect card that fits the occasion and the recipient. Sometimes quirky, funny, sweet, colourful or classic - but always beautiful.
Which brings me to the why of Lovely Paper. I’ve thought a lot about whether to include this part - but again, the fact it makes me uncomfortable means I must. As in the case of many stories of personal endeavour, and of change, heartbreak has played its role in this story.
That’s why Lovely Paper believes that life is better when you feel, and our tagline is ‘Say it, with feeling.’
Last year was about that for me. And as in almost every case, there were lessons to be found within it. For me, it was about discovering that I’ve spent too long running away from ‘feelings’ in all their forms, freaked out by other peoples’ and not the best at recognising or acknowledging my own. I’ve spent this year learning, and while I’m not quite there yet, I’ve definitely gotten better. Probably most importantly though, I’ve recognised how much better it is to express how you feel, and how many notable moments can be created when you do. Sure, some are awkward AF but others are truly touching. And without taking the risk to share emotions, neither would never exist. I know I’ve missed out on too many opportunities to share how I feel with important people in my life, and if I can do anything to help others not miss them, I feel like I should.
So, Lovely Paper is about bringing more touching moments into the world. Alone, I can only do that in my own little corner of it, but I hope that Lovely Paper means that more and more can happen too. We may just offer the humble greeting card, but with honest words and real sentiment, these cards can make both the sender and the recipient glow. I hope everyone who shops with Lovely Paper will use the cards that we bring you to express their feelings, reach out to their special people and make those moments become real.
Now, it’s over to you.