Susanne Stowe of Inkery Road
I have always admired people that break the mold; Susanne has always fit that category. I first met her while going to school at The Creative Circus (she worked there). She always took that extra minute to talk to everyone. Always went above and beyond when it came to her job, taking the extra time to hand letter certain aspects of our time at the school (2 years of intensity). She brings a bit of grit to life.
I have been contemplating going freelance and working for myself. Susanne did it. She loves what she does. She makes her hours. This makes me know I can do it too. She inspired me by her story (below). This Friday is my last day at my 9-6 at Hook & Loop. One of the main things I need to do this year is; press the publish button on this blog. I wanted to show off this amazing woman's skill and tell her amusing, beautiful and inspiring story, from her mouth. I asked for 3 main questions and a short bio.
It all started when I was a kid.
Susanne: So we can start when I was a kid... I always paid attention to lettering & fonts on everything. Signs, cereal boxes, handwriting on mail, etc. Ever since I can remember, I studied those things & would trace over them with my finger, so I guess becoming a designer was a good path for me, ha! In high school, I took more art classes than I probably should have been allowed. I think I took 5 or more photography classes, probably the same amount of ceramics classes & a few textile classes as well- bookbinding & what not. (Really though, I don't know how I graduated with enough legit credits.)
Fast forward to college when I was trying to figure out my major. I'd gotten wrapped up in Photography so much in high school that I was leaning towards that direction, but my school (Appalachian State) didn't have a photo major at that point, so that's what actually pushed me back to majoring in Graphic Design. This is when I first learned a few different calligraphy styles & completely fell in love. I still have all my calligraphy practice sheets from college too. My mom did a big clean out of her house & made all her kids take everything out. One thing was all my practice sheets (along with about a million pieces of ceramics. Anyone want a vase or bowl??) Anyways, apparently when you're delirious & up at 4am finishing your calligraphy homework for class the next day, the things you write don't make much sense & are pretty hilarious 12+ years later!
It was always something I wanted to get back into, so a few years ago, I discovered Anne Elser, calligrapher extraordinaire & all around beautiful human being, who teaches classes here in Atlanta. I signed up to learn Copperplate, a calligraphy style I didn't learn in college. I took a few other classes with her & it gave me confidence to work more out of the box than I'd previously had the guts to do. This was a push I really needed to help kick start doing this more full time. So I quit my 9-5 & started Inkery Road! The name came about because I liked the idea of having "ink" in it since I wanted to focus on calligraphy & hand lettering as well as some of my graphic design roots. So that covered inks used by hand and a printer! "Road" was picked because this really felt like a journey to me where I've chosen this path that is forever changing styles & directions & I'm constantly discovering & learning new things along the way. It's cheesy, yeah, but it fit to me. And well, I'm cheesy. One thing I didn't think about is that there aren't many hand lettering options for a capital "I" that don't look like a lowercase "L" when your company name isn't a real word. So I went with a lowercase "i" for Inkery so that my made up word was legible. I spent my time working on freelance work as well as designing prints & cards to sell, but wanted to get a good number of items done before launching a shop. I guess I'm my own worst critic so it was hard for me to finalize designs & stop making little tweaks to them. That & just being afraid to put myself out there to friends, peers & the world was super intimidating. So I worked slowly in general, then once I became a mama, it all got put on hold. Let's face it, when there was free time, I was either doing laundry, napping or drinking chai lattes.
Me: You started your instagram handle Feb 27th, you clearly had hand lettering up your sleeve, what was holding you back?
Susanne: Now, I absolutely love being a stay at home mama, but part of me felt like something was missing & I knew I could feel happier if I was doing something for myself. So I pushed myself to stop holding back & start working more regularly during naps, after Audrey's bedtime & on weekends when my husband was able to watch her. That's when I came across the #JustBeachyApril lettering challenge. A friend posted about her doing it & I thought I'd give it a shot to help have accountability to post regularly. I figured even if I wasn't able to do it every day, that it'd be good for some exposure since I'd just started my Instagram, Facebook & Twitter accounts & didn't have many followers. It basically put my own work on hold a good bit again because I'd spend Audrey's naps doing the lettering for each day. But I wanted to do a different style each day & not just use a pen & nib with black ink & have every day look the same. I figured if I could have some variety, it'd be more intriguing to the social media world, but more importantly, it taught me to explore outside of my comfort zone & to work much more quickly because I only had nap time to work! I experimented with different lettering styles, wrote with things from a pen & nib, to a brush pen & markers... I wrote on a pineapple frond, then wrote WITH a pineapple frond & made a word out of coconut flakes, then I ate said coconut flakes. Sometimes I was a little frustrated I was putting my actual work on hold, but in the long run, I really learned a lot about myself, my style & actually found the lettering challenge really good for my own growth as a designer & artist. I felt pretty confident & ready to push myself even harder to get my work out into the world & stop holding back. I've even turned around & sold several of the prints I did for the lettering challenge, which was surprising & fantastic!
Me: Tell me about your process, from start to finish including photography. Love all your captions, it's like getting a little piece of your personality served up.
Susanne: I have a list of quotes & sayings on my phone that I add to all the time that I want to letter & turn into prints or cards. When I start a new one, I start sketching out words really roughly, then go through several rounds of tweaking the layout, spacing & letters. I used to finalize a sketch perfectly, scan it in, then digitize it, but I very quickly was able to start perfecting my digitizing skills & no longer needed to spend the time making a perfect hand drawn version before moving to the computer. That alone can give me a whole other nap's worth of time to digitize!! A key thing for me when I feel the digital version is almost done, I print out the layout & look at it. Close up, far away & different angles. I'll take a photo of the print out & look at it tiny. That makes a big difference in how I see curves & lines vs. how I see them on the computer screen. Once a print is done, I print it out & stick it in a frame to photograph for my Etsy shop. Every once in awhile, you can't get quite the light you need because you have the oldest oak tree in existence looming over your house & have to use a white board. Well sometimes the only prop you have sitting around to hold up a white board is the brand new training potty for your toddler that just came in the mail! So basically, you doo what you gotta doo to get the job done! When it's time to post, I try to write what I'd say if I were sitting next to my friend, describing my work. I tend to be quirky & silly & I want that to come across. I'm friendly, I want people to laugh & smile so I try to be relaxed so people feel comfortable around me & happy when they see my work.
Me: I like that you stick to themes, like your #justbeachyapril, this is a great social media strategy, both to keep track of your work and getting other people to see your work.
Susanne: Honestly when I started the #JustBeachyApril challenge, I didn't see myself sticking to it daily, even though I really wanted to. Once I started it & realized I was pushing myself to do something a little different each day, I was more & more excited about it & really looked forward to what direction my brain was going to take me in each day. I never had an idea of what I was going to do until I sat down to do it. Sometimes I'd ask myself what writing utensil I hadn't used yet & would pull that one out & just go with whatever happened. The accountability kind of naturally came along with the confidence & excitement that built with each day. I really wanted to do May's Hawaii lettering challenge, but knew I needed to get back to producing more prints for my shop. I got way more out of the challenge than I thought I would, more exposure, a ton of confidence in my own work, & my work ethic went up a couple of notches, which was fantastic. It gave me another level of excitement, which I really needed to push through juggling a toddler who was becoming more active & more of my shadow by the day. :)
Me: Does your daughter ever let you do your craft with her in the room?
Susanne: Ha, I definitely can't get work done with Audrey around. Robert recently took her to Florida with his mom to visit some family. Ever since they got back, she's literally been attached at the hip to me. I don't do much work when she's awake because she'd rather sit in my lap while I read to her, play with toys together or run around with the pups while grabbing their tails & giggling her head off when they turn around & lick her. Serves her right for the tail tugging ;) Before her little vacation to Florida, away from mama, she was more open to playing independently, but the second I sit at my desk now, she wants up in my lap & tries to take over the computer, crumple up the sketches that are strewn all over my desk, or goes to town pressing the buttons on my printers.
See you like her too.
I have more questions that follow this up about scanners and photoshoots, which include holding up her scenes with toddler toilets. More to come.