Friday, July 30, 2010

The First Print Run

Both Maree and I have been so frantic, neither of us have stopped to think how the cards will look in a store, coming out of a post box or attached to a lovely gift. I know for sure I will be having marathon writing sessions to all my friends to spread the word via classic hand written letters. But until that moment there is the first print run, and the scoring of hundreds of cards, the stuffing of cellophane sleeves and boxes and the brewing, doubtless, of many, many more pots of pear and jasmine tea. Next blog, will include many thank you's, because no-one starts alone and we certainly are enjoying excellent help from some brilliant people in the field and from the invisible gods of all things paper. why we teamed up. She's the baroque frame around my rough edges.

So, OK, It is Tuesday July the 27th and we are sweating bullets. The very first cards go to print at Spitting Image Digital printing on Thursday the 29th. Starting a card company involves loads of nuts and bolts. Maree has been incredible sourcing sustainable cellophane for the card sleeves, recycled cardboard for the boxes, a pretty candy striped vintage looking string for our up-cycled gift tags (We are using overs and trim papers from the card to produce gift cards to reduce paper wastage), boxes in craft paper for the box sets and frames for our prints. It's an exciting moment and a nerve wracking one as all of the designs we have gathered into collections will be tested with retailers, family and friends for the first time.

The start up of a design collection reminds me a bit of pregnancy. The incubation period is intensely private, comfortable, secretive and possibly a bit self indulgent. But then it's time to let go of the secure little mound and let go of the baby. The collections we have conceived for the first season are a little bit diverse. Origami Blues is a bit romantic and sophisticated. The modern florals are minimal and painterly like 60s abstract art or really spartan vintage floral prints. Lolita is a collection that sprang from a night I spent painting and thinking about old movies and summer dresses. We both love the delicate roses Caroline Quartermaine uses in her silk screened silks and I remember a dress I wore when I was thirteen that was decorated with similarly striking looking large lemon yellow and forest green roses. That dress belonged to my best friend's mother. It was in the dress up box at her house, an object of ridicule. And now, thirty years later, it lives on, inspiring my paint brush late into the night. Our tagline is RECYCLED EMOTION but the second un-official motto we seem to be evolving is NOTHING WASTED, and it's just like that when we design. A drawing that looks a bit daggy on it's own comes to life as the backdrop for something else. Old clothes I owned and loved get recycled in our collection of dresses hanging on wire coat hangers. Many of the dreams I had about international travel and chairs never purchased at flea markets dwell in the images of the Savvy Chic collection, a series based on the illustrations for my book: Savvy Chic:The Art of More for Less, publishing in November in Australia with Harper Collins.

By next blog we will start the process of actually bringing the cards to market. So far I have done a bit of soft shoe research around the card shops of Sydney. One paper shop owner next to a major department store was blandly nonplussed. Another small card shop owner (and designer) was negative. Very negative. So much so he almost made me laugh. He thought I was a painter who wanted to share my art with the world. maybe he thought I was home painting puppies and sunsets dreaming of the big time. And yes there are so many beautiul cards out there already but we think there is room for a little more. And we also figure there’s always too much of everything in the world. Too many cupcakes. Too many shoes. Too many balloon sculptures. Until something new comes along. Something new full of love and…recycled emotion.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A life spent looking right below our feet

Lots of people in Sydney hate the rain. Great wet stained streets. Branches dripping with every shaking gust of wind. Blank grey skies swollen with clouds and leaves. Massive brown veiny leaves papering the pavements. Perhaps four weeks ago I went leaf mad and my handbag was full of leaves and the walls of our studio trembled with prime specimens and I drew and then painted a really big one. Maree took it and let it float down a diagonal stream collage from traditional origami paper. It became a card and a wrapping paper.

I love the way nature sculpts the seasons and gives everyone this strange interval of reflection. Winter is very introspective. It's like a black and white photo hand tinted here and there with pockets of warmth. The light is hard and a bit pitiless. It's a little like living inside an ink drawing. And season's feel total, like they are never going to end. But Maree said, over the fourth cup of tea, "Anna, what about summer?" "Oh"...I had completely forgotton the electric blue sky. The air melting with jasmine. I forgot to look forward. And so the bright flowers came. Flowers not yet on the trees, but frozen on tea cups and my favourite dress prints. And the drawings scattered all over the floor looked like broken bouquets of our cold small studio and we felt warmer. Hurry up summer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Brand is Born

CONFESSION NUMBER ONE: The first time Maree said our company name over the phone we both burst out laughing. We were calling a paper company and it just tripped off her tongue. it sounded right. As artist and designer we are no stranger to the ethos of keeping it small, doing it yourself and keeping things pretty personal. To tell you the honest truth the name of our paper company came from a really personal source. When I fell in love this year with a man known, I signed my texts: Little Branch. It was an image that appealed to both us, something that could grow, an everyday sight made special by a closer look, something natural and above all, linked to nature and ecology. The guiding principle of our new card company is sustainable beauty. We have chosen papers that are made of seventy percent recycled local waste material. In time, as paper technology evolves, we might graduate to a 100 percent recycled Australian made paper. Recycling is not just an environmentally sound idea, it's a viable creative process. Maree recycles all of the fonts, layouts, film stills, magazine spreads and book plates she has ever loved in the subtle process of her design. I tend to find images in my drawings that have traveled from the edge of a hand embroidered apron, a vintage travel print or the bottom of a tea cup. Sooner or later it all bubbles to the surface.

As this is our second blog I'll tell you where we work. Maree has built a small study at the side of her daughter Jasmin's bedroom. It's still winter so when I arrive there is a ritual where I put on a pair of candy striped bed socks and set to drawing. Above my little desk is a picture of a girl (torn from a Vogue magazine) in a watered silk dress and various raw branches and several large leaves and branches pinned up. Sometimes we both sit on the floor roving through magazines or art books, sometimes I drift off an make more pear and jasmine tea (we average two pots per design session)  but more often I just draw till the ideas come and Maree moves ideas around at the speed of light.

I often peek over one shoulder and see what she is concocting, reconfiguring and brewing with the new scans. The leap from original art to design is shorter than many would imagine. Sometimes we compose a card from the drawing straight (see our abstract pear tree) and other times Maree will create veils of imagery, layering drawings on wallpapers or toiles or simply making subtle changes to a composition by changing the arrangement or scale. I love her taste. I guess that's why we teamed up. She's the baroque frame around my rough edges.

CONFESSION NUMBER TWO: Maree say’s she swears but I swear quite a lot more. I especially swear when I am happy with a finished design and Maree, who is naturally classy, just laughs. Our music selection is charmingly crap. We have been listening to the same Red Hot Chilli Peppers CD for 8 weeks because essentially I am too disorganized to sort an ipod. I am considering sending Anthony Keidis a gift boxed set for Christmas because in his way he has been our muse. Him. And also the man known as Tree.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who is Little Branch?

Maree Oaten is 31, a mother of three and a very speedy and brilliant graphic designer. When I call her a genius, she just shrugs. Anna Johnson, 44, mother of one (me) is an author and illustrator who until recently only provided artworks for her own books. We met when working at a Sydney advertising agency and forged our creative bond designing my third book Yummy Mummy Manifesto ( Maree came to New York, slept on my couch in Brooklyn, made a million visits to the copy shop in the west village and forged an incredible style with vivid colours and smooth contoured lines. I was heavily pregnant. We eat hamburgers in a low ceilinged diner in Williamsburg and dreamt of a card line. But, alas, not that year. Some time later Maree was living in London and she visited me again in New York. We shopped for discount Marc Jacob’s shoes and this time we began to design “Savvy Chic”, a recession memoir with a more ragged romantic style. Maree was pregnant this time. And again we were hatching more dreams. The book proposal took some time to take off and by the time I wanted to work with Maree again she was expecting twins. Some of the art we created then is now part of our new card line but more on that later.

Like star crossed lovers it was not till we returned to Sydney early this year that we could sit down, drink copious pots of tea, and find a project that released our inner visions and allowed us time for our kids: Lachlan, Noah, Jasmin and Marcello. In the late summer of 2010, I grabbed a train up to Maree’s place in Lindfield and looked through the art we had at hand. For “Savvy Chic” Maree had made some beautiful collages with my water colours and fragments of photography, wallpaper, fabric and eighteenth century toiles but we needed more and so I began to draw. Bleeding blue flowers and origami umbrellas, rainy day women and collections of old dresses, chunky gouache flowers and lonely modern bottles. Every time I’d turn up at Maree’s door I never really knew what was going to come out of my size four paintbrush.

When the drawings were finished they formed natural collections. The way Maree designs my art takes on different hands and can often look dip into different decades and moods.

Both of us argue about what men will think of our cards. We have just done a collection of mid century chairs that I think look very mannish and minimal but God know my floral tendencies find their way in. Girly. I really hate that word. But I am not ashamed of rampant blooms, or vintage dresses, or handbags or shoes or teacups. Secretly I think men rather fancy them too. Little Branch is not heading for the Laura Ashley English Country Garden ghetto anytime soon though. It was a mood we were feeling for spring, the roses and the rain. Come summer we might be feeling a bit Danish or a bit Mod. The beauty of having your own design company is that you really can do whatever you like. A welcome joy after working for many others for many, many years.