Behind the Scenes: Designing a Greeting Card Line
Hi everyone! Today on the blog I'm excited to give you a special in-depth look behind the scenes at my process of creating a greeting card line: Root & Branch Paper Co's very first collection!
Like every small business owner, I've invested time and money, as well as physical, emotional, and creative energy into bringing these products to life. It means so much to me when I see one of you enjoying your cards and notebooks, or when I hear that my products strike a chord with someone else!
My goal in sharing this little backstage tour is to give you more of an understanding about the process of making the cards, notebooks, and gift wrap you see on our website. If you're also a designer or creative and hoping to create a collection of your own, I hope you can be inspired and take something away from hearing about my process. I've found there is something so special about reading the experiences of other artists, and I hope that in sharing my story, that I can encourage and inspire some of you to put whatever lovely thing you've created out into the world!
Ok enough sentimental chat. Let's get started!
Designing a Greeting Card Line
First things first: I have something to confess. All the designs you see in our shop today were not actually created with the purpose of becoming a card or a notebook. It's true. Very many of the designs in our collection were created during a time in my life when I didn't have a lot of space or energy left for creativity. It makes me sad to even type this, to be honest. But the past few years have been a process for me of learning to value my own creativity and see that being an artist and making beautiful things is actually a valuable contribution to society.
All the drawings above, which you may recognize as now being featured on our Happy Birthday card and our Hey Thanks! card, were actually drawn while I was sitting in a lecture. I disguised my sketchbook as a notepad and made it look like I was taking VERY detailed notes. A few people did eventually notice that my notes were, in fact, not really "notes" at all. Interestingly enough, I had an array of interesting responses to this: some amazement, and some perplexity. One speaker actually asked me to take "real notes," which I found absolutely hilarious. This guy clearly had no idea how the kinesthetic brain works! Drawing while listening is the best way for me to stay focused and retain information. Since I didn't get to draw during his lecture, let's guess how much I remembered of it. Yep... not much.
Anyway, I found that some of the drawings that I'd stuffed in my sketchbook were actually pretty incredible, and provided an interesting glimpse into the chaotic life I'd been living at the time: spending months at a time in different parts of the world, working a stressful and demanding volunteer job. My sketchbook and capacity to create floral drawings was one of the few things that was constant during this season of unpredictability and change.
The hibiscus (from our happy birthday card) was originally drawn in China, as was the Water Lily & Lotus. Both were inspired by Chinese flowers I had encountered shortly after moving to China in 2014. The Freesia (thinking of you) was drawn in Thailand, where I attended a conference in 2015. The coral charm peony (featured in the thank you card below) was drawn during a meeting at my job in Norway in early 2016, and the Anemone (thank you so much) was drawn this past year, back in China. The anemone was one of the few drawings I created specifically for this collection.
Raiding the Sketchbooks
Upon realizing I had several notebooks' worth of floral drawings, all inspired by my travels and experiences abroad over the last three years, I decided to build a product collection out of this body of work. In addition, I created about 15 illustrations to complement what I already had, and to fill the holes and add depth, representing a variety of flowers and creating a well-rounded collection. The hellebore, anemone, dahlia, sweet pea, and cosmos are a few examples of these drawings.
Refine, Refine, Refine
At least 15 designs that I created for this collection ended up being scrapped, including this sweet pea drawing shown above. I'm saving the ones that were tossed out for a later date, but if they never make it to print, I think that's also okay. An important part of the creative process is knowing how to look critically at your own work, and refine, cutting out the pieces that aren't shining as brightly.
I ended up creating at least 4x as many cards as actually went to print in this collection.
At some point in the process, things shifted from handcrafted to entirely digital. Some artists prefer to keep their work completely handmade, using traditional methods and working without the influence of photoshop, illustrator or other digital processes. I can respect that, and though I love the process of drawing by hand, I get equal satisfaction from digitizing my work. In everything I design, I begin by drawing in my sketchbook. It's important for me to connect with my work this way, and I like the imperfect, human feel that it lends to my finished product.
For years I've found myself inclined to creating very harsh, stark lines in my work. I'm not sure why that is, it's just what I find most appealing: heavy black lines. I don't place a lot of effort on perfection in my work, but I do continue to practice in hopes of improving my technique!
One of my favorite parts of the design process is this: creating the line art. I love working in one color, usually black on white, and that's why you'll notice that each of my designs has a stark line quality. Everything I draw begins with heavily refined outlines, which I then color in, either using watercolor or digital coloring processes. For this collection, I added all colors in digitally.
When I'm happy with the state of my drawings, or when I feel I have enough visual information to work with, I get started on the coloring process. I scan each of my drawings (which I often create several to a page) at a high resolution and save them in JPEG formats. I try to be meticulous in organizing my scans because I never know when I'm going to want to go back to the original line work and reuse it for another project, or try a different digitizing process. I've created a labyrinth of folders on my external hard drive dedicated to organizing all my scans, edits, and illustrations in varying stages of being made into finished artworks.
Because this first collection was my very first attempt in creating an entire family of cohesive work, there was a LOT of trial and error. Midway through the process, I spent several weeks making handwritten wording for each card, and then I decided I didn't like it at all. So I threw it out. Haha! Isn't that how we artists work?!
In the end, I decided on the typeface shown above, but I decided to switch it to all lowercase. I am a die-hard fan of slab serifs, and I felt the simplicity of this type family helped keep my cards refined, while still adding just a touch of eclectic, vintage flair without making them seem too kitschy or handcrafted for my taste.
Choosing A Color Palette
The process of refining my color palette was a long and tedious one. I went back and forth for weeks, agonizing over each color family. Even the slightest shift in colors affected the mood of each design, and it took hours and hours of work to finally hit on something that felt right. This is one of the processes that I feel I learned the most from in creating my first collection: building a cohesive color family. At some point I realized it would help me immensely to collect a series of complementary colors and use them across the board in each design.
Here's the color palette I eventually settled on for this first collection:
The blues, greens, and shades of navy were my primary colors, while the warm colors (coral, orange and yellows) were used very minimally, mostly as centers of flowers. Once I'd decided on a color family, my options were greatly limited, but it still meant I had lots of decisions to make regarding which colors, tints, and shades should be used in various capacities.
At this point in the process is when I really started asking around for feedback. I tend to be quite independent and I can work for weeks without thinking to ask anyone else to have a critical look at what I'm making. Hint to all the designers out there: it's much easier NOT to do this! I'm learning! A fresh pair of eyes can give a new perspective and save you hours in refinement.
I sent screen shots of various color treatments to my mom, sisters, and friends. My mom even enlisted the help of several of her co-workers to give me feedback. It was incredibly helpful to hear the responses of a wide variety of people: representing different ages, styles, and interests. This helped me narrow down what color families were popular across the board, as opposed to the ones that were favored by the student crowd but generally disliked by women my mom's age, or vice versa. This was how I discovered which of my color families were trendy and which would stand the test of time (at least that's what I'm hoping for!) I weeded out many color treatments this way, including three peony treatments and the mustard and violet hibiscus birthday card seen below.
I nailed down my finished color families once I set a deadline for myself. In November of 2017 I decided to set a launch date: Feb 1, 2018. This would require me to finish all my designs, order test prints, do any necessary tweaking, source and order packaging materials, finish my website and set up my Etsy shop, prepare payment processing and get all the legal requirements in order to open a business. I gave myself three months to do it all, and I did it! It's good to know yourself, and I know that I am incredibly motivated by a deadline and work best under pressure.
At this point, I created the first series of repeating patterns that I then used on our notebooks and gift wrap designs. The first pattern I created for this collection was the Coral Charm Peony, which is one of our most popular designs, both as a thank you card and a notebook.
At some point I'd like to create a post going into more detail about the process of creating my collection of repeating patterns. That can get quite technical though, so suffice it so say, it was yet another long, nit-picky design process. Complicated though it was, I absolutely loved the process of creating these repeating patterns, and I hope to be able to branch out into more areas of surface pattern design in the future.
The Final Steps
Once I'd narrowed down a series of patterns, I applied each of them to our various products, and ordered proofs of everything. This was definitely one of the most exciting (and terrifying!) parts of the process. Several of the products needed tweaking, and after a few rounds of proofing and testing, everything finally came together! By that time, I had spent my entire budget on packaging materials, envelopes, website hosting, copyright registration, and a bajillion other things. Starting a businesses is no small task.
And there we have it!
I was pleased to discover that, like most things in life, designing a stationery collection is way easier the second time you do it. Our Late Spring collection was released about two months after this collection, and it filled the holes in the collection and provided a few holiday-specific cards, including our Mother's Day, bridal and baby cards.
Thanks for joining me for this behind the scenes peek at how things are made here at Root & Branch. It's my hope to keep you all in the know throughout the process as we grow and expand. What are you curious to hear more about? Is there something about Root & Branch that you'd love to learn more on?
Let me know in the comments! Or reach out on instagram @rootandbranchpaper
Hope this blog has helped you feel inspired to make something beautiful, or be brave to share what you've made with the world.