Learning the Art of Pop-Up Cards

Since returning from Japan, I’ve been moving and struggling with my next steps. I most definitely have been making steps and progress, but I’ve also felt underwhelmed. The impatient part of me that wants things to just click into place has struggled with the part of me that just wants life to move already, no matter what the pace.  I know, I know…first world problems. In other countries, people are struggling to eat and survive, and yet here I sit, trying to survive as well. A different journey, by all means, but still an attempt to keep surviving.

Given my recent frame of mind, I decided to do what I do best when uncertainty, confusion, and impatience take shape- I signed up for a class.  I had been considering a few classes to be honest. There was a course on natural dyes for paper and book arts at the NY’s The Center for Book Arts. There was also a class at a Letter Press Studio in Brooklyn that taking would also set you up for using the studio and machines for personal projects.  Then there was the course I did end up taking yesterday, “Pop- Up Card Workshop: Paper Engineering” with Sara Marie Miller. I’m sure there were a few other classes I had in mind, but I don’t recall them now, and the reality is that I had been eying the Pop-Up Card making class since I saw the first offering back in March. I went with my instinct and took the class my eyes had first found interesting, although if I had an endless supply of money, I’d have taken them all.

I’m glad I went with my first choice. Yesterday, afternoon I spent three hours with eight lovely ladies ranging in age and levels of paper knowledge. When asked to share two details about myself, I shared that I went to Japan to study Washi making and I own a stationery company, the ladies ooohed and ahhhed and asked for details.  Naturally, I freely shared, but I was interested in them as well. There comes a point when you have over-shared your experiences and it becomes boring even to yourself to keep sharing. Of course, I can replay my time in Japan to myself many times, but the time for me to share that period with others is coming to close. (Please note that doesn’t discredit a book, should a deal ever come my way!)

One woman in the group is headed to Italy to studying Italian paper binding and book conservation. She found my time in Japan extremely interesting. And because of that, I couldn’t not share with her. Our instructor, Sara, also found my trip to Japan fascinating. She told me after the class, that what I did was incredibly brave, but especially because I did it to make my stationery business different.   Either way, I was awed by these women. I was also awed by how many of them were looking for creative outlets and are invested in arts and creating art. Art really is an amazing way to change the world. To leave your mark somewhere in the world.  I hope that I can stay connected to the instructor, Sara, and even a few of the ladies in the class. 


Over the course of the three hours, we learned several techniques in pop-up card making (pull tabs, one-sheet of paper pop-up cards, layers, rotators, and “v lifters”) and there are still so many other techniques to learn, but I’m excited that I’ve got some basics under my belt now and can honestly say I’m excited to start working with pop-up art. I’m not sure how I can tie these into wedding invitations (since that seems to be my bread and butter as of late), but I’m excited to see how I can add these elements into my pieces and how customers respond to having more dynamic pieces.  Stay tuned for future posts where I delve into this more in connection to my art.

As for the class itself. It was great! I was tired because I didn’t sleep so well the night before and catching the bus yesterday morning from Teaneck to NYC proved to be arduous, but it was worth every minute. It was so nice to play with paper in a way I don’t regularly. It was also nice to just be creative and learn something new.

Oh, and about 3rd Ward, I didn’t take a tour of the full facility, but from walking around it to get to the studio space and rest room, I decided it is definitely a cool space. I plan to consider more class options there and should I find myself back in NYC to get a membership that allows me to use space at the facility to do work. If you happen to be in NYC and are looking for a studio option with some flexibility, I encourage you to consider 3rd Ward. The vibe is interesting and inspiring.

Below is a picture of the first pop-up card I made in class. To many, it appears pornographic, I promise it is not. It’s a zigzag line with eyes. I call this the inner monster, because if my anxiety about next steps had a face and a look, it would look like this guy:


 What it will look like in the future, has yet to be determined, but I’ll update you when I know.

What 45 Days Studying Paper Making in Japan Has Taught Me

I left Echizen for Osaka last Friday morning for the second part of my journey in Japan. It was early and cold. The moon was still out as the steam rose from the mountains. It was eerie, yet gorgeous. I walked across to the Goddess to pray and thank her before heading out into the eerie morning and catch the bus for the next adventure. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a town that had become such a huge part of my life during the 45 days I spent there.

Originally, I was supposed to stay in Echizen until after the New Year, but that changed. I am being flexible here. I came here with a goal to learn paper making and to be in Japan. At this point, I’ve learned paper making, not completely, but after 45 days, I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve received quite a full education. I could spend days and months and plenty of more time here, and I intend to come back and visit and learn more in the coming years, but as I discovered on my last day, the last 45 days have stuck. Thursday, November 29th was the happiest day of my 45 days,  because not only did I make a sheet of paper perfectly, but I laid it down and set up for the next sheet without a single misstep. That was a sign that leaving ahead of schedule was in fact a good thing. I knew it instinctively that leaving was the right thing to do, but having confirmation helped.

Below is what I wrote as an update for the program I studied under in Echizen. I’m not sure that the update will ever be shared (due to the nature of my parting with the coordinator), and I added bits to this one (versus the original) to share more and since these are my words, I can share them as I please. This is how I sum up my 45 days and share it with you. There is so much I can say, but at the same time can not; this was not just an education of a skill, but a deeply personal education for me.  It was such a beautiful experience, and definitely a challenging one, but I think it speaks of my character and my persistence and my perseverance. Anyhow, read…

To say that being in Echizen was easy would be false. Not because of anything culture related. In fact, I’d say that this little village of talented artisans took me in like the warm hug I needed.  I say this because of my own state of mind.

When I left New York City to begin my papermaking adventure and pursue my dream, I left with a bit of a battered and war torn heart. Almost three years of history boarded that Aeroflot plane with me as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean for Moscow, Russia and then Istanbul, Turkey.  After eight days in Istanbul, where I was looking for design inspiration of the sharpest kind, I boarded another Aeroflot plane this time headed to Tokyo, Japan.  That history was still with me and as I learned it was eating at me more than I thought it would and Japan, Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, to be exact, would be the place it would play out.

I mention the emotional part only because Echizen is the perfect place to have an emotional struggle. It is beautiful. It is cold. It is quiet. The main part of the Echizen Village (made up of The Paper and Culture Museum, Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum, and the Papyrus House) where the history of Washi is shared closes by 5pm and the only café in the village closes at 7pm.  After 7pm, you are on your own with your thoughts, creativity, and anything else you choose to occupy your time.

Echizen is by no means a small hole-in-the-wall village though, nor a great place for a recluse. Surrounding it is Sabae, Takefu (accessible by bus and bike and cab), and Echizen City. There is a knife village and lacquerware village about 7km away from Echizen and there are restaurants, grocery stores, and many other cafes, like a bread shop that I just discovered two days before leaving, and another cafe that serves dinner and is open beyond 7pm just next door to Udatsu. Add to the mix some of the most amazing people I have ever met while traveling Echizen is a wonder. The people were unbelievably kind and welcoming. Every day, I felt like I was being given a warm hug.

For an American gal like me who speaks no Japanese with the exception of thank you and please, although I can use the phrase “studying papermaking in Echizen” really well now, I got by surprisingly well. Using facial expressions, hand gestures, and following the sounds and undertones of the words being spoken I managed to learn a lot about papermaking and the people who live in this Village.

In the beginning, it also helped that I had Rina as my voice. Rina coordinated my trip to Echizen with the Museum and speaks English and acted as a translator on many occasions, including a few dinner parties where the interest in me was high and my ability to respond was low. She often remarked on how amazed she is that the Manager of Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum, where I spent my days watching, studying, and learning, and I communicated as much as we did using my Japanese dictionary and her combination of English/Japanese dictionaries. Heck, I am surprised!

I came here with two expectations one, being that I would fumble language wise, but I would become almost fluent in Japanese because I’d have to, and the second, being to learn paper making.  The later, while not completely perfect, I learned. I can proudly say that I can make traditional Japanese paper. Mastering, or learning really well Japanese language, not so much. I can hear and understand a bit. My ears are definitely listening more and trying to pick up words and phrases, but speaking Japanese, eh, we have a long way to go.

Okay, but seriously where am I a month later?

Well, I saw the entire process. My last week at Udatsu, I got to see kozo being boiled. That boiling completed my weeklong paper making education.

I know you are wondering if it is a week long, why have you been there a month?

The answer is that papermaking takes time and has a schedule and when I got here kozo did not have to be boiled. It was not part of the schedule.  And I can’t complain because I’ve gotten to take my time learning different stages of the process:

  • I’ve checked the fibers for dirt for many hours on many different days.
  • I’ve also seen the fiber beating process a few times and have helped directly afterward in the mixing of the fibers to be used to make paper.
  • I have also soaked, gently kneaded (to loosen the kozo) and then removed with a knife the top black protective layer from kozo (one of the main plants used to make Echizen Washi).
  • I have worked directly with tororo-aoi, the plant whose root is used to make “neri” the all-natural glue like adhesive that when mixed with the fiber bonds them together, by cleaning, soaking, and beating it down so that the sticky adhesive freely flows and can be used to make sheets of Washi.
  • I have tried several attempts at making sheets of paper (this one is not 100%, but in the last week, I got a closer rhythm that tells me I will get it, eventually).
  • I have mixed the neri and paper fibers together. (It is a tough job and requires a lot of body muscles since you want clean strokes to mix everything together. My arms are getting sleeker thanks to this simple almost daily function.)
  • I have removed dirt and other brown marks from another plant that is used to make Washi, “gambi.”  (It is not the most glamorous job, but when I get into the zone, I get into the zone!)
  • I learned how Washi that is not usable is recycled. (That is a hot process! Seriously, we boil water and then add the paper to it.)
  • I’ve helped set up the newly made paper in the pressing machine to have the remaining water extracted.
  • Lastly, I’ve helped remove completely dried sheets, lay out the newly pressed paper flat on boards made from gingko trees, and set them into the steam room for drying.

In all of that though, I have left out what I have learned which is even more important than the process. By watching the artisans almost every day for the past month (Out of 45 days total studying at Udatsu, I’ve missed seven days for personal reasons, and add another seven days because Udatsu is closed Tuesdays. Making for 31 days total I spent at Udatsu Paper and Craft Museum studying.) I’ve learned how to see and feel my way through the paper process.

The artisans here at Udatsu have a history of making paper. They either come from families that made paper, or worked for paper studios for years. Now, they lend their skill to teach others and to keep the Echizen Washi tradition alive.

With one addition of neri they know that they’ve pieced together the proper formula for Washi sheets. With one handful of fiber, they can tell whether the fiber has been mixed well enough to hold together. They know exactly how many motions with the screen will make the right weight paper. With one look, they can tell that I’m unsure about what I’m doing and direct me on the proper way.

It reminds me a lot of watching my mother make tamales every Christmas season. In my home, it is a tradition that involves one main female maker and then a handful of female family members to help. I have been helping my mother (and my grandmother (who was in charge then)) since the age of five. When my grandmother passed away, my mother took over the tradition and for 20 years I’ve helped. I swear I have no clue how she makes the tamales even with all those years under my belt. My mom tells me every year, “when I’m not around, you will instinctively know how because you’ve watched me and grandma all these years.” I of course don’t believe her. How can I even begin to imitate what she does? With a single taste my mom knows when the mix needs more salt, or olive juice, or anything!

It is the same with learning Washi.

What I’ve learned from watching the artisans mix and look and feel and touch, I hope to remember always. These are moments that could not be captured on video or in pictures because they we usually noticed by me while I was in the middle of helping.

This is where a crazy and curiously adventurous girl who has loved paper since she was five soars. Where the emotional history that boarded that plane gets lost. This is where I remember that language barriers, although frustrating, don’t mean anything when you are connecting and love what is being connected.  Every welcoming face, hug, and even “NO!” that I’ve been shown or told or experienced was because my interest in the work these artists do is in my heart.

My decision to leave Echizen two weeks ahead of schedule is from the realization of two things:

1. I took my meager savings to make this trip happen. It has been worth every dime to make this dream come to fruition, however, my desire to see more of Japan (including two other paper making villages) and to stay in Echizen no longer meet.

2. I am a month a way from the end of 2012. I will celebrate my 32nd birthday on the first day of December, and when I get back to the United States in January, I will have no job and almost no money. Returning to a City, Tokyo to be exact, will allow me to plan the next stages of my business and how to integrate Echizen Washi and all that I’ve learned in a month’s time.  It will allow me to focus on the future with a bit more time and with a lot more respect, rather than just ushering myself into 2013 scattered.

I plan to return to Echizen, again, and again, and maybe again a few more times. There is a festival in May (Japan’s Golden Week. In Echizen the days are May 3rd, 4th, and 5th) that I would love to see in person. More importantly though, the people I’ve spent my days with, even in my clouded emotional world, have been chicken soup for my soul, and I can’t imagine not returning to see them. My month in Echizen, was never just about learning how to make paper and following a dream, it was also about realizing a whole lot about myself, too.  For that reason alone, it could never just be a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

Before I go, I’ll share a story. My first week here, Rina took me on a tour of four paper studios in Echizen. One of them was the largest paper studio in Echizen where they make large sheets of Washi. It was the day after the Fall Festival at the Village shrine. At the festival, one of the paper makers, a woman by the name of Aki-san, lured me into dancing around the bonfire to traditional songs sung to the Paper Goddess.  The next day, with Rina translating, Aki-san, who makes paper at the paper studio, started singing the songs sung to the Paper Goddess (her Shrine lives in Echizen as well and is worth seeing as often as you possibly can).

Aki-san sang slowly and softly several different songs. About the second song, I burst into sobbing tears. I couldn’t explain it. I felt silly for crying. I apologized. When Aki-san finished, she hugged me and said, “She’s emotional.” (Not an understatement!)

What I thought during the minutes she sang was nothing more than, “her voice is beautiful and this moment is one of THOSE moments that you’re lucky to experience, where life hits you upside your head and reminds you that you are alive. I wasn’t thinking about being away from home, or anything more than what a beautiful moment I was having with a woman who has so much history and can sing respectfully and with power to a Goddess. I will always remember the power of Aki-san and her love and respect for her Village and the Goddess that watches over them and being allowed to be part of it. It was humbling.

I am humbled to have been part of this Village. I am extremely grateful to everyone who welcomed me and made me feel at home in a place that is many, many miles away from my own and during the holiday and my birthday season, especially. I really do feel like I have been the luckiest girl in the world to spend 45 days in Echizen.

I can’t wait to come back and I look forward to working with the artisans and with Echizen Washi specifically as I get back to my stationery and design empire.

So, Um, Why Japan? Or Instead, What Brought Me to Japan

This is the hot post. This is the post that explains what the hell I am doing in a small village on the western coast of Japan.

I hope you all know the story. If you don’t, here’s a quick recap. In 2009, while traveling through Italy a few weeks after my dad passed away, I had a dream where I opened an envelope that was lined with a cool pattern, but never saw the card inside. To be clear, there was a card inside, I just never saw it because I woke up immediately and said, “Holy Shit! This is what I am supposed to be doing with my life!”

By the time I returned to New York City after traveling a bit longer, I had already plotted my path to making this a reality. I can’t quite say that the path has been easy, or that I’ve made millions of dollars because I haven’t. Instead, I’ve made more money each year, but I am not a lucrative business. And that has to change. (Hello, December, month of business planning and development!)

About two years ago now, so just a year after I decided I was going to do this stationery business, I realized that I needed desperately to get out of the life I was living. I hated my full-time job, I cried constantly; I needed something to change and I had no idea what.  During this time, I started applying to jobs and going on interviews, but nothing worked out.

While on a trip visiting a good friend in Cleveland, I bought a coupon on Groupon for discounted language courses. (In my past, I was notorious for signing up for classes on a whim. I’d get bored and take up a new hobby until I felt I had learned enough or experienced all that I was going to experience and moved to the next hobby, or class.)  At the time of purchase, I had no clue what language I would study; I just new it was a good deal and I could stand something new and challenging.

A couple of weeks after buying that coupon, I went into the office of my full-time job and realized I needed to go to Japan. I can’t quite remember the circle of logic there, or what my inspiration was, but I remember thinking, now this all makes sense. It makes sense that I work for a Japanese company for the past three years. It makes sense that I bought language courses when I need to learn some Japanese!

My coworkers helped me look for Japanese Washi Villages and I contacted the person on the other side of the Echizen Washi Village’s English website, Rina.  She detailed the Museum’s program and offered me advice on places to stay, etc.  We emailed back and forth for a while with me saying I am considering coming around this time, only to have them change.

I was set to come last year, in 2011, but the Earthquake and Tsunami that hit Sendai closed that door. My mother, for the first time in her life, asked me not to do something and I acquiesced. It was hard, but I did. It made sense and I realize now that I was not ready to go last year. I was meant to come this year, now.

So what is in Japan?

Japan has a very strong tradition of papermaking. In the village I am currently staying in, it dates back 1500 years!  In other villages, a little bit less time, maybe 1300 years or 800 years, but still the same, these folks have been making paper for a long time.  (A prime example, in Echizen lives one of the “living national treasures of Japan.” His father was also a “living national treasure” when he was alive.  The current treasure is the ninth generation to make paper in his family. His son helps and will take over when his father passes, continuing a long line of family tradition.)

As a designer and artist, I have worked with Japanese paper many times. I am fascinated by it. I love the texture, touch, weight, and smell of each sheet. I also have fallen in love with many designs on these sheets. (Since coming to Echizen, I’ve learned that artists outside of Echizen actually do most designs on the sheets. An artist will purchase Washi to use for designing purposes and then wholesale the sheets to people like me. Some paper studios do offer designed paper that is gorgeous, while others just make plain Washi to sell.)

I realized as I worked on projects that I don’t know how paper is made. (Can you believe that?) I also realized that many people in my industry don’t know how paper is made. It is really easy to call a print shop and say, “I need this printed on a glossy or matte cream 100 pound stock,” without knowing where the paper comes from or how it is made or who made it. I wanted to change that. I wanted to be able to tell my clients, “I know how this paper is made. I’ve seen it. I can do it. This paper and design is more than just a piece of paper!”

Being that I run a business that focuses on creating unique paper-based items for customers, I want that relationship with the paper and the makers of the paper. Furthermore, I love paper so much (I really do!), that I want to know the origins of it.  When I work with a client, I pick papers specific to the customer and to their project. I am a bit obsessed with making sure the paper fits the project. If it doesn’t, I go back to the drawing board.

So this, being in Japan, makes sense. It just does.

I’ve been in Japan for over a month now and I have seen Washi made. I’ve participated in every part of the process and I’ve tried my hand at making Washi. (I’ll provide more details in the coming days.) I’m hardly a pro and I know it will take many, many more days and months and possibly even years to get the skill level that the artisans I have worked with have (they’ve been doing it their entire lives, many of them!), but I know where this tradition began and how important and deep it runs not just to the artists, but to the community and to the country.

So, What’s Next?

Ultimately, I would love to be able to make my own paper. Realistically, at this point, I can’t just go back to America and open a paper studio though. The supplies I need are immense and I would have to raise capital and all that other jazz. In other words, I need to get some things in order personally and financially to be able to do this.

I also want to travel to a few more other countries that make paper – China, India, Italy, France, Thailand, Egypt, and if, at all possible, Iran to learn about the Persian art of paper making – and see their methods and techniques.  I would love to have a solid idea of the global handmade paper making community. It sounds daunting and expensive, but I think it’s worth it. Especially since I use these papers in my own work and because I am so inspired by them.

Realistically, I will figure out a way to stay in touch with the Echizen community, purchase paper from the artisans here, continue to be part of their community and grow my business.  Of course, in my little head the other day, I was walking and thought, “wouldn’t it be great if you opened a shop/studio where you offered custom design, paper making and sold paper from the artists of Echizen? Wouldn’t that be really amazing?!” It would, but right now, it is not happening. That may be down the road in a few years. At least, we’ll make that a goal.

I am leaving Echizen after a month and a half next Friday, November 30th. It’s the day before my 32nd birthday and I will head down to the Osaka area to spend a few days there with two artists before heading back to Kyoto to explore the paper community there and just enjoy the City. I loved it the first time I went two weekends ago for two days. I can’t wait to have a few days there with time to ponder, relax, and do whatever the hell I want at a slower pace. (Note: if you ever travel to Kyoto, you need a week. There is just so much to do and see and is worth the cost.)

From Kyoto, I’ll head back to Tokyo where I will spend my days looking at more paper and traveling to a few areas outside of Tokyo, like Mt. Fuji. (No, I’m not climbing!) The first time I went to Tokyo, I didn’t love it. I spent most of the time sitting on my friend’s couch catching up on my Spanish novela, but I have a feeling that Tokyo this time around is going to be different and a bit more fun.

More importantly, I’ll be able to really think about where I’m headed in 2013 and understand what I want of myself as an entrepreneur and business owner.

S2 Learns Paper Making in Asia

Hi Friends!

Happy Labor Day! I hope this email finds you all well, happy, and healthy!

Today, I’m writing about an adventure more important than an endurance event, my three month plus trek to Asia to study paper making. For those of you who aren’t already aware, in 2009, while finishing my travels in Italy, after completing the Rome Marathon and the death of my father, I had a dream that inspired me to start my stationery and design company, S2 Stationery and Design. The dream was followed by signs along the way, with the ultimate sign being an image of a tree with the saying, “le papier c’est la vie” while waiting to change trains to Paris. I still have that piece of paper, as it has more meaning that any of the other signs I have been given in my life.

My friends, so many of YOU, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging these past three years. Many of you have purchased stationery from me, or have come to me for projects that have left me humbled.

When I started S2 Stationery and Design, my original goal was to be as eco-friendly as possible. To use paper with high recycled percentages and from upcycled fibers. The more I worked with paper and different paper companies, I realized that they just weren’t cutting it for me. While some papers from bamboo and cotton are awesome, their process of being made may not. It made me wonder about the process of taking a tree from a lumber farms and the process to make it a single sheet of paper that we use every day regardless of it’s form. As I began to do research, the more I got involved in looking at handmade papers and a lot of my projects took on inspiration from those papers. Handmade papers from countries like Thailand, Nepal, India, Japan, Vietnam, and even China have woven their way into my heart and now I’m set to learn. Which is where you guys come in.

I am using all my savings and investments to make this trip happen over the next three months. If I can raise a bit more money (see my indiegogo campaign) then I will take myself beyond Japan to South East Asia to paper making communities in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Cambodia to learn from their paper artists as well. I don’t have a return flight yet, but that’s because if in January, I leave Japan and head to South East Asia, I won’t be back until April or May.

As of now, my itinerary (and my money) is for Japan. I am leaving New York on October 1, 2012 and flying to Istanbul, Turkey to visit a friend before heading to Japan. I will arrive in Tokyo, Japan on October 10th and will spend a few days with one of my best friends in the entire world. On the 15th, I will travel West to a town named Echizen, which has a rich paper history and a washi paper museum to boot. I will be working with a paper artist, Rina, who helps coordinate and manage the museum, who has had her paper art displayed in cities around Europe. We have already discussed collaboration and have shared our excitement to work together. From Rina, I will learn paper making, Japanese and art and from me, she will learn marketing tips for the museum, English, and anything else I can share. Rina has also asked me to teach a week’s worth of classes in December while she travels to Nepal to work with an artist there (Jealous! Nepal is on my list of eventual countries to get to to study paper making.)

This may be one of the best experiences of my life, but I won’t be able to do it without your help, support and encouragement. As you know, I am a huge believed that my life is enriched by each of you. Every minute of contact I’ve had with you has helped make me who I am, as much as my parents, grandparents, siblings, and family members. Every step of 26.2 miles that I took in each marathon, I carried all of you with me. Not just those that donated to the cause, but those who lent encouragement and support. All of those, who stood outside along the road with signs, or even just sent a mention on facebook the morning of my race. It is all those moments that really matter.

If you can’t donate to this endeavor, then I ask that you spread the word and send me some kind words. I’m not sure what my connection will be while in Japan. I plan to disconnect as much as possible, while also updating my blog regularly and sending short email updates of where I am and where your donations and support have gotten me at that point.

My campaign on Indiegogo, S2 Learns Paper Making in Asia has a video of me (ugh, a video!), providing the same details that this email has, but a way for you to contribute along with a list of items you’ll receive when you do donate. They will come from Japan and everyone who donates will get an email from me letting you know that they are being mailed out to you and your home.

This trip is very much about my development growth for my business and my passion, but it’s also a journey that you will come along with for the next three or more months. I will be as open as you know me to be every step of the way.
Thank you!

2012 Spring Crafts in Chelsea, Recapped or Better Yet On Being a Stationery Hustler

This is the last recap for a while. I promise. Well, until June 23rd that is when I do my second Brooklyn Flea market in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. (That’s still two weeks away, so giant sigh out loud.)


The 2012 Spring Crafts in Chelsea was held on Saturday, May 19th on W.21st street between 8th and 9th Avenues. I was closest to 8th avenue, which I appreciated because I love being so close to the street. You get to see traffic as it comes in from that side and I’m close to entering, exiting, and catching cabs. It also means I don’t have to carry my load for half a mile down the street.

I’m pleased to share that the wind this year did not take down my display. Of course my display wasn’t much, but last year proved that I needed weights and this year, I didn’t bring any. I clearly learned nothing. Really, I just forgot. Either way, there was only one really strong gust of wind that flew my business cards off the table, but it managed to bring down two of the shops to my right. By bring down, I mean completely bring it down-products everywhere and tents needing to be reassembled. I realized how fortunate I was to not have a tent, or anything displayed on tiers or various levels.

Alas, my display was lacking. If you compare the photos below to the photos from my table at Brooklyn Flea a few weeks ago, you can tell quite a difference. The table then was too busy, too colorful and everything was for the most part flat.

Now, I’m not being too critical of myself. After all, this was my third market, EVER. And so you learn. As anyone who just starts a business, unless they’re super sharp-on-their-game, I think it’s difficult to put everything in order – from the creating to the printing and designing and crafting there are all the other business aspects, too- finances, logistics, administrative things like running to the post office to ship things and your brain is constantly turning with ideas. It takes a solid person to know exactly what they want their branding to be like from the beginning. If they have that, well, then they’re just plan awesome and may not have to deal with any of the lessons many of us first time market sellers does with each new and different market.

Anyhow, it wasn’t until this event, Crafts in Chelsea that I realized my table screamed amateur. It felt too busy and too flat. While I had always said that it is more about me getting my name out there and interacting with customers and potential customers, I realized that while every one had great things to say, I was not making it easy for my customers to look and see things clearly. In fact, I thought to myself, “Sara, where is all the Pottery Barn, Proper Topper, Le Sabon, and Papyrus merchandising knowledge that you picked up all those years ago?”

And so I thought about what I could do different. Or rather how I could go about setting my table up differently to really catch the eye of buyers and entice them to pick things up and engage with not just the products, but me.

It wasn’t until the next day, when I attended the National Stationery Show that I knew what I had to do – tell a story – and how I was going to go about accomplishing that – vintage goods from Etsy sellers.  I wrote about this process extensively in my recap of Brooklyn Flea – Williamsburg last week.  I am so glad I did because the display was great and it was almost, not quite, what I wanted it to be. I’ll add a few things here and tweak things there until I get it right, but I’m pleased to say that I’m pleased over all.

But enough about displays. Let me share with you the day. Because it was a good day.

I made some great sales. I got to see some of my fellow team mates and artist friends. I also had two very good friends of mine come out and support S2 and me, which is always fun. I also got to see my friend Grace Kang who owns Pink Olive a gorgeous and magical shop that I go to when I am looking for the perfect gift for friends and family. Grace has two shops (one in Brooklyn and one in the East Village) and I had the pleasure of meeting her back when I first started at Etsy. Since our meeting, we’ve seen each other a few times and each time I like Grace more.

It was a total surprise to find her walking the market. It was even more surprising when she purchased an item from me and talked to me about displaying and figuring out what pieces of a line you create are worth keeping and not. It was an incredibly inspiring conversation and it definitely got the wheels turning in my head for how to market myself, what to focus on in regards to product lines, and more importantly, how important is is to let my products tell a story, while I convey their value. I don’t know that Grace knows how much I took from that 10 minute conversation!

Pictures (just a few) from the day are below.

As always, I’m glad I did Crafts in Chelsea. It was a gorgeous day. I got to see some friends, meet new people, had a celebrity siting (Ethan Hawke) and learn a little bit more about myself, my products, and being a stationery hustler.

Crafts in Chelsea helped me get to Brooklyn Flea and for that I will always be a fan of that marketing opportunity.  On to more stationery hustling. That would be a good book title, no?


I wrote this blog title the other day and all of a sudden remembered the Rodney Dangerfield movie by the same name. Hahaha. Rodney Dangerfield. That just goes to show you how much comedy is infused in my life and why I support the amazing and incredibly talented Erin Conroy, friend and comedian extraordinaire!

I’ve digressed, forgive me. I have been seeing ladybugs the past couple of weeks. I even bought a ladybug backpack as a gift for a friend that recently had a baby girl.

When I was a kid, I remember being told that ladybugs mean good luck. They were the only bug I allowed myself to like as a child. Although, I was fascinated by worms, but I still disliked them as a whole. I think it had something to do with growing up in NYC with roaches. ICK!

Anyway, ladybugs and snow took on completely different meanings in February 1992.  My paternal grandmother, Germaine, also known as Frenchy, passed away that year. I was 11, not yet 12 and whereas I had spent very little time that I can remember with her as a small child, I spent the last six months of her life with her living in my room. She passed away in the hospital, but prior to that she slept in my room. I remember talking to her before and after school. I remember the spider she killed with her bare finger-the spot remaining on that wall until we moved out. I remember talking to her about my French studies in school and about how much I loved the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” (it is my favorite Disney movie).  I remember her commenting on how many times I had seen the movie (5!).  And most importantly, I remember her enjoying her final days while staying in my room. It really taught me the importance of compassion.

I wish I had asked her so many questions- about why she never wanted to go back to France, or about her brother and father and mother-all individuals I know nothing about. I wish I had asked her to help me get to France, because I’ve always wanted to live there. I wish I had asked her a million questions and yet, I was 11, I didn’t know. We had just moved to Cleveland Heights, Ohio from Brooklyn, NY and I was busy dealing with the change of being an awkward pre-teen in a new city and school.

It’s been 20 years since she passed, which is incredible to think about. It’s funny how things change over time. For example, I don’t remember thinking much about her as a teenager or young adult. I mean, I did and we always had pictures of her up in our home and we talked about her, but as time goes on, the pain of death lessens. It never goes away, and I think children handle it differently, but I never grew up pained by my grandmother(s) deaths (they died the same year, two months apart from cancer). I knew they were in pain and it was their time to leave. I definitely missed seeing them and being held by them, but it wasn’t the way I feel now as I deal with my father’s death.

So this is where the ladybugs come in. Apparently, ladybugs were my grandmother’s favorite. It became a thing in our family to say that whenever a ladybug appears, it’s really grandma giving us a sign that things are okay. I know some of you may be thinking, “this is nothing but mysticism hogwash, “but as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize just how real this connection is.

Since my own father passed away in 2009, I have been seeing ladybugs when my life is a huge crux-when I have decisions to make, or plans to change. For example, in 2009, after walking around the city of Naples, Italy, I went to Castel Nuovo, a castle and started taking pictures of the water and sites in the distance. As I wandered around the top, I came to a glass map and discovered three ladybugs all together.

I cried for about 30 minutes. I took pictures of them, or tried to, I could really only get one at a time, but the entire time I kept thinking, “You’re happy I’m here. This is where I am supposed to be.”

It would be a few days later, almost five, where I would have the dream that planted the seed for S2 Stationery and Design and well, now the rest is history.

A year later, the ladybugs would take over my kitchen in Astoria, New York, as I got ready to move out of my apartment of 3.5 years and away from the guy who had been one of my best friends and roommate at the time into an apartment in Manhattan. I was stressed and frantic with worry because I was also in route to Cape Town, South Africa for an environmental volunteer research expedition through the Earthwatch Institute and was going to come home and have to move.   I was nervous about leaving the dog, who I had fallen in love with and about the change that was about to take place. It was huge and frightening.

Yet, in all that fear, ladybugs started taking over my kitchen. There were five total on certain days. For two weeks, until I moved out of the apartment completely, they were there. I’d see either all five, or one. As soon as they appeared, I knew that I was making the right choice; that this change was not anything to fear and that much like in Naples, Italy that day, I was being surrounded by love and light from my ancestors.

As I move back into today, Tuesday, 2012, nearly two years later, I’m getting ready to make a big decision and some moves and so the ladybug backpack that I’ve bought aside, I’m taking all the signs of ladybugs I’ve been seeing, like the guy on the train last Friday who wore a bejeweled ladybug hat, that I’m moving in the right direction.

So yeah. Whatever you believe in as your luck, believe it wholeheartedly. You never know when it will appear, but when it appears, never doubt that it means something good is on it’s way.

Thank you, Frenchy, for believing in me now; I need it, as you already know.


I was rejected by the School of Visual Arts earlier this month.

Many of you will be wondering what the big deal is about being rejected? I mean, when you’re 31, you get used to rejection, after all, right? Well, I am used to rejection. At least it doesn’t phase me as much as it did once upon a time ago. So I hope that many of you can relate to what I’m talking about here.

Anyhow, the reason I bring up rejection is because many of you may remember me talking about applying to grad school at the end of January. You may also recall me rapidly piecing together a portfolio and gathering my letters of recommendation, working on a statement, and expediting my GWU transcript. I was enveloped in a system of excitement and guilt.

See, I knew going into the application process that I

a. couldn’t afford it and;

b. wasn’t ready

I KNEW that this program was going to be tough and it’s why I reached out to the Chair with questions about whether I would be a good candidate or not in the first place. Naturally, we got to know each other and became pals and so when I notified the Chair and the Program Manager that I was not intending to apply until after coming back from Japan, I was told that they understood, but they were hoping I’d be a student in the fall. Naturally, I felt bad and I applied. And I was excited to apply; I really got into the application process.

Alas, I didn’t get in and by the time I received my letter, I was relieved. I opened the letter, read it, folded it up, stuck it back in the envelope and told my roommate, “well, I didn’t get in to grad school and I feel okay.” I explained why I felt okay about it and how it lessens my options for what I will do in the next few months and post internship. I also felt okay because I wasn’t ready. Much like the time I told a guy I wasn’t really interested in, but enjoyed the relations, “you’re something shiny I can’t take my eyes off of”, I felt the same way about grad school.

Now, that’s not to say that I wasn’t excited or interested. For as much as the Chair and the Program Manager wooed me, I also actively participated in this wooing. I was interested. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted it as much as they wanted me. But after a few months and new changes, I realized that my initial feelings about signing up for the program now is not what I want. It is also why I decided that if I don’t get a job offer leading up to the end of my internship, I’m okay with that too. I don’t wish for that to happen, but sometimes perspective clears up a lot.  Of course, now I’m sitting on something that requires a decision sooner rather than later, but you know, I’m ready to move on to what I want to do.

Which means that I’m already one decision down a path. What follows is finding with more clarity what it is I want to pursue. After being rejected,  I found something else, that is still along the lines of the program, but not quite, that I love and what could be a prime opportunity. I can’t get into all the details now, but I came across some information that made me realize that my passion is still definitely stationery and communication, but it’s also sustainable living and business. That’s right, my involvement at the old 9-to-5 was a great stepping stone and launch pad for my passion- my environmentalism and my love for educating the masses.  And it folds into my business because they are the building block of S2 Stationery and Design.

When I think about my three-fold business plan, I realize that education is one end and communication is the other with the stationery in the middle and all three of them focus on sustainable and environmental awareness and activism for the betterment of not just the planet, but the human community. This path, this decision makes sense.

If I had to sum this up in two sentences, it would be what I said in response to the reasons for my rejection: “I know exactly what it is I believe in and can attain in my quest to do good and make a difference in more real, practical ways.  After all, many people have done so before and will continue to do so outside of graduate school programs.” I strongly believe that. People have gone out and done amazing things without a degree in a trendy, but important topic, at an expensive school. This is not to discredit the school, and please note that I am not bitter at all, in fact, I commended their decision, I just know that the right education for me right now requires my own experience, not the experience in the class room.

So there, rejection. Thank you. I’m ready for the next half of this journey and the opportunities, people, stories, and  lessons you share with me.