Building A Creative Dream~Inkwell Boutique

by Jessika Hepburn, Editor

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

One night I was lost online, ogling all the incredible letterpress goodness, when I turned to Chris and started ranting about how Halifax needed a letterpress/print shop. So of course I had to go searching for any info on local letterpress artists and came across a Facebook page for a new shop opening in the spring. I liked the shop to keep my eye on any developments and was happily surprised when Andrea Rahal, the creative force behind Inkwell Boutique, sent me an email and suggested we connect. Since then we have visited when my insane schedule allows and I have followed Andrea’s progress as she built a new business from the ground up. I am amazed at how she transformed a totally raw space into a showcase for awesomeness of all kinds and am totally thrilled to share her journey with you this month!

Inkwell is stunning, Andrea has created a space that truly shows off the pieces she has chosen from talented designers around the world. Love of type, print, and design is everywhere. It is like being in a gallery of artistic brilliance but you can actually afford to take the pieces home with you! She has also finally offered Halifax a place to find the work of artists who I visit with online, it makes me so happy to think of how many new people will be introduced to their work in her beautiful shop. I know she has already introduced me to some new friends.

I met up with Andrea to ask her about her business and the process of launching a brand new store from the ground up-serious loveliness awaits you!

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

Hi Andrea-this is probably one of the most exciting features I’ve gotten to do because I met up with you before you opened your business. I love watching people live their creative dreams and am really thrilled that Halifax now has a source for some of my favorite online items. Please tell us what inspired you to start Inkwell and how you have made your dream a reality.

I’ve had a long time love of paper goods, in particular, items that were letterpress and screenprinted. This love was enhanced by those paper goods I saw through various travels, much of which was international.

Inkwell is definitely a combination of doing what I love and doing what I know. I had a vision of wanting to sell my own work and support other artists at the same time. Owning a handmade shop was a dream I had for the future, but it happened earlier than planned because of certain circumstances.

Upon returning to Halifax after a vacation to South Korea to visit family, I was given notice that the contract I was working on was going to end. This forced me to begin seeking full time employment. The sad reality of very few jobs in my industry, along with the desire to be my own boss started me writing a business plan that became Inkwell.

I hit a road block when it came to the market research and projecting financials. At that point I discovered CEED. They provided me with further assistance with writing my business plan and seeking business loans.

I definitely would not have been able to pull it off without the support from all of my amazing family, friends, advisors and mentors.

Inkwell is absolutely stunning inside! You have done a really fabulous job-let’s take a look at the process and how you created your space. You had to completely re-do the inside of the building, did you do it all yourself? What were the biggest lessons and challenges in creating your retail space?

Thanks for the compliments Jess!

I searched for over 6 months to find the right space. There were a couple of serious contenders, but once I saw the inside of where I am, I knew I had a winner. It was completely raw to start with.


inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

Once the lease was official, the leasehold improvements began. I had planned to do them myself, but as my timelines had already been shifted so much from my intended opening, I chose to hire contractors to replace all the lighting and install new outlets and fixtures. Next the entire space was sprayed with white paint top to bottom followed by the installation of a gorgeous rustic laminate floor that I just had to have and truly completes the space!

The furniture and fixtures are from IKEA. I drove to Montreal, which took a couple of days, to get them as not everything was available for delivery. It all had to be assembled and then I had a short time to input product into my POS system and figure out how to display the products before opening day.

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

On opening day (and for a week and a half later) I was cash only and without proper signage, due to circumstances beyond my control. Thankfully, my growing Twitter following found the shop and raved about it. Many left only to come back after getting cash out of an ATM.

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

Visiting your shop is like going to a fair filled with my favourite online sellers and some new friends. It must have been so hard to make your product choices-but the ones you did choose all work together and were obviously carefully curated. Take us on a tour of your shop and tell us a bit about some of the makers you showcase.

It was tough to narrow down who to order from and what to order. I’m pleased with how it all worked out and there are still so many more artists I’d love to carry down the road!

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

I’ve been smitten by Mary Kate McDevitt’s hand painted chalkboards it seems forever! I commissioned her to do the custom open/closed sign that hangs on the door too! The Mini Goals Chalkboard’s are a lovely way to remind you of the things to do that day. They’re something you can hang up in your home, office or studio, to remind you of what needs to be done. Mary Kate McDevitt is an artist based in Portland,OR. Inkwell carries her screenprinted posters, mini goals chalkboards and clockboards.

Bookhou is a product line created by Arounna Khounnoraj and her husband John Booth. Arounna attended NSCAD in Halifax and makes screenprinted products for the home. We have tea towels, tea cosies and storage boxes that showcase her original hand screenprinted designs. John makes wood products. The laser cut alphabet is meticulously designed to show the 26 letters that all flow into each other. It’s perfect for a children’s room or someone that has a love of type. Bookhou has a shop on Dundas St. in Toronto.

Maiko Kuzunishi of Decoy Lab makes screenprinted, handpainted and laser cut bamboo and acrylic clocks and jewellery. Decoy Lab is based in Kansas City. Each piece is made to order and is a conversation piece for any wall. My favourite is the blue cuckoo clock, which coincidently matches the colour of the Inkwell logo!

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

Gemma Correll is an illustrator from Norwich, UK. Her fun loving images of pugs and cats have quite the following. I was unaware before of how many folks in Halifax already had a love for her work! Several have announced their new found love upon discovering her items in Inkwell. I adore the scribble tote bag for both its humour and my own love for cats!

As a side note I commissioned Gemma to do a custom portrait for my website. Though the site isn’t fully launched just yet with my bio, up top is a peek at the great likeness of me and my two cats – Serif (orange) and Eli (grey & white)!

It was no contest that I had to carry the letterpressed Live What You Love Print by Hijiri Shepherd of HeartFish Press out of Brooklyn. It was the very first order I placed. As I’m doing what I love to do, it was extremely important to me to have such an inspirational poster on display and available in the shop.

Uppercase Magazine has also been a great inspiration to me. I was even reading an issue when I came up with the name for the shop! Several of the artists in Inkwell have contributed to or been featured in its pages. Issue 8, in particular, is all about letterpress and comes with a letterpress freebie enclosed! Before the magazine’s existence, a few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Uppercase Gallery (a shop and studio) in downtown Calgary. I believe Janine Vangool’s creation was a subconscious inspiration for me to one day own a shop carrying my own designed paper goods!

The bud vase by Heather Dahl of Dahlhaus is an awesomely colourful addition to the shop. Made in North Vancouver, the vase has made its rounds recently on several handmade blogs. Its simple design is perfect to display empty or with a small arrangement of flowers.

Washi tape was a must for the shop. I was seeing tutorials all over the place on blogs for the Japanese masking tape and I wanted some for myself! It was a definite challenge to select the patterns and colours, as I wanted them all! I did a featured blog post on it a few weeks ago when it arrived.

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

The perpetual calendar by Emily Martin of OrangeBeautiful is a truly clever design. It contains a stack of 2-sided letterpress printed cards that you flip and rotate to display the date. Featuring over 20 different typefaces, it is available in 4 different colours (Orange-Red, Yellow, Beige and Light Blue).

Emily has also been a great inspiration to me as she is an artist who also opened a shop to showcase her work and other artists. She is based in Chicago and was very helpful in answering my questions leading up to opening Inkwell. Another brilliant design of Emily’s is the “You’re Welcome” card. Perfect for in response to a Thank You for the Thank You and for ending Thank You card circles!

Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. is very well known in the stationery and graphic design community for her hand painted lettering and images. We have some box sets and recipe cards, but the item I covet the most is the heirloom recipe box. Made of rescued wood from unwanted logs destined for landfills, it has Anna’s trademark graphics screenprinted on the lid. It also contains 24 adorable recipe cards and 12 letterpress printed category dividers.

I certainly couldn’t end the tour without mentioning one of my local artists! Julie Rosenthal is a Cole Harbour artist who has been making Origami since she was 13. I came across her flowers late last year and they have instantly become a best seller in the shop!

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

{above: the multi-talented Andrea printing away + some of her letterpress & screenprint work}


June is our Meeting the Makers month on OMHG and you are a maker too. What is your creative background-how did you come to have such a love for type and letterpress?

I have a BFA in photo and a BDes in graphic design from NSCAD. I’ve loved letterpress for as long as I can remember and never got a chance to take a class in it until the summer of 2009 when my freelancing schedule allowed me to take an intensive 3-week long credit course at NSCAD. Before that point I knew I loved the look and feel of letterpress. After the first class, I knew I enjoyed the printing process too.

You are also a member of The Letterpress Gang, tell us a bit about the gang & what you are up to with them.

The Letterpress Gang (LPG) is a local interest group, consisting of current students, alumni and the general public. We meet frequently in the Dawson Printshop at NSCAD to help maintain the lead type and press collection and to organize events for letterpress awareness within Halifax. Anyone with an interest in letterpress is welcome to attend. We have members with varying experience levels and it’s a great opportunity to volunteer, learn and get to know a great bunch of like-minded creatives.

In the past year, LPG participated in Nocturne Art at Night. That involved the general public visiting and printing a souvenir of one of the ten 140-character short stories that were chosen from Twitter submissions leading up to the event.

We’ve also organized two printing fairs – the Holiday Printer’s Bazaar and the Spring Wayzgoose. Both involved an open house for the public with music, food, demos and letterpress printed items for sale. We intend to hold these fairs on an annual basis.
inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique
Inkwell is a brand new business, what has been the reaction to your launch and storefront?

We are so brand new…we’ll have been open one month on June 24th! The reaction has been really encouraging! The feedback I’ve received as people shop, as well as afterwards via twitter and the facebook page has been so supportive and appreciative. There are already several regulars who are visiting often.

inkwell letterpress boutique, Halifax letterpress, letterpress retailer, handmade boutique

What is in the works for Inkwell in the future? Any big plans or projects for your first year?

There’s still so much to come. We have yet to announce the letterpress printing services (as one of the presses is still being restored), but that is in the very near future. We also have some plans for the fall that have to be kept under wraps for now…but stay tuned!

Andrea you are amazing! I can’t wait to see where Inkwell takes you + many more visits to come!

Keep in touch with Andrea & Inkwell by visiting the boutique in our fair city of Halifax at 1658 Market Street, Halifax, NS B3J 0B4 if you’re not close enough for visits you can find Inkwell online, check out the blog and say hello on Twitter and Facebook.