I’m thrilled that Tara Bliven of Ephemera is joining us on OMHG today. I first came across Ephemera last summer when I caught wind of Tara’s passion project, The Elevated Envelope, and I’ve kept her on my radar ever since. Because – free flowing letterpress, gorgeous calligraphy and the promise of a mailbox full of art, not bills – what’s not to love?!! Plus Tara’s work is full of character, colour, and plenty of love. Just how we like it around here! I invited Tara to swing by and tell us about her business, inspirations and why she wants to inspire to world (or at least YOU) to step away from our computers, get our hands dirty and send some mail already! Without further ado, let’s meet Tara:
Hi Tara! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Ephemera?
I live and work in a fixer-upper on a wooded acre about 20 minutes outside of Seattle with my awesome husband, Dave, and our 2 fluffy gray cats, Henry and Clementine. I started Ephemera in 2006, and make a lot of custom stationery – everything from personalized note cards (my favorite) to creative business stationery and wedding invitations. I also do calligraphy (mostly pointed pen), and a lot of my work features my own hand lettering. Lately I’ve changed it up a bit – focusing on projects that are FUN (rather than formal) and feature only my own design and illustration. My “official” business name is now Ephemera – Liberated Letterpress. I like it when things are not so serious 😉
What inspires you?
Well I definitely feel inspired by all the beautiful mail in my mailbox these days! There are too many ideas landing on my doorstep. Literally. Other than that, traveling always inspires me – I haven’t done as much of it in the last couple of years as I would like, but even a quick weekend trip really refreshes me and allows new ideas to pop into my head. I get inspired by nature.
With running your own business, there are always highs and lows. What do you love / not love about being in business with yourself?
I do mostly love it – the autonomy, the ability to say no to work that’s not a good fit. I like being able to just decide things. With that said, it is a lot of hats to wear, and I’m not an expert at everything (shocking!), so I don’t know if I’m deciding the right thing a lot of the time!
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt so far in running your own creative business?
Working by yourself is hard. Nothing exists in a vacuum. And you’ll go insane without the occasional happy hour. So don’t do it! When you don’t have coworkers, you have to find a way to make a team. Reach out to other creative people in your industry. The Seattle wedding industry happens to be very warm and fuzzy, so I’m friendly with not only other letterpress / paper people, but photographers, florists, etc. Find SMART people you LIKE, and meet up regularly to talk shop or just grab lunch. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that flow and the doors that open. (Not to mention the friends you’ll make.) And when you talk with someone about a crazy idea you have (oh, like The Elevated Envelope!), and they get excited and give you feedback, it propels you to move forward with it and keeps you accountable.
Clockwise from top left: Teresa Banman, Tara Bliven, Debbie Osborn, Tara Bliven
What inspired The Elevated Envelope? That’s a story that could get long. Suffice it to say there’s a certain envelope postmarked 1995 that’s pretty much my prized possession. You can read the whole story here if you have a little time. (It’s a good story.) Basically, the significance of that envelope, combined with me missing all my old pen pals, and the fact that I love art and calligraphy all swam around in my head until The Elevated Envelope popped out.
It must be an amazing experience to connect with people around the world via mail art (and to have your mailbox full of pretty mail!). For you, what is the greatest takeaway from the Elevated Envelope experience?
Yes, it is really awesome to get such beautiful mail (and so much of it – there are 255 people in the current exchange)!
I’d say the greatest take-away is that it gets people to do something different or out of their comfort zone. Yes, I get a lot of sign-ups (and impressive envelopes) from serious artists or designers, but it’s equally thrilling to get someone who in their “about me” states, “I’ve never done anything like this before…” I mean, an envelope can be pretty tiny. It’s not this huge commitment. It’s an easy way to try something out. All those arty projects you have pinned on Pinterest? Step away from the computer and actually give one of them a go – but just small. On an envelope. Then slap a stamp on there and drop it into a mailbox. Send it out into the world – that’s an important step. Doesn’t matter if it’s to a stranger on your swap list, or a friend you’ve known for 20 years – something about the sending makes what you did become Real. And then it’s addictive. What else can I do?
Could you share your favourite envelope (or envelopes) received from the project. What do you love about it/them?
I really shouldn’t pick favorites, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to! But here are 3 from our current exchange that I’m digging especially at the moment:
A) Bedfordshire Lace Envelope by Kayte Judge from Bedford, UK. This one is special because of all the ways she found to use one piece of lace to create different images, using different techniques (photocopying, sunprints, hand-cut linoprints) – and because all of them were done for this project. She sought out the help of an actual lace-maker and local printmaker. Just for The Elevated Envelope (which is, really, for no reason at all). That’s just kind of fantastic.
B) Garden-Inspired Watercolor Envelope by E.M. Corsa from North Carolina. This is a reproduction of an 1800’s garden map that was then turned into an envelope, and has a beautiful moth watercolor atop it. I love the tiny detailing on the sunshine (gold thread as the rays). But the most incredible part about it is that it’s a series. She painted eleven different watercolors of creatures from her garden for each person on her list. Eleven.
C) Springtime Doodled Envelope by Julie Goette from Missouri. This is a favorite because of its simplicity. Obviously Julie has talent, but what can be done with various Micron pens and markers can be really quite something. Start here.
Visit Tara over at Ephemera for lovely letterpressed goods & custom calligraphy stamps, check out The Elevated Envelope blog for mail art inspiration or connect via Facebook and Twitter. Interested in the next round of The Elevated Envelope? You can read all about the project here! Sign ups are ongoing, but the next round begins June 1st.