An Interview with Laura Huston Joseph
Laura is the amazing force behind Paper & Honey, a boutique wedding stationary studio based in Michigan. She's equal parts creative talent, humor and self-less encouragement! You know when you meet someone and you're like, 'she speaks my language.' That's how I felt when I met Laura at the Creative at Heart conference back in March. She's gritty, real, down-to-earth, and really freakin' funny, but also uplifting, positive, and has a style that exudes an amazing soft beauty. She cheers you on, sends work your way, gives really great advice and makes you feel like a true friend! Which is why I'm always gushing about her, because not only does she have so much natural talent, she has wise business advice that she just freely gives away, and most importantly she pours into projects and people with her whole heart. You're not a competitor, you're a comrade. You're not a paycheck, you're a person. She wants to get to know you and is open with sharing herself as well.
She inspires me to have an eternal perspective, to concentrate and put energy into what really matters - loving people, creating beautiful work and giving freely in order to help others. The connecting thread you'll find in all these interviews is most importantly, a genuine and kind-hearted nature, and then secondly - an amazing talent, and Laura is the perfect example of that!
She hand-letters, calligraphs and custom designs some of the most beautiful paper goods I've ever seen! She's ahead of the trends, smart with her design decisions and so insanely creative with her ideas. Her suites are elegant, soft, tactile and everything that is right with the world. As if that weren't enough, she also creates beautiful logo work and signage. And to push her even further into the realm of 'living, breathing angel,' she's a mentor and business coach! I know what you're thinking, she can't be real, but I'm here to tell you... she is. She flitted down off her adorable little cloud, pushed her over-sized glasses up her nose and with a loud belly-laugh proclaimed, 'I'm here to kick-ass and take names.' And so she did.
Favorite tv-show to binge watch:
Game of Thrones, Parks & Recreation, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Bob's Burgers! Although I'm totally guilty of watching every season of Intervention and Hoarders while working on big calligraphy jobs. I also loooooove terrible circa-2005 reality shows. Bring back Flavor of Love!
If you could hang out with anyone for a day who would it be?
Amy Poehler. Absolutely. She's my she-ro. Hilarious, intelligent, witty, generous, compassionate, brave... she's someone I look up to in every way. I think her Smart Girls organization is just the coolest thing and I so wish it had been around when I was growing up as a source of encouragement and inspiration. WWAD?
5 adjectives that describe Paper & Honey:
Warm, feminine, genuine, empathetic, made-by-hand-and-heart. Is that last one cheating?
Why and how did you get started with calligraphy?
This is so funny to me! It's such a huge part of my career and I feel like I fell upon it by chance. In 2012 I had graduated college with a BFA in graphic design and almost immediately found a full time job in my field. I felt so boss. I had benefits! Look at me mom, I'm working 40 hours a week! Except it was actually really really terrible. I was in the IT department of a broker / dealer (still don't know what that is) and all 40 hours were spent in a dark basement designing logos for old men who thought Papyrus was soooo edgy. Every day was awful and I filled my time reading blogs like Oh So Beautiful Paper and designlovefest. I admired the women submitting to OSBP so much — how cool that they were making such beautiful things! Oooh, neon edge painting. Laser cut lettering, wowza! And they were their own bosses! I didn't think anything could be better than spending my days making awesome things for awesome people.
A few months in I was really desperate to have some kind of outlet. I was freelancing for whoever would pay me ("Oh, your sister's little cousin walks dogs? And she wants 12 business cards? I can do that.") but I had a really soft, velvety spot in my heart for paper. Around October I saw that Molly Jacques was hosting her very first workshop right in my city! I had never done calligraphy before but had always loved illustration, and thought it would just be a good creative outlet. I bought tickets and one sunny Saturday my mom and I had a girls' afternoon where we learned lettering from Molly. I was HOOKED. That night my husband and I hosted a Lord of the Rings night (we tried to play LOTR monopoly with the movies on, but it quickly turned into "take a drink every time Frodo looks worried") and with my fancy new tools I made everybody name tags and sat there like a nerd calligraphing different quotes and anything I could think of. I was like Ron Swanson with his typewriter.
I kept practicing, and practicing, and practicing until my precious wobbly lines became something stronger. With Molly's encouragement I started offering envelope calligraphy, then place card calligraphy, then signage. She, being the perfect angel she is, referred me to various clients, and word of mouth spread. I was able to get my hands on some REALLY incredible projects that helped kickstart my lettering portfolio and my confidence. After some time, I quit my full time job, narrowed my focus and offerings, kept practicing, and in January 2014 Paper & Honey was born!
You specialize in paper goods, invitation design, signage, coaching/mentoring, logo design, so many awesome things! Which one of those is your favorite and why?
Well thank you!! I have two favorites! My first love is design. There is just something so fulfilling about telling a story through beautiful visuals. I love being able to stretch my creativity in new ways and delight my clients with what I'm able to come up with. I love the little components that make up an invitation suite and when clients love thick cotton paper, hand torn edges, and the deliciousness of letterpress as much as I do. I love that my lettering adds that touch of handmade; every suite is unique. I love that it's just so dang pretty!
But before I knew I wanted to be an artist, before I got my BFA and took that first calligraphy class, I was a people person. I love people most of all. The best part of my job is getting to know my clients intimately. They're just so incredible. It is an absolute honor and joy to be able to tell their love stories and play this part in their marriages and their legacies. When I work with someone on their save the dates, then their invitation suite, then their reception stationery, we could potentially be working together for over a year. That's a long time! I hear their visions for their perfect day and I often hear their struggles. It can be really personal. It can also be really joyful and fun! I have one couple named Kelly & Ryan, and once I realized they were of the same namesake as (arguably the best) couple on The Office, our emails went from fun to REALLY FUN because our emails with proofs and feedback was now scattered in between our favorite Office videos. It was awesome! That relationship became more than just "client-vendor." She told me she was sad her wedding day was approaching because it meant we wouldn't be working together anymore. I mean, can you get better than that? I want to print that email out and hang it above my bed. Forming those kinds of relationships is what fills my cup.
Who have been the biggest influences on you and your entrepreneurial journey?
Molly Jacques and Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle. Both of these women are incredibly gracious, kind, and giving. Molly for all the reasons I mentioned before, plus the extreme patience and grace she exhibited when receiving all of my "how do I charge for envelopes? Does this look okay??" emails. I think the way she carved a path for herself in this industry is really exceptional, and between her blog and various social media platforms, she is constantly giving back to those who follow and look up to her. Plus her work just makes me want to die she's so good. Molly's the queen.
I think I emailed Amanda in 2011? Maybe 2012, just looking for advice. I wanted to be her. Not only did she respond, but she was so generous with her time and her information. We ended up becoming e-friends and exchanging snail mail cards to each other's dogs, from our dogs (going on a hunch here, but I think may have also bonded over our mutual eccentricities). We even met up for lunch when I was in North Carolina for a weekend! She's just an amazing human woman. Her work is SO quirky and fun and her style is so unique to her as a person; I really admire that. Amanda's someone I want to be my best friend and mentor all wrapped up in one tall, pretty package.
What's one lesson you learned the hard way when it comes to owning your creative business?
Saying a big juicy "NO!" to projects or favors or work or anything that you really don't want to do. I actually just spoke about this on The Riding Tide Society's blog, but I'd love to reiterate because it's just so so important! My first year of business was spent saying yes to everything that came my way. I wanted the work but most of all was hungry for people to like me and REALLY like my work. Even if it didn't fuel me, even if I lost money, even if I KNEW it wasn't right, I'd say yes. And then I'd work forever, through dinners and through weekends and through holidays, in order to get all these things done that didn't reward me. Didn't reward my business, didn't reward my family, didn't reward much of anything except the person I said yes to. And that left me disappointed and frustrated. I resented a lot of things but most of all myself for not setting better boundaries. This can be applied to anything — styled shoots you don't have time for, someone who doesn't value your time or your work, or even saying no to slaving after your inbox after 5 pm. Boundaries are everything!
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
Oh my goodness. So many! @bonniejoymarie is my business BFF and her feed is the perfect retreat when you need a pick-me-up of encouragement. @jenny_sanders_ is an amazing artist (and an even more incredible person) and I could fall asleep in her watercolors and dreamy lettering! @ashleeproffitt always delivers truth and exactly what I need to hear. @jennakutcher encourages me to let my weird out (and step my IG game up). And, because I'm obsessed and can't mention them enough, @mollyjacques and @witandwhistle. They're both so talented and inspiring, have incredible feeds, and perhaps most importantly, have THE cutest dogs!
What's a time saving tip for other calligraphers to try out?
Well this is a great question. I'm still trying to figure it out! Envelopes take me forever! I have been able to speed things up a bit since working with my phantom liner — that thing is a godsend!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Oh man! Let's see. I would say the biggest, most life-changing highlight was just launching Paper & Honey in the first place. Giving fear a noogie and just going for it. Launching a business takes a lot of cajones and I am very proud and grateful for how far this little dream of mine has gone in such a short amount of time. Beyond P&H, a giant highlight that came about the past year has been being the Hospitality Coordinator for the Creative at Heart Conference. This conference was founded by my incredible friend Kat Schmoyer and it has been such a joy to see it soar and play a small part in its massive success. I get to travel and see new places I've never been, make a difference in people's lives and businesses, learn from industry leaders, and best of all, meet phenomenal, talented women that become friends (sup, Ash!). How amazing to witness this rising tide of encouraging and lifting one another up. Like I said earlier — people first. And if those people are MY people and I can talk forever and ever and ever with them about paper stock and social media and difficult clients and struggling to balance work and life? That's some good, heart-warming stuff right there.
What's one of your 'big/scary' goals you'd like to attain for your business in the next couple years?
Great question! I've been asking myself this the last few months. Before and after launching Paper & Honey, I had big dreams of owning a brick and mortar store in some cute, bustling downtown area (hello, Ann Arbor), where I'd hold my World's Best Boss mug and survey my small team with pride and joy. A few times a year I'd head off to huge trade events like the National Stationery Show where I'd rub shoulders with big wigs like Anna Bond and Nole Garey and Emily McDowell would be my best friend. I'd make a billion dollars because my cards (? this was when I thought I'd have a bustling retail shop) were both hilarious and effortlessly beautiful and I was The Best Stationer Ever 10 years in a row. Clearly my goals were attainable and not lofty in the least.
As time went on, my vision for "my perfect future" changed. I think as I grew I realized that I couldn't have this bustling, hugely successful business and still keep it a "small business." I couldn't be a 2015 independent lady, work work work all the time even if I went into the ground, and still have my peaceful home life, which above all is incredibly important to me. I really value my personal connections with my clients — I'm not sure I'd want to trade that off and only do design. Or, on the other hand, I'm not sure I'd want to have someone else design for me. I like being small. I like that working with my clients is an intimate process. I also really like not having to leave my house when Michigan has record snowstorms. What's up, what's up, self employment!
So... at this point, I'm not sure what my All Time Big Dreamy Goal is. And I'm okay with that; I'm still figuring everything out. As for Small But Still Dreamy Goals, I'm hoping to steer Paper & Honey in a direction where I'm serving more of my ideal clients. I'd loooove to transfer my projects from flat-printed to letterpress, from "I want watercolor because it's pretty" to "Here's a really special aspect of my family, a really remarkable detail of my love story that I want you to incorporate aesthetically." I want to go from designing something nice-looking to designing something that will become an heirloom for that couple. I want them to pull my invitations out of a box 20, 40, 60 years from now to show their children and their grandchildren and be apart of their legacy. That's the dream.
Some photography by: Andrea Pesce