The Card Designer Spotlight is a series featuring independent makers whose greeting cards you can find in Paper Source stores. Meet and be inspired by a new designer every month on our blog!
Alice and Doris launched their business in 2010 when they took daily inspiration, a punny sense of humor, and their Chinese American heritage to collaborate on designing cheeky greeting cards that share a bit of magic every time you get them in the mail.
How did you begin your card-making career?
Our foray into the stationery world funnily began with creating custom wedding invitations for some of our close friends. We found quickly that the part of the process that delighted us most was designing the accompanying thank you cards we included with the invitations as part of our gift to the couple. This epiphany shaped the beginnings of ILOOTPAPERIE when we launched in December 2010 as a passion project with just six designs on Etsy, which we both continued to work on during our free time outside of our day jobs.
At the end of August 2013, after surviving several rounds of layoffs due to company restructures Alice was finally laid off from her job in Marketing and Design at a shoe design company, and this set off an unexpected course of events in which we eventually decided she would apply her full-time effort to help grow the company. Keeping the advice of our entrepreneurial friends in mind — that few part-time projects can take off without full-time attention applied to it — we embarked on this ever-challenging but also ever-fulfilling journey with ILOOTPAPERIE. We have found ourselves to be a part of a very special industry filled with fantastically talented kindred spirits that we have the honor of working amongst and calling our friends. Doris continues to work at her Finance day job, in addition to ILOOTPAPERIE, so we often joked during our first 8 years, there was 1 and a 1/4 of us getting things done!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
We’ve always said in designing, we are inspired by everything and anything, and this still very much rings true for us. We thoroughly enjoy wordplay and a good pun, or even better two. And we like to think because Alice was born on Labor Day and Doris was born near the Thanksgiving holiday, we were born to pun! Growing up as Chinese Americans (ABCs!) and with the Mandarin language spoken in the family (our grandparents are from Taiwan and mainland China), we came to the realization recently as Alice relied heavily on listening to Cdramas to stay awake illustrating for long stretches while completing our sister’s book during the pandemic: there has always been wordplay all around us. We’ve grown up with ingrained traditional Chinese beliefs, for example – that certain numbers, i.e. 8 “ba,” are considered to be lucky and the reason behind this was that when spoken, the characters sound phonetically like a lucky word or phrase, “fa” in this case which is the pronunciation of the character that means to generate wealth.
This homophonous play on words is absolutely at the root of our fondness for punning. And if we can manage to double pun in a design, then we achieve what we affectionately call Doris’ scrabble effect, where she decimates her opponents with a well-placed short word utilizing both high-scoring tiles and placement to complete two words in one move.
All this is very much reflected in our designs as we always are tickled about being able to combine our love of wordplay with Alice’s illustrations of subject matters we have a soft spot for: from our love of snail mail to food (our much-beloved Love You From My Head To-Ma-Toes Mother’s Day card), to funny animals (our Slow Clap Sloth Congrats), to pop culture (our Lovely Lady Puns collection celebrating powerful women), and to everything in between! Brightness, nostalgia, and connection with a dash of cheekiness are reoccurring core themes in our work. Creating our collections has become a cathartic process and often captures a range of our own emotions in response to everything that has been happening in our immediate realities.
What does your day look like as a card designer?
Each day is different depending on the deadlines that we’re working on so there isn’t really a typical work day—our days are generally filled with pulling items and packing them up for retail and wholesale orders, working with our local printers, vendors to submit new orders for new designs and restocking orders to keep our inventory stocked! Concepting for new cards, pins, and products is an ongoing conversation between us that happens throughout all of this.
Alice brings our concepts to life visually and as much as we would love to just focus on card making, and the creative work of pushing a concept to production, the reality of owning a small business means you are actually concurrently working on various responsibilities all at once. In addition to finding time to think solely about illustrating the card concepts, and then actually illustrating – there are other tasks vying for her attention related to marketing/social media, maintaining our retail and wholesale online shop platforms, customer service, and so much more!
Like many other small business owners, we struggle to find enough time in the day to get everything that we would like to get done completed as there’s an ever-growing list of to-dos that need to be balanced with the fun we like to squish in, the art we’d like to create, and other life obligations that can’t be ignored for long. We feel lucky to now have hired two of our artist friends part-time to our team, to focus primarily on helping us in wholesale fulfillment with Doris coordinating.
What is your preferred medium?
Paper! Paper is so versatile and full of possibilities. Putting a pen to paper can lead to the creation of infinite outcomes! – a doodle, a map, directions to a new destination, plans for the future, an illustration, a blueprint, a poem, and of course a letter to a loved one.
Email has its place in the world, but snail mail is communication on a tactile level. We love being in an industry that encourages people to stop and take time to reach out in such a way that lets the other person know you’ve taken a pause in the blur of the day in and day out to think of them. They can feel the care you’ve sent embedded in the weight and texture of the paper they physically hold in their hands. That effort to pen down your thoughts for them is not taken for granted. When you do take time to make that connection, you realize that bit of effort (or a lot depending on the type of writer you are!) can make a big impact in someone’s day and yours. It’s magic. We have always believed and still firmly believe snail mail is the best mail.
We do love exploring and creating in other mediums, like enamel pins, and now a favorite – washi tape (traditionally paper tape), and one of our aims for ourselves as creatives is to continue building a more intentional sense of play and experimentation. For one, we would love to carve out time to take more classes to continue to learn to create with Papier Mâché (we loved the class we took with LA artist Kim Baise), and paper clay – all also paper!
What does your creative process look like?
Our creative process is fluid and revolves around our concepts. At times we build concepts around new design elements we are excited to incorporate be it a new foil color or a technique new to the line (i.e. embossing, debossing), or a collection that can be built around a theme, for example – our tradeshow booth concepts. Once a card concept has been moved into the “Let’s Make It Happen” list, Alice often find herself researching images of animals doing funny things (usually for the concept, but sometimes to procrastinate because it is always a little nerve-wracking to begin a design).
Our card designs tend to begin with a hand sketch in ink and are then taken into Photoshop or Illustrator (or both!). Next, Alice adds in the copy and work out the placement of text and illustrations. She never properly went to art school, so what she does is a mishmash of techniques and tricks she learned on the job learning to flat sketch swimwear at her 2nd job out of college and in art classes she took after work while she was still in marketing.
The first test print is always very exciting – she gets an idea of where the colors/ tones fall and check the spacing and composition as it lives on the physical space of the card. Then comes more tweaking. Doris is consulted at this stage. When the designs are finalized, they go to our local printers and next comes the proofs! At this crucial point, Alice checks to see if we need to make any corrections/notes for printing. Ideally, we don’t, and it moves into production.
With everything we do for ILOOTPAPERIE, from our product and packaging design to shop window and craft show display designs (and even painting our first mural at our first NSS booth), there is a strong element of improvisation and constant problem-solving. We take what we know and mix in a whole lot of research, trial and error, terror, and gumption to keep going—it is often terrifying and exciting all at the same time.
What are you most proud of as creators and card designers?
We are proud of our tenacity and problem-solving skills to continue to face various challenges that come with being a creator and card maker that we could not even begin to anticipate when we started this journey almost 13 years ago. We try hard to remember to celebrate our accomplishments and remind ourselves of them from time to time, as we never even dreamed of being able to work with so many of our partners we do now to have our goods in shops around the world, and in places – we’ve never been, or have an illustrated book all about Sisterhood (Sisters: Better Together with Workman Publishing) in book and gift stores – what a wild adventure it all continues to be!
We believe what continues to shine through in our cards and sets us apart is how much fun we have when we are coming up with our card designs, and the sincerity we pour into all we do. There are lots of earnest laughs and heartfelt emotions behind our concepts. Even the vetoed concepts tend to make at least one of us giggle while we try to sell it to the other person. We aim to have a good time with it and to never take any of it for granted and believe that that’s what makes our products memorable. That this shared laughter and connection extends beyond just the two of us is a gift. We are always delighted to find what speaks to us, speaks to others as well – this is a sense of connection that inspires us to keep showing up, the idea that something we created could bring a bit of cheer or comfort to fellow kindred spirits no matter the distance that separates us.
Find ILOOTPAPERIE’s Tomatoes Mother’s Day Card and Cool Dad Father’s Day Card at your local store or online at papersource.com. For more inspiration and behind-the-scenes action, follow @ILOOTPAPERIE on IG.