Hi Clare! How would you sum up what you do?
I make letterpress cards and stationery inspired by the simple things in life.
Why the name Rubyblue Paper Co.?
While living in my first owned home on a road called Ruby’s Walk, it came naturally. I’ve always loved the name Ruby, red is so feminine and confident, I also added blue to represent my personality, as I’m calm and reliable.
What inspired you to set up your business?
In 2012 I found my passion for letterpress printing, after wanting to be more hands on with a traditional craft again. I learnt the basics while studying, and remembered how much enjoyment it gave me, so I booked myself on a day course in London as a refresher – it was the best thing I ever did, I loved it so much! Soon after, I bought a table-top printing press.
A year later, we eloped to California for a beach wedding and had a village hall party when we got back. Being a designer, I of course wanted to design and print our own stationery. I enjoyed creating our invitations, which led me to start designing and printing them for other couples, and I also exhibited at some wedding fairs. I eventually left my full-time career to pursue my dream of being an independent business. Since then, it has grown and evolved slowly around having a family.
What did you do before setting up Rubyblue Paper Co.?
I graduated with a graphic arts degree and was always very passionate about publishing and typography during my learning. My first job was for a specialist magazine company, as a page designer. I later got the role of art editor when I moved onto a national media company creating lifestyle, women’s and specialist magazines. I worked in publishing for over 12 years and when I left, I freelanced for various titles while setting up my own business.
Where do you find inspiration?
The joy in the little things in our daily lives – from what we do at home, in the garden or outdoors on a walk. It could be the colours in a beautiful autumnal leaf, to squeezing lemon juice on a pancake. If I’m struggling for ideas, I normally take a break from work and discover some new places or rediscover old ones, I try to take it all in, to stop and notice.
Are there themes that run through your work?
Simplicity in words and pictures, which lends itself to letterpress. I’m particularly fascinated by Scandinavian design and lifestyle.
How did you discover your love for what you do?
I was going through my old university portfolio and found a long poem extract that I’d hand-printed. It had taken me two weeks to set all the small metal type, it was very intricate in the making, and gave me really bad back ache and inky fingers sorting through all the little letters – but I loved every minute! I remembered how amazed I was when the print went through the machine for the first time, it was so beautiful and brought me such happiness. You could smell the ink and feel the impression on the paper, I wanted to feel that again. I still have the type ruler my tutor gave me from that lesson and treasure it with such memories, not knowing at the time where it would take me.
How does your working day look?
Every day is different, as I work around my young children, but I do try and have a routine when I can. Once I’ve got my eldest off to school (he’s only four) I come home, have a cuppa and plan what I’ll do for the day depending on how many orders I need to make up, while also looking after our 18-month-old little boy. He goes for a two-hour nap late morning and this is when I spring into action and get as much done as I can! I normally use this time to print orders and make them up.
After lunch I pack up any orders outstanding and then drop them off at the post office on the way to school pickup. I don’t do any more work until the evening, after the boys have gone to bed – I will work as many hours as I need to. I’m sometimes up until the early hours, printing, designing, planning or doing admin. I do try and have weekends off though, to give some separation.
What are the values behind your business?
I only make cards and stationery that I would personally want to buy and gift myself, such as a card that I would want to frame, or a box that I would treasure long after the notecards have gone. Being environmentally friendly is very important to me, I only use responsibly sourced paper from a mill with high standards of ethics and sustainability. My packaging is also plastic free.
Tell us about your work process…
My designs start from pencil drawings, which I then import onto my iPad and finish digitally. Each design is then outsourced to a platemaker and made into polymer, this process creates a raised surface of the artwork to make the impression (a plate), which is then fitted to the printing press. Each impression is done by hand, ink is rolled over the plate and pressed onto paper. Sometimes I still use traditional wood or metal type in my work, it is very time consuming, but has great results. I have four printing presses, which do take up a lot of room, and at the moment I don’t have enough space!
What is your workspace like?
I currently work in a garden cabin that I share with my husband (he’s a wedding photographer). There’s not a lot of room for us both, but we’re managing at the moment. We decided to give up our studio space a year ago to hopefully fulfil dreams we have for the future, which include more space again eventually! I have three small presses in there, two Adana 8 x 5’s and a hot foil machine. I also have a treadle press, but it’s hiding in the garage, as there’s no room. There’s lots of work to be done to our cabin to make it more homely, but we’re getting there.
Tell us about your neighbourhood and community …
We live in a cute rural village not far from Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. I have never lived anywhere with such a fantastic community or with friendlier people. The village is thriving with quirky independent businesses – there’s everything you need, with pubs, a bar, rustic pizza restaurant, butchers, bakers, hairdressers, coffee shop, vintage furniture, interiors, and even an ironing shop. You don’t ever have to leave!
How has your work evolved?
In the beginning I solely focused on wedding stationery but brought Christmas cards into the mix early on, which naturally led to a greetings card range. I also introduced foil cards when I acquired a hot foiling machine. Weddings and greetings cards have been working together well, but it’s been hard to achieve everything I imagine in both, due to the time I have around a young family. During this strange year when weddings took a huge hit, all my energy went into my cards and it’s taken me in a new exciting direction. I also finally feel I know my brand – it’s taken years to have the confidence in this. It’s always been there, I just couldn’t see it.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
It’s taken a long time to find a community that feels right for me. I spent my first few years of business feeling quite isolated after working in an office for many years. I loved the flexibility, but missed being able to talk about my ideas with other people. I tried some local groups, but none of them felt right, then I discovered the curated marketplace ‘The Mamahood’ (themamahood.co.uk), who I can’t thank enough – they are all amazing, inspiring women, and there’s no way I could have got through this year without them.
What joys, and challenges, have you found as an independent maker?
Being an independent is everything, all my decisions are my own, no one can tell me if I have any bad ideas, which maybe I do need sometimes! I want to make myself proud by creating products that other people love as much as I love making them. It’s just hard to not put too much pressure on myself, of which I’m so guilty. I have to remind myself I’m trying to do this while being a full-time mum, but it’s hard to not compare your business journey with someone else’s.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
Until this year, I have to admit I’ve been terrible with my marketing and PR. I’ve struggled to find the time with the limited hours I have to create, but now I have a range that I’m happy with, and I’ve started planning. I’ve been setting aside a day to make contacts and build relationships. It’s really hard, as I feel like such a little fish, but I’m slowly getting there with building relationships through social media and making email contacts.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Getting my first wholesale order from a gorgeous independent boutique this year, and also, running my first ever letterpress workshop in collaboration with a lovely lifestyle store – something I’d always dreamt about and I decided to do in the middle of a pandemic! Probably not the easiest time, but I couldn’t turn down such an amazing opportunity, and it was a great success. I can’t wait to plan more in 2021.
Where do you show and sell your work?
My own website: www.rubybluepaperco.com, The Mamahood, Etsy, and Ethical Market.
Which pieces do you most enjoy making?
Printing simple designs onto recycled and handmade papers – the two combined are naturally beautiful. I currently have a range called ‘I used to be a coffee cup’, where the cards and stationery sets are printed onto recycled paper from coffee cups previously destined for landfill.
Do you have any creative pastimes?
My biggest love, other than my family and letterpress, is running. It’s been an important part of my life for 17 years, it keeps me head-strong, lets out any stress, and fills me with confidence and positivity for the day.
Any advice for new makers starting out?
I would say not to think too much at first – to let your heart and head run free in doing what you love, the rest will follow.
What does the next year hold for your business?
My business is now wholesale ready, it’s where I’ve wanted to go for a while and during the summer of 2020, I created a new online catalogue. In 2021 I’d love to see my cards and stationery in more lovely independent shops.
Describe your work in three words?
Simple, beautiful, ethical.
What are your making rituals?
Music when I print, and silence when I design.
Tea or coffee?
Mountains or sea?
Night owl or early bird?
I’m a night owl.
I wish someone had told me…
To be confident enough to be myself in my own work.