How I Create: Jen Wright, Inky Collective
I can honestly say that Jen is one of the friendliest and most supportive people I’ve come across in the creative community. Her passion and humour comes through in everything she writes, creates and shares and I’m so excited to share this behind-the-scenes peek at her creative process with you today. As well as running one of my favourite blogs, Inky Collective, which is all about showcasing and supporting design and designer-makers, she runs her own letterpress design business. Here, Jen shares some great insights into developing your creative style and staying inspired as a full-time creative.
She also gives us a look at her letterpressing process, how she organises her time across her different ventures and how her business and creative process are evolving. Check out the full interview below...
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and story so far. How did you get into letterpress design and how did Inky Collective get started?
After too many years in a stressful office job, I made the decision to go part time so I could spend more time being creative, writing, and making things.
When I left my full-time role for my new part-time one, my colleagues were joking about how I’d still have to email them all the links to events and workshops I was always telling them about. That, mixed with the fact that I get so excited when I'm talking to people about their hobbies and hidden talents, gave me the idea for the Inky Collective blog (though it was a good few months before I actually had the courage to start posting!).
I wanted to create a space to showcase design, review workshops, interview makers and build up a boatload of inspiration for people who needed to find a creative outlet but didn't know where to start. It’s now been a year, and I'm really happy with how it’s going and the content so far.
The letterpress printing, on the other hand, was a far less thought-through journey! I was visiting a Crafty Fox Market in Brixton back in 2013 and spent all of five minutes doing a letterpress taster with Rachel from Prickle Press, to print my own postcard.
I went home and waxed lyrical to my husband about how much fun and easy (ha, little did I know) it had been, and, ridiculous man that he is, he promptly went online and bought me an Adana 8x5 on eBay for Christmas.
I spent the next few months on a steep learning curve (and spending all my money on paper, ink, lead and wood type), and by August found myself giving letterpress taster sessions to other people at a magazine launch!
On top of the blog and printing, I freelance as a writer and content creator to fund my stationery habits.
2. How does your letterpress process work and what does this involve?
Letterpress is a type of relief printing, producing individual prints with that incredible, tactile, got-to-feel-it impression. It’s a very manual process and no two prints are ever alike, which can be a joy and a pain in equal measure!
I worked exclusively with my Adana up until the end of last year, which is a table top press. Without getting too technical (which I’d fail miserably at anyway), I would use it to print greeting and postcards, and small prints with wood and lead type. It’s hand operated, about 50-60 years old, and it can be tricky to get an even impression across the printing surface so I found it was better suited to smaller, simpler designs.
I now mostly work with a rather large, beautiful motorised Vicobold. I digitally design plastic polymer plates so I’m no longer limited by the antique printing blocks I was finding at Portobello Road and on eBay!
It’s still extremely fiddly work that requires a lot of patience, but getting a deep impression doesn't require quite the same brute strength and stamina that the Adana sometimes did.
3. How do you organise your time between blogging, designing and the other aspects of running your business? What does a typical week look like for you?
I am very easily distracted so I write a to-do list every morning to compliment my overall weekly tasks. When I inevitably get lost in Twitter or accidentally spend an hour weeding the garden, it helps to have a list and an end-of-day deadline to refocus my attention.
One week I may have a freelance gig, and another I may have a print commission to work on so how I split my time really varies. I certainly haven’t got a routine perfected yet!
"After a year of meeting other makers and talking with other bloggers it really has been hammered home that we are all in the same boat – we’re all nervous, we’re all human, and we all want our work to be good and liked."
A typical week will include a day or two at the printing studio, a meet-up with other creatives to share ideas, a lot of emailing, product photography, designing, a lot of writing and editing, and, very importantly, a daily dog walk.
4. How would you sum up your style and aesthetic and what advice would you give to a creative who’s struggling to develop their own distinctive style?
I'm still finding my feet when it comes to designing, so my style is still changing. The only real constants are my colour palette (mint, yellow, blue, pink), and that my product photography is always bird’s-eye-view. So I guess simple but colourful would sum it up right now!
My advice to anyone struggling would be to let your style develop over time. Don’t force it, or try and imitate someone else just because they’re popular. Your style should reflect your own taste (which makes me think of that fantastic Ira Glass quote):
Pinterest (or old school moodboards) are really helpful when honing what your taste is. Create a secret board and go nuts pinning everything relevant to your business that you find attractive. You should see a pattern and some consistency emerging, and it might surprise you.
5. Do you have any creative rituals or routines to help you get into the zone?
After writing my to-do list, I go straight out with my dog for an hour. It might sound like a weird way round to do things but it stops me panicking, wakes me up and makes me feel happy. Which is a good way to feel when facing your day.
I also try and meet with at least one other creative each week for a chat and a brainstorm. It’s hugely inspiring and it always helps to get a different perspective on any new ideas.
6. What doubts or fears have you faced as a creative and how have/do you overcome them?
Oh lord, everything. All the fears. My writing isn't good enough, my printing isn't good enough, I've no design experience, I haven’t priced things right, what if I never get another freelance job, that tweet didn't come across how I meant, Tories.
But after a year of meeting other makers and talking with other bloggers it really has been hammered home that we are all in the same boat – we’re all nervous, we’re all human, and we all want our work to be good and liked. The creative community is especially supportive of each other and I've made some wonderful friends. We’re all rooting for each other and that helps keep the anxiety at bay.
7. What’s been your proudest achievement so far?
Ooh, I think for the blogging side of things it has to be being featured by the Daily Tekk on their 100 Best Blogs and Websites for 2015. I was in the Design category, and the whole thing was totally baffling to me, but I’m hugely grateful for it.
And on the letterpress side, I just printed business cards for my friend Patrick Miller, who is an incredible illustrator (and collective member) and they are BEAUTIFUL. Of course, his artwork has a lot to do with that but I’m still hugely proud of how incredible they look, and they were my first go at two colour cards too!
8. What are your top tips for someone who wants to start a creative business or blog?
Talk to people who are doing it themselves, write your ideas down, and don't let anyone dismiss them. Immerse yourself in the creative community online and off, where everyone seems to be working to make their crazy dreams come true.
Do something or write about something that you're truly passionate about, not because it's popular. Fads pass and then what? Even if what you’re really excited about is something pretty odd or “uncool”, do it well, write it well and people will like it. I bought beer mats the other day because they were so well made. I don’t even drink beer!
There are so, so many free resources, and workshops, and books that tell you all you need to know about HOW to start a business or blog, but you still need to have the energy and self belief to do it. So do it.
"My advice to anyone struggling would be to let your style develop over time. Don’t force it, or try and imitate someone else just because they’re popular."
Also, read The Challenger’s Almanac, a book of stories and interviews with amazing entrepreneurs. I can't recommend it enough. People are going to start thinking I'm on commission because I keep going on about it, but it’s just one of the most inspiring things I've ever read.
9. And finally, what do the next 12 months hold for Inky Collective?
There is so much I want to do in the next year! I really do feel like I have more ideas than time. With regards to the blog, I've just cut down from three posts a week to one or two, and I'm hoping to compliment it with a newsletter with exclusive content, and finally jump on the video blogging bandwagon!
I have a little blog side project bubbling away that I'm hoping to launch soon, and I've just given my first talk on social media and blogging, and I'd love more speaking opportunities.
On the printing side, a potential plan is that I move my equipment into a dedicated studio (as it's currently in a commercial printer’s without much elbow room) and start offering workshops. I really want to do this but finding affordable, conveniently based studio space (plus it has to be on the ground floor due to the weight!) is really tricky.
I'm also trialling a service where I collaborate with the customer on the whole project. So Patrick illustrated his business cards with a little design input from me, and then came and mixed the ink himself and printed some of the cards. Proper hands on. It was brilliant, and meant he felt really connected to, and proud of the finished article. I’d love to be able to do that with more people.
Images by Jen Wright, Inky Collective