Brynne from Harken Press was the very first person I met when I moved to San Diego a year and a half go. We chatted over tea and, let’s just say, she gave San Diego a great first impression. I have her to thank for solving my “Oh-ma-gawsh-I-don’t-know-a-single-soul-here” problem.
Not only is she a welcoming and kind person, she’s also an incredible graphic designer and letterpress printer. I had the honour of interning for her a few months last year and I was able to see first hand the talent and love she puts into each of her projects and clients. She has a quirky line of greeting cards, a beautiful selection of wedding invites, and a variety of other useful and fun paper goodies, all printed on an original Heidelberg letterpress printer housed in her garage.
Below you’ll find an interview with Brynne where she shares about her journey to becoming a designer, how she became an owner to such an incredible letterpress printer, and some honest tid-bits about being a soloprenuer.
Please briefly describe your creative journey of becoming a letterpress printer and designer.
I guess I’ve always been a designer in some way; arranging my toys by color, being way too serious about my scrapbooks in middle school or being very particular about font choices for my book reports. I’ve always cared about little details like that. So doing something creative “when I grow up” was the only path that made sense to me. I graduated from Louisiana State University in my hometown with a degree in Graphic Design. My first experience in the real world was interning as the Art Assistant for Cosmopolitan magazine in NYC. Then I started working at a design and advertising firm in Baton Rouge, eventually I moved to California and had several design and freelance jobs before starting my own company, Harken Press, in 2012.
I primarily did print design and branding while working at design firms, so it was a natural progression for me to specialize in invitations and stationery. With my custom bridal clients, I try to brand their wedding through all of their printed materials and set the tone for the event. Now Harken Press consists of custom and pre-designed wedding stationery and an online shop for letterpress greeting cards and products. I really enjoy working on projects from start to finish, from the initial concept to production.
Becoming a printer has been a more recent journey for me. I really got lucky with finding my press. Before I began Harken Press, I started with a small tabletop letterpress that I found on Ebay and restored. It was a great starter press, but I was limited with the size I could print and the amount of impression, so I casually started to look for a larger press. By some miracle I quickly came across a Heidelberg red ball Windmill Press (my dream press) for sale on Ebay from a print shop that was closing in the Midwest. I knew the price was too good to pass up so I bought it and figured out the details later. I had no idea how to operate this kind of press, it’s motorized and more complicated than my previous hand crank press. After some research, I found the Windmill Workshop by Flywheel Press in San Mateo. That’s where I gained the confidence and knowledge I needed to tame this 3,500 lb “Beast” of a machine. In the beginning every print job was a learning experience. Troubleshooting is a huge part of printing on a vintage machine and I had to figure it out on my own when something went wrong. It took me about a year to really be efficient on the press, but now (3 years later), I proudly introduce myself as a graphic designer and letterpress printer.
I love how you described being a “designer” since a child. It’s great to hear that creativity has always been a part of your childhood. Are your family and friends supportive of your career choice?
Well I use the term “designer” loosely, but yeah I was the artsy one of the family. My mom was always buying me art supplies and encouraging me. I think the labels we get as kids can really effect the course of our lives. Whether you’re labeled the “sporty one” or the “bookworm”, it can steer the choices you make. Luckily being the artsy one gave me confidence to pursue graphic design as a profession, which turned out to be a great fit for me.
I think starting a business can feel like a leap of faith, it felt like that for me, but my family, friends, and most importantly, my husband, have been supportive. When things get tough you gotta have people to vent to and to share your victories with.
It really makes a difference having a support system available, be it family or friends. Whether we’re entrepreneurs or not, having a team to share the highs and lows in life is so important. Do you have any creative mentors that have helped shape you and your business?
My first full time design job definitely shaped me into the designer I am today. I think I was the third employee hired at STUN Design & Interactive, a design firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where I’m from). My skills grew as the company grew. The owner, Chuck Sanchez, was definitely a mentor to me. I learned so much about working with clients and being an entrepreneur and a leader from him.
There’s several people/companies I follow online that put out great business and life advice. Seriously, what did we do before the internet! Lately it’s been Marie Forleo, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Emily Thompson & Kathleen Shannon of Being Boss, Emily Blistein on OhSoBeautifulPaper – all inspiring and amazing women with unique perspectives, making it happen in their own way.
One of my goals this year is to reach out to other creatives and letterpress printers I’d like to connect with, maybe collaborative with? It’s so nice to know other people who “get it”. I can always use more of those people in my life. I just need to get over being shy!
What a great goal to have! Collaborating with other makers and, like you said, people who just “get it” is so beneficial. What would be your favourite part of being a letterpress printer and designer? What’s your least favourite part of the job?
The part I like the best is not having a client to design for. I come from a design agency background where the work and style is dictated by your client. But when I’m designing letterpress stationery, there’s more freedom. I can try ideas and see what customers respond to. Sometimes it’s surprising what sells the best and what doesn’t. Regardless of sales, I always try to stay true to my brand and myself. I’m aware of the trends in the stationery industry, but that doesn’t mean I have to follow them. So I love having the freedom to choose the products I want to develop.
My least favorite part lately is feeling isolated. As a solopreneur working from home, it’s easy for me to feel cut off. Isolation can be great when I need to keep my head down and get the work done, but other times I crave more face-to-face connection.